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We took the Red Eye flight to New York last Wednesday night and returned to Edmonton 12 hours ago. We are exhausted yet thrilled to have presented a successful dinner comprised of foods from Canada’s Arctic, Alberta and Ontario at the James Beard House on Saturday night. I’m still trying to wrap my head around how our little “Northern Food Night” ended up in New York City.
The Arctic Forage Dinner was our third presentation of northern foods in six months. Three dinners, three cities, two countries. Not bad. Our team has become a well-oiled unit. The revised menu pictured below was originally created in December by Louis Charest (Executive Chef to the Governor General).
James Beard Menu 1_Fotor

Although the guests couldn’t know it, this dinner would prove to be the most challenging northern food dinner of all. First off, Chef Charest was busy creating culinary masterpieces for over 200 guests in Ottawa at the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards the night before the James Beard Dinner in New York. That meant he would finish there, grab a few winks and get up to catch a flight at dawn to New York.

So, while Charest was away, Paul Finkelstein, and his army of culinary students made their way to New York with a cooler full of Arctic and Ontario products to meet up with culinary students of Manhattan’s Food and FinanceSchool and get a head start on food prep.

Manhattan culinary students, Sade and Lazarus

Phil – a true forager and (somewhat) mad scientist

The students were amazing. After touring a few New York hot spots, they’d hustle to the kitchen, put the aprons on and work until they could hardly stand. Paul also enlisted the help of three reliable chefs: Beja, Phil and Jared — Fink’s previous students and now chefs in their own right. These three came from various parts of Ontario and Prince Edward Island to be a part of this event. Impressive.

Paul Finkelstein double-checking the menu

While people were coming from all over to prep, Steve and I were packing up our cooler of food in Edmonton to bring to New York. We had enough paperwork and permits to sink a ship. Thankfully, everything was in order and the very kind U.S. Customs agents permitted our entry.
After we settled in our hotel in TriBeCa, we met Paul and his team at the high school where they were busy slicing and dicing, baking and sous-viding.

Steve and Paul take inventory of the food

 It was there that we realized no one had brought the Mipkuzola for the charcuterie plate. Luckily, Mark Hills of Hills Foods (supplier of the Mipkuzola) was in New York to attend this dinner as well. A quick call to his company in Coquitlam, BC, and the package was on its way.  The cured musk ox arrived a few hours before the dinner.

Beja arranging the charcuterie plate: Mipkuzola from Hills Foods, Tamworth Sausage from Ontario, smoked musk ox tongue, and caribou salami made by Real Deal Meats of Edmonton.

The James Beard House is located in the West Village district of NYC. It is a long and narrow four-story brownstone with a surprisingly small kitchen.

There is a lovely garden in the back and guests are seated in rooms that once served as bedroom and office-space when James Beard lived there.

 Fifty-seven guests were to arrive in a few hours, so Louis, Paul and the gang got busy.

Chef Charest gets help preparing the musk ox for the tender cube appetizer

Details, details.

Chef Paul Finkelstein whips up a batch of bannock

James Beard servers start setting up for the dinner

By the time guests started to arrive around 7 pm, the kitchen was humming.

Jared and Becky plate the musk ox tender cubes

Guests enjoy a glass of Ontario sparkling wine while the kitchen staff gets set to bring out the canapes.

It was interesting to talk with the guests before everyone was seated at the tables. Many had questions about life in the Arctic, about how the foods were harvested and of course how cold it gets in northern Canada. We were happy to supply them with answers. I don’t think anyone there could fathom what -60 feels like. I wish I would’ve brought my Canada Goose parka, or the wolf parka Lucy wore when we were harvesting sea urchin in Sanikiluaq.
After hors d’oeuvres of musk ox, char and Tamworth bacon-wrapped skordalia croquettes, the guests moved in to the dining area.

Steve and Paul relayed the history about how our northern food dinners came to be and what went into preparing for an event such as this. And then the food came. After the first two courses, I remembered I had a camera with me.

Turbot tempura and pickerel topped with whitefish caviar and Haida Gwaii herring roe on kelp

Korea-style hot pot of fire-roasted quail and charred foie gras with kimchee and noodles

Charcuterie plate – cured and smoked meats with pickled ramps and brioche

While the guests were sighing and moaning and licking their lips, I wandered around the room asking people how they were enjoying the food. One person said out of the two dozen James Beard events he’s attended, this one was, by far, the crown jewel.  I sent a text to the kitchen to let them know. I think they were happy to hear how the food was being received. Paul, Louis and the team deserved the praise; they certainly worked hard for it.

Both Paul Finkelstein and Louis Charest got to add their names to the famous white jacket, its shoulders and sleeves covered with the names of celebrity chefs from around the world. What an honour!

Who knows where we’ll end up next. Wherever it is, I know the team will come together again from whatever corner of Canada they’re in at the time. There’s a ton of skill and passion in every one of them and it’s a very wonderful thing being a part of it.

Well done, chefs and students, well done!