What happened when Malcolm Jolley went to Hillier for his supper.
I need to Begin at the end. It’s the last night of July and darkness is descending around nine o’clock. We are at the penultimate course at Chef Jamie Kennedy’s Farm Dinner Series, cheese. It’s served outside of the barn dining room where 50 or 60 of us have been eating and drinking Norman Hardie’s wines. Kennedy’s tall and skinny silhouette is solitary. Then, Hardie comes over and lays one of his strong hands on the chef’s shoulder. The winemaker tells the chef, “I’m so glad you’re doing this.” And no one who’s been at Kennedy’s farm since five o’clock this evening would disagree.
Jamie Kennedy is back. And he’s back where he belongs: on his 100 plus acre farm next to the hamlet of Hillier, in heart of the wine country of Prince Edward County. This summer, he’s assembled a brigade and service crew to create a meal every week. He is cooking for his fans, who missed his French inflected locavore cooking and waiting patiently to sit at his table once again. He is rewarding them. And he rewarded me last Sunday. Here’s how.
HORS D’ŒUVRES ON THE RIDGE
JK Fries with Two Sauces, Hot Smoked Whitefish Canapé, Chilled Vegetable Soup, Grilled Flatbread with Favas and Sheep’s Milk Cheese, Green Pea Arancini – 2013 Hinterland Traditional Method Sparkling Rosé
The ridge is a height of land about five minutes walk from where Kennedy’s guest parked their cars. we climbed the hill where he has a Pinot Noir vineyard, tended to by his neighbour, the Prince Edward County Pioneer and author of 40 Acres and Fool, Geoff Henricks.
This man, Jonas Newman of Hinterland Wine Company, is a welcome sight at the beginning of any culinary event because it means he’s brought some of the sparkling wine he and his wife, Vicki Samaras, make not far from the Kennedy farm on Closson road.
Hinterland’s Traditional Method Rosé is driven by Pinot Noir and pairs very nicely with JK’s famous fries. I have heard Jamie Kennedy talk about his fries many times, about how he uses them to show how a common food can be elevated by a chef who takes care. These were perfect, liberally seasoned with salt and fresh thyme. It’s the thyme that kills it: a small touch that makes a big difference. Young chefs, please pay attention.
Soon it was time for dinner, and we descended from the ridge towards Jamie Kennedy’s barn…
SUCCOTASH WITH MUSHROOMS
Riesling 2015 VQA Ontario Norman Hardie Winery and Vineyard
Chef Jamie Kennedy CM, like many distinguished Canadians who have contributed to our national project, has roots from elsewhere. His father was an American diplomat, and we are lucky that after traveling through Europe to learn his trade, Kennedy decided to return to his Toronto home. With succotash we got a small nod to his American provenance and big taste of the season’s first corn. Norm Hardie’s laser line of Riesling acidity balanced perfectly with sweetness of the corn and tomato.
The Jamie Kennedy Farm Dinner Series is well subscribed and events sell out. 50 or 60 of us broke bread together. After a glass of wine or two, the diners all started to make friends.
Chardonnay 2013 VQA Niagara Peninsula Norman Hardie Winery and Vineyard
Jamie Drummond told me once one of the key reasons why he enjoyed so much working as Jamie Kennedy’s Sommelier: the chef is himself a trained sommelier. This was a wine dinner, conceived and cooked by a wine lover. The dishes Kennedy served were thoughtfully matched to his friend and County neighbour’s wine. Sometimes the pairings were subtle and snuck up, and sometimes, like with the lobster bisque and Hardie’s very Burdungdian 2013 Niagara Chardonnay, beautifully obvious and very much welcome. Oui chef!
PICKEREL WITH SORREL AND RATATOUILLE
County Pinot 2014 VQA Prince Edward County Norman Hardie Winery and Vineyard
Ontario great piscine delicacy is surely pickerel. Known also as walleye, pickerel has the most delicate flesh and clean taste. Why anyone sitting at a table within 300 kilometers of the CN Tower would choose thawed out fish from an ocean thousands of miles away over a fresh lake, just caught pickerel is beyond me. No chef I know has been a greater, or more consistent, champion of pickerel than Jamie Kennedy. I don’t know about a ‘signature dish’, but pickerel could well be his signature ingredient. In my mind, at least, the man and species are intrinsically linked.
Some disclosure: I went to the Kennedy Farm as it’s owner’s guest, who I also consider a friend. I arrived with Norm Hardie, who is, again, a friend and I sat with him at the end of one of the long set tables. We were joined by my wife, Apple and Norm’s Sales and Marketing Manager, Claude Arsenault. Claude is pictured here between the two men. So, I am biased. But I hope also fair, and the delicacy of the pickerel, brought up by the lemony grassiness of sorrel, was the perfect counter point for Norm’s great County Pinot, with it’s ever so minutely bitter cranberry note. This wine is my (and I imagine many others’) principal taste memory of Norm’s wines. I have no particular talent for tasting wine; I know this because I keep company with many who truly do. But there are a few profiles that even I can identify immediately, and the County Pinot is one of them. It struck me, admittedly after a few glasses, that there was a kind of supernatural metaphysical gastronomic power at work to have this wine and this ingredient, from these two men, respectively, served at the same time. All of this to say, that by the fish course, I was having a really, really good time.
PRESSED CORNISH HEN MIREPOIX AND CAULIFLOWER
Gamay 2014 VQA Prince Edward County Norman Hardie Winery and Vineyard
Things got rich with the arrival of the Cornish hen. What was required was a trou Norman, pun intended. Mr. Hardie delivered with a wine I had either forgotten or just didn’t know he made: Gamay. Perfect. Why don’t we make more of a fuss about our Gamay in Ontario? Purple and plummy, but light on the palate, Norm’s Gamay made a lovely cocktail with the brown jus of Chef’s bird. I cleaned my plate and drained my glass.
DAVE SMYTHE’S ONTARIO ARTISAN CHEESE SELECTION WITH GREEN SALAD
Cabernet Franc 2014 VQA Prince Edward County
If a cheese board is what you’re after, then clearly Dave Smythe is your man. His business is bringing cheese made with love to farmers markets, or (apparently) to fancy farm dinners. One cheese on Mr. Smythe’s board I was very glad to see was the great Cape Vessey, the signature cheese from Fifth Town dairy on the Eastern End of Prince Edward County. Cape Vessey is a salty and chewy taste of place that elevated the black berry fruit in Norm’s Cabernet Franc. This could have been the perfect end to the evening, which was turning to night. And yet…
SOUR CHERRY AND ALMOND PASTRY
2015 Hinterland Ancestral
‘Sour Cherry and Almond Pastry’ must be one of the greatest examples menu underselling ever. There is in the title no mention of the custard icecream or caramel which it came with. It was serious, and required the fruity and fun bubbles from Hinterland’s just off dry Ancestral. Wine nerds know that Ancestral is made by bottling Gamay (yay more Gamay) during its primary fermentation. The result is captured carbon dioxide, which gives the wine a gentle fizz and just a little sugar left0ver, since it doesn’t get converted to alcohol. Everyone else just knows it’s a light, fruity and appropriately low alcohol wine, perfect for ending an unforgettable meal.
There are new dates and tickets to be sold for the Jamie Kennedy’s Dinner Series at jamiekennedy.ca.