Epic as Always: Indulgence 2011

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.

Indulgence 2011

Entertainment

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).

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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.

Indulgence 2011

Banners

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!

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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.

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Busy ballroom

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.

SIndulgence 2011

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.

Indulgence 2011

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.

Indulgence 2011

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.

Indulgence 2011

Blueberry and Greens, Eggs and Ham guinea fowl spring roll

Indulgence 2011

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.

Indulgence 2011

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.

Indulgence 2011

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.

Indulgence 2011

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.

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Ice sculpture

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Beautiful display

Indulgence 2011

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.

Indulgence 2011

Chef Chartrand

Indulgence 2011

“Compressed” Japanese Spring Creek Ranch barbecued short rib

4th and Vine featured Nature’s Green Acres beef shank, braised in a red wine stock. It was a tasty few bites, with enough sauce to hold it all together.

Indulgence 2011

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.

Indulgence 2011

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.

Indulgence 2011

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.

Indulgence 2011

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.

Indulgence 2011

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!

Indulgence 2010: Another Epic Evening

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!

Read more about Indulgence at Eating is the Hard Part, A Canadian Foodie, Eat My Words and Foodie Pics.