For those who follow the blog regularly, I apologize for the lack of posts! I went to Cuba for a week and it spat me out a little crumpled up. I did recover in time for Eat Alberta though, which was held this past Saturday.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the event, Eat Alberta is
an annual, one day, workshop-style conference with a mix of hands on learning, food tastings, and demonstrations or presentations that focus on local and regional Alberta foods.
This is its fourth year running and my second attendance! I missed out last year because tickets sold out fast for the sessions I was interested in but this year I was armed and ready. The running theme for Saturday was “Seed the Possibilities!” and read on to see why.
Eat Alberta is hosted at NAIT’s culinary facilities and free parking was available for the day. Registration opened at 8:15am and coffee and a hot continental breakfast was waiting for us when we arrived. This was unexpected, the hot meal a first for Eat Alberta.
Similar to last year, the sessions are broken up into tracks. When you buy tickets, you choose your desired track! The first time I attended Eat Alberta there were just sessions and the “hands on” classes were, of course, the most sought after. To even things out, the tracks were designed so that everybody would get a little bit of hands on experience as well as other sessions that involved tasting, demos, or lectures. I was in “Honey Berry” for the day.
Our keynote speaker for the morning was John Schneider, farmer of Gold Forest Grains, a small certified organic farm in Morinville. He presented to us a perspective that a lot of Edmontonians are probably unaware of: his own, as a farmer and businessman; how he left his former job complete with $1500 Boss suits, to become a grain farmer; how he’s expanded into heirloom grains; how he has to “add value” to his grains to become profitable (milling it to sell flour, making pancake mixes; and most importantly and the take home message of the day, that the consumers (that’s us!) need to support local food, producers, and farmers, in order for the whole system to work. Discussion on fad diets (think quinoa and acai berries) are exactly so – a fad. Quinoa, a staple for many regions in South America, are now becoming too expensive for them to eat. Instead, they are exported to countries such as Canada and the US in order to feed our fad diets. Acai berries were claimed to be a superfood, the best antioxidant there is. And most recently, studies have shown that Saskatoon berries were just as good if not better and they grow right in our backyards! It was a great speech and I think the quiet, barely awoken crowd, were excited for their courses and excited on promoting local, sustainable food!
My first session was on Composting 101, presented to us by Michael Kalmanovitch, owner of Earth’s General Store, and composting expert. We went through the benefits of composting, a healthy, affordable, and sustainable way to (re)-nourish your soil. Did you know it was one of the top ten things you can do to save the environment? His session was very informative on how to actually start up your own compost, the “secret” to the right ratio of nitrogen and carbon wastes for it to degrade properly, and answered a lot of the classes’ questions. Although the focus was on composting in your own backyard, I’ll have to talk to him privately about composting in a condo/apartment environment! For more information, you can visit his website.
Our first hands on course for the day was with Elaine Wilson, cooking teacher and personal chef. We were making scratch soups! The class was broken into pairs and we were given the choice of making a Tex Mex soup or a Thai coconut lemongrass soup.
We went with Thai! With only 45 minutes to cook, we quickly began prep work and threw everything into the pot. While it simmered, Elaine went through the basis of soups, of broths and stock, of aromatics, and her passion for stoups (that’s soups with a lot of things in it, but not thick enough to be a stew!). Loved her passion for cooking! She’s like a drill sergeant with a fun attitude. The soup came out delicious and I can only imagine what would have happened if it was given more time. She also offers cooking classes, check it out!
A lunch break was due, soup and sandwiches served by the NAIT Culinary Arts program. Almost everything was made in-house, including the bread, cheese, and meats. A wonderful meal and spectacular service by the hospitality program.
I didn’t eat a big lunch because I was excited for our next session, Alberta Cheese Tasting with Kris Armitage of Everything Cheese. Many have gone to a wine tasting before, but who knew you could do the same with cheese? We sniffed our way around four tasting samples, broke the cheese and sniffed again, crumbled each between our fingers, and finally (the best part!) tasting it. My favorite was the Beemster XO, a Dutch gouda with a nuttier taste. Never though I’d be a big fan of harder cheeses (I’m a soft cheese with a bloomy rind kind of gal). Delicious!
Last but not least, Megan Miller showed us how to ferment vegetables. We prepped for cordito, a Latin-American version of sauerkraut, and discussed the principles of safe lacto-fermentation, and how the science works once all your ingredients are in the jar. I thought it was super cool, makes sense because I’m super nerdy!
My finished product still needs some time to ferment, but Megan had a batch ready for us to taste that she made in September ’13. Yum! And look at that colour! You can basically ferment anything… zombie apocalypse prep anyone?
One of the courses I was looking forward to catching a glimpse of was the “Note to Tail Pork” by Elyse Chatt. Shame it wasn’t in my track but the butchery and skill was impressive from what I could see in between my own sessions. Hopefully next year!
Prior to winding down (with wine!), the “Seedy Business” speakers talked about some debatable topics: urban chickens, raw milk, and urban bee farms. All are dependent on legalizing their respective fields and it was interesting to hear from all of them! Definitely promoted discussion in the room.
To end the sessions, a Wine Down with Chef Allan Suddaby’s tasting board (top left, clockwise): Bison jerky, pickled vegetables, yogurt tart, smoked whitefish, fresh goat’s milk cheese, and crackers. I’m already a fan of anything Chef Suddaby does, so the tasting board was nothing but stellar. My favorite was the smoked whitefish, sourced from Slave Lake. Wine was provided by Barr Estate Winery of Sherwood Park, featuring “The Barb” a rhubarb wine, and “The Other Red”, a raspberry wine. A “Sweet Sippin’ Maple Whisky” was also for tasting provided by Highwood Distillers from High River.
Overall? The experience was great! Loved the track we chose and was happy to have met so many people: farmers, producers, chefs, the organizers, volunteers, and like-minded foodies! This year’s ticket price was $150 which included the presentations, four workshops, breakfast, lunch, tasting, and wine. Well worth it! Hopefully there will be just as exciting courses next year! Thanks to Eat Alberta, their organizers and volunteers, the presenters, and NAIT for hosting the event. Definitely check it out next year if you get a chance. You can read the Twitter hashtag #EatAB2014 for other attendees’ experiences this past weekend!
Oh and thanks to Jody! My food partner-in-crime. She’s always up for anything food-related and between the two of us, we can cook anything! (Probably not. But with instruction, maybe.)