Every June, there is no doubt the hottest ticket in town is for Indulgence. An evening of exquisitely paired food and wine, prepared by the best chefs in town, made using fresh, local ingredients? It’s a wonder organizers don’t charge double, given the reputation this event has gained over the past eleven years.
I was fortunate enough to have been given a free ticket this year, though we did purchase a ticket for Mack. Even better, we were let into the ballroom at the Delta Hotel a half hour before the doors officially opened – for that reason, perusing each of the stations this year felt much more relaxed and well-paced than in the past (Mack also attributed our stress-free evening to the fact that we now don’t sweat it if we can’t make it to every station).
Slow but steady
There were also some changes and additions that we really liked. First off, the forks were plant-based instead of the awkward wooden utensils (they were never able to pierce food in the way that they should have). Second, restaurants and producers were displaying banners all over the room, making it easier to identify stations (and of course, heighten brand recognition). Lastly, we noticed that more restaurants were handing out coupons this year. Really, Indulgence (like any other tasting event) should be a starting point, not the end, so I’m hopeful that the promise of discounts really helps drive new business through their doors.
Before the event really got going, Mary Bailey made a special announcement. Indulgence will be donating $26,000 to NAIT to start the Slow Food Edmonton Bursary. The annual $1500 bursary will “be available to NAIT culinary grads to fund a stage at a farm, vineyard or in locovore restaurants and purveyors. Not only does the bursary aim to encourage culinary alumni’s personal and professional knowledge of and connection with farm to table gastronomy, but it also continues the serious work of Indulgence — introducing farmers to chefs to continue growing our unique Northern Alberta gastronomic culture.” Given this is Mary’s last year of being directly involved in Indulgence, I can only imagine that this was something that she has envisioned for some time. I’m also sure Mary is now on to bigger and better things – thanks for your dedication to this event over the past decade!
Mary hands off a cheque to Louise Charron of NAIT Awards
As for the food, we tried almost all eighteen dishes. In the past, most stations have been pretty stringent on collecting tabs from the Indulgence program (which helps them enforce the one-dish-per-person rule), but this year, because some of the table numbers were incorrect, we found most were lax on this aspect. As a result, it was a little easier for diners to navigate stations (juggling a wine glass, plate, and booklet are difficult enough), but it also meant certain stations ran out of food an hour into the event.
One of our favourite dishes of the night was the Red Ox Inn’s slow-braised Irvings Farm Fresh pork shoulder on a carrot risotto cake and citrus jam. Given the line-up around the night, I’d say it was a crowd favourite also. The pork just melted in your mouth, set off by the crispiness of the cake. It was so good, I am seriously considering making it at home.
Slow-braised Irvings Farm Fresh pork shoulder on a carrot risotto cake
We also loved TZiN’s cayenne-braised Belle Valley Farms alpaca with Gull Valley piperade and Riesling-chive emulsion. We haven’t really been a fan of the alpaca served at Indulgence in the past, so this was a bit of a surprise. Flavourful and tender, we were happy to hear that Kelsey was considering this dish as a special at the restaurant.
Belle Valley Farms alpaca
Of the two spring rolls served, we thought Next Act’s Progressive Foods barley pork Asian spring roll with a sweet chili sauce took the cake. I loved the texture of the barley! The spring roll also had a definite kick, but the pairing of an Alley Kat worked well as a cooling and refreshing partner. I’m also a sucker for pea tendrils, so it was no surprise I loved their accompanying salad.
Progressive Foods barley pork Asian spring roll
Delta’s own 4404 Restaurant (which has replaced Botanica), crafted a blueberry and Greens, Eggs and Ham guinea fowl spring roll. The apricot relish was nice (and in many ways, made me wonder why sticky-sweet sauces are as popular as they are), but it just didn’t have the same panache as its Next Act counterpart.
Blueberry and Greens, Eggs and Ham guinea fowl spring roll
Little Straw wines
There were also two meatballs on the menu. Niche’s Tangle Ridge lamb meatball with fried kale, slow roasted tomato sauce and pecorino cheese was Mack’s favourite. It wasn’t tender enough for my liking, but it had congruent aspects.
Tangle Ridge lamb meatball
Wild Tangerine’s Amberlane Farm elk meatball stuffed with pecorino was probably the most gorgeous plate at Indulgence. The meatball was moist, and the chickpea puree was one of those wonders that tasted more like potato than legume to us. But it was a little difficult to eat, and made us appreciate dishes made with stand-up dining in mind.
Amberland Farm elk meatball stuffed with pecorino
The Marc had created a Four Whistle Farm duck sausage with red wine and roasted garlic, crème fraiche on a crouton. The sausage had great flavour, but it had a similar problem as the previous dish – it was oily and difficult to finish in one bite.
Four Whistle Farm duck sausage
A second crostini by NAIT School of Hospitality and Culinary Arts had great potential – Doef’s Greenhouse grilled zucchini, bell pepper and onion with tomato & sherry vinaigrette on grilled baguette with pecorino cheese (they had the best display at Indulgence!). But the bread had sat too long, and was much too hard to eat.
Doef’s Greenhouse grilled zucchini, bell pepper and onion with vinaigrette on baguette
To me, the most interesting dish was L2 Grill’s “compressed” Japanese Spring Creek Ranch barbecued short rib with Alberta honey glaze and sake, sunamono broth. It was clear Chef Chartrand had wanted layers of flavour, and intended interplay of sweet and salty. Unfortunately, although the beef was prepared well, the broth was much too salty. We saw many an unfinished bowl on the sidelines.
“Compressed” Japanese Spring Creek Ranch barbecued short rib
Nature’s Green Acres beef shank
We had tried Hundred Bar & Kitchen’s modern scrapple a few weeks back, but didn’t expect them to actually serve the dish at Indulgence. I think most sane people would decide against cracking and cooking four hundred quail’s eggs. I should have thought more of them.
Modern scrapple with slow cooked Full Course Strategies pork, braised bacon, quails egg, micro green salad and smoked ancho-pepper tomato aioli
Similarly, Lux’s watermelon, toasted sesame and Hog Wild boar bacon with micro cilantro and honey citrus vinaigrette was also familiar to us. Again, I was reminded that all it takes is some bacon to make watermelon bearable for me.
Watermelon, toasted sesame and Hog Wild boar bacon
It occurred to us that your enjoyment of certain dishes is entirely influenced by when over the course of the evening you try them. One good example was Cafe de Ville’s Texas BBQ bison brisket served with a slaw. The brisket was smoky and pretty tasty, but what we particularly gravitated towards was the crisp, sweet cabbage. It was the first bit of produce to break our fog of meat, and thus, was refreshing. We were certain that if we had tried the same dish earlier in the night, we wouldn’t have had the same reaction.
Texas BBQ Bison brisket
Madison’s Grill had made a Berry Ridge Orchard Saskatoon berry and black pepper cheesecake. Mack liked the cake because it wasn’t too heavy, but could have done without the Saskatoon spaghetti – it had a texture that didn’t appeal to him.
Berry Ridge Orchard Saskatoon berry and black pepper cheesecake
As usual, Indulgence provided great food, drink, and venue for socializing. If you didn’t make it this year, be sure to mark it on your calendar for 2012 – you won’t be disappointed!