It’s hard to believe Indulgence: a Canadian epic of food and wine is celebrating its tenth year. Just thinking about how far the local food movement has come in the last ten years – Indulgence was at the forefront of it all, showcasing great products, local talent, and fabulous wines, with farmers, chefs and wineries all clamouring for one of the coveted spots on the docket.
Of course, besides the food and wine, attendees are supporting several Junior League of Edmonton projects, including programs to teach children healthy eating and lifestyle habits, and the start-up of a community garden. Indulgence, led by Mary Bailey of Slow Food Edmonton, is a great example of a partnership that truly benefits all parties involved.
Last year, my Mom and I arrived about fifteen minutes prior to doors opening, and were confronted with a massive line that snaked around the cramped lobby. So, in an effort to beat the crowd, Mack and I arrived forty-five minutes early, securing a place near the front of the line. My Mom and Dad joined us not long after.
The line grew, though (there was even crowd control!)
Promptly at 7pm, the doors opened. As we rushed into the hall, it felt a bit like Boxing Day – I was amazed as my feet hurriedly carried me to one of the stations near the rear of the room, as if food was going out of style. Mack and I had made it our goal to try every dish, strategically thinking that working our way backwards was the best approach.
Inside the hall
Perhaps it was our initial mindset that soured the beginning of the night. Amidst the upbeat jazz band, people were rushing around us, snapping up plates and draining glasses of wine – it was hard not to get caught up the frenzy. Mack commented that there was a nagging sense of wanting to make it worth our while, but with twenty-four stations to visit in a two hour window, it seemed like an impossible task.
Red Fife wheat display by the Italian Centre
I’m happy to say we eventually let our goal slide – the desire to socialize kicked in, and sampling the food and drink almost became secondary to catching up with familiar faces, and getting to know new ones. The food community may be small in Edmonton, but it can be pretty spread out at times, so I love that events like this bring everyone together under one roof.
We started with Manor Casual Bistro’s cranberry and honey mustard-rubbed braised Nature’s Green Acres nouveau beef brisket topped with Gouda, garnished with sauerkraut and caramelized onions on an organic spelt sourdough slider. It was unfortunately cold (probably having sat out waiting for the door to open), but the brisket was still moist and tender.
Manor’s brisket on a bun
After spotting Alan of Irvings Farm Fresh at the station over, we had to visit him next. We weren’t disappointed with the pulled Berkshire pork chili, served with a blueberry buttermilk cake, salt-roasted shallot and smoked cheddar cream from Tzin. The pork just melted in my mouth, with the blueberry cake acting as a sweet counterpoint to the savoury tomato and bean sauce. It was one of the highlights of the evening.
Tzin’s Berkshire pork chili
4th and Vine was offering three bites of O Sol’ Meatos air-dried charcuterie, topped with soft sheep’s cheese and cherry tomato and shallot confit. We were wondering about their lack of serving tongs though, as it was awkward trying to lift the delicate samples off of the tray. The charcuterie was quite nice actually, but for me, was overwhelmed by the tasty walnut pecorino crackers underneath – I’d be interested to try the charcuterie products on their own.
4th and Vine’s charcuterie bites
Next, we dove into our only dessert that night – a cranberry basil oatmeal cookie, made with Highwood Crossing organic oats, served with a lime tequila aioli. Count on the Blue Chair to come up with the most creative use of liquor that night – as an adult dipping sauce for a comforting cookie. The aioli was nicely balanced, not overwhelming as I expected it to be, and paired with a refreshing beer from Alley Kat, was probably a course we should have saved as a palette cleanser mid-evening.
Blue Chair’s cranberry basil oatmeal cookie with lime tequila aioli and Aprikat
The NAIT School of Hospitality and Culinary Arts featured a clever, upscale play on the southern chicken and waffle favourite. Instead of the typical fried version, a chicken roulade with wild mushrooms, pistachios and apricots was presented atop a corn waffle with cranberry and apple relish. The Sunworks Farm chicken was fork tender, and thankfully moist, but I still appreciated the sweet burst of the accompanying fruit.
NAIT’s chicken roulade atop a corn waffle
The Hog Wild wild boar tourtiere, served with confit rhubarb salad, asparagus, sauce Soubise and wild boar jus was a favourite of my Mom. It was also easily one of the most beautifully plated dishes of the night, with a sprig of fresh greens placed just so. The boar was so flavourful, encased in buttery pastry, the richness cut by the soft, tangy rhubarb. The Shaw Conference Centre dish was a winner in my books too.
Shaw Conference Centre’s wild boar tourtiere
Culina had friendly staff placed in front of the table to hand out dishes, which was amazingly efficient. Their bison brisket (from Full Course Strategies) had been slow-cooked in a balsamic barbecue sauce, served in a biscuit with horseradish-spiced marinated onions. The best thing about this dish? The onions – sublime. In place of the raw zing was a perfectly spicy marriage between the onions and the horseradish. Bravo.
Culina’s bison brisket on a biscuit
Belle Valley Alpaca once again made an appearance at Indulgence, this time showcased by Cafe de Ville crusted with spices and served in a Yorkshire pudding soufflé and Shiraz pan jus. Our samples were devoid of jus, which would have helped the Yorkshire pudding regain some of its deflated glory, but I have to say, I was again taken aback by alpaca, which was well-prepared and enjoyable.
Cafe de Ville’s spice-crusted alpaca with Yorkshire pudding soufflé
Neither Mack nor I were fans of Moriarty’s Greens, Eggs and Ham duck and chorizo flatbread. With the smoked gouda quiche on top, the dish seemed to have an identity crisis, and couldn’t decide what it wanted to be. The crispy sausage piece was lovely, but other than that, we thought it was a textural failure.
Moriarty’s duck and chorizo flatbread
The meat-heavy menu continued with L2 Grill’s hickory-smoked Carmen Creek bison strip loin with a chanterelle and beefsteak mushroom ragout served on top watercress and potato crème. While the watercress and potato combination was great (it’s the second time I’ve had this pleasing side), the bison itself wasn’t memorable. I don’t envy the chefs at Indulgence; needing to create a dish that stands out among two dozen cannot be easy.
L2 Grill’s bison strip loin with watercress and potato crème
Having been blown away by the cooking at Madison’s Grill, you can say we were probably predisposed to have a positive opinion about their Four Whistle Farms lamb meatballs and pulled lamb shank with a wild balsamic mint glaze, asparagus and sweet pea couscous, but objectively, it was a fantastic dish. The shank was lovingly tender, and the couscous made a great bed underneath, soaking up every last drop of jus.
Madison’s Grill’s lamb meatballs and pulled lamb shank
Mack reluctantly ate his first of two salads that night. Red Ox Inn had prepared a salad of arugula, roasted beets, shaved Sylvan Star Gouda, candied walnuts, tossed with a pear vinaigrette. I loved it. They were generous with the cheese, and the candied walnuts and sweet vinaigrette were genius – the sweet accents made eating the greens a joy.
Red Ox Inn’s arugula salad with beets, gouda and candied walnuts
Creations offered up Paddle River Elk tenderloin wrapped in boar bacon with chocolate jus and chokecherry glaze atop an Alberta wild rice crisp. It was quite the mouthful, but as May commented, we appreciated the subtlety of the chocolate jus.
Creations’ elk tenderloin wrapped in boar bacon
We were feeling the burn by this time. Had we been smart, we would have made a beeline for Leva’s lavender gelato (which we ended up missing out on entirely), but the broth of Mo Na mushrooms, made by Jack’s Grill, was not a bad substitute to calm our bursting bellies. Served in a tea cup, we originally thought they were serving coffee (hallelujah!), but the savoury broth was so much better. I could have done without the duxelles and garlic crostini though – I really thought the bread should have been toasted to avoid the awkward gnawing consequence of chewy dough.
Jack’s Grill’s broth of Mo Na mushrooms with duxelles and garlic crostini
While we finished up the broth, Chefs Tony Le and Jeff Cowan of Lux surprised us with tableside service, bringing us all a round of a dish we had been hearing about for weeks. Whenever we stopped by the Irvings booth at the City Market, Alan would tell us we were in for a treat – the dish was one of the best he’d ever had. The braised bacon, with a confit of apple, peach and sour cherry, was one of our favourites, and was my Dad’s pick of the night. Sure it was fatty, but luxuriously so, with the taro root frites providing a crunchy contrast to the velvety pork. Delish.
Lux’s braised bacon with confit of apple, peach and sour cherry
The second salad that evening was presented by Skinny Legs & Cowgirls, and featured one of our favourite producers – Lola Canola. Their greens, tossed in a honey poppy seed chili vinaigrette, were served with red onion and barley from the Yellowhead Brewery toasted with honey. May really liked this dish, and I loved the crunchy barley – I had never thought to prepare it in this way, and use it as a garnish.
Skinny Legs & Cowgirls’ greens with red onion and barley
At this point, many of the stations were either out of food, or nearly wrapping up for the night. We made one final round to see what we missed (and what was still available), and came across Lit Italian Wine Bar’s Mo Na wild mushroom-stuffed arancini with tomato cream sauce and white truffle oil. It was so salty it was inedible, and we left it uneaten. I hope their entire batch wasn’t ruined by over seasoning.
Lit’s wild mushroom-stuffed arancini
The final dish we tried was from d’lish – a barbecued Spring Creek Ranch brisket on corn bread. Eaten warm, it probably would have been very good, but cold, the meat was unpleasantly stiff and the cornbread hard.
d’lish’s barbecued brisket on corn bread
You may notice I glazed over the fact that a winery was prominently featured alongside every dish. Truth be told, I probably made it through about ten samples before I called it quits. The only wine that stood out for me as a particular favourite was a Joie – but then again, I have a soft spot for Rieslings. I really was all about the food at Indulgence.
Though the evening started off at a frantic speed, we eventually slowed ourselves down and were able to take it all in at a more relaxed pace. I do think Indulgence should be extended an hour – just to give those who would like to enjoy every station more time to do so, and also, to give everyone more space to socialize. Mack suggested that a larger venue be sourced as well, with more tables and chairs available.
With ten years under its belt, I’d guess that Indulgence has shifted and grown over time. I hope the next ten years sees further improvements, but experiences the same success. Thanks to everyone who had a hand in the event – it was epic indeed!