Last weekend, Markerville celebrated summer with a culinary extravaganza.
Besides their second annual Taste of Markerville, they hosted a formal, sit down Long Table Dinner. With the help of talented chefs from Calgary and locally-sourced ingredients from producers and farmers around Central Alberta, a one-of-a-kind menu was served to over 100 guests.
“In the hopes of showcasing the local food, this event was a longtime vision for Markerville,” explained Kathleen Raines, an organizer of the event. Knowing his Innisfail roots, Raines approached Chef Darren Maclean, a self-styled chef and owner of Downtown Food in Calgary, to see if he would come cook in Markerville. Having childhood memories of visiting the Markerville creamery, Chef Darren didn’t need much convincing.
He brought with him five of Alberta’s top chefs: John Jackson of Charcut Roast House; Jessica Pellant, Alberta’s first Chopped Canada champion and executive chef of Charbar restaurant and rooftop patio; Pierre Lamielle of Food On Your Shirt; Andrew Winfield of River Cafe; and finally, the culinary giant Duncan Ly of Hotel Arts Group.
With plate settings to be done, centre pieces to be assembled and servers to serve the food to the guests, this event required many hands. Not an easy feat for little hamlet with a population of about 60 people.
“But, Markerville is a little village that could,” says Raines. Getting past students who worked at the creamery during the summer, residents of Markerville and locals from around the area to volunteer, Markerville was able to serve food that could only be found in fine dining restaurant, with the charm and warmth small town atmosphere. The icing on the cake: the exquisite meal was served outside in the beautiful countryside of Markerville, with the Medicine River as the backdrop.
The meal began with Chef Darren’s sour dough bread prepared with stone ground red fife wheat from Country Thyme Farms. Using the freshly-milled flour, the dough was cultured, fermented and mixed with flax seed before creating the artesian styled loaf.
To tease the taste buds, Chef Duncan presented the guest with a amuse-bouche that was a play off of the tomato salad — cherry tomatoes poached in butter and served alongside rhubarb marshmallow. This was garnished with charred pickled cucumber, crispy prosciutto and grated salted almonds.
To counter the hot weather, Chef Andrew prepared a cold English pea Gazpacho with cucumber and Farmstead cheese, nasturtium and lemon verbena. He accentuated the dish with froth and marigolds petals.
The final appetizer was prepared by Chef Pierre — chicken pot pie. Though it had all the traditional flavours of the popular comfort food, its presentation was totally chic and very uptown. For me the best part was the crust. His secret? Using the chicken skin to render all the fat and then incorporated the fat into the flour for flaky, flavourful pastry.
The main courses of the meal were delivered in rustic family style — a big platter of food that was to be passed and shared with your neighbours.
This segment started with Chef Darren’s succulent tender pork that was sous vide for 24 hours and then seared on grill. Glazed with honey, the pork was displayed on a bed of Moroccan potato salad and charred sweet onions. All this was topped with crispy pork rind.
Then came the ham rolled up in leg of lamb, which was then smoked, a specialty of Chef John of Charcut and Chef Jessica. With thinly sliced radishes, shelling peas, pickled potatoes and fresh dill, it was July harvest in a platter.
By now I am thinking, “How can any dish out do what I have already eaten?”
Well, it seemed like the chefs had their own personal competition going on in the kitchen, with each trying to outdo the other.
Chef Duncan sent out some grilled beef tenderloin that was roasted and charred and served with baby carrots, Swiss chard, kale that was gently sautéed with mustard green and tossed with garlic brown butter. The tenderloin was topped with in-house made chili herbed pesto.
The final main course dish was prepared by Chef Darren: a jerk-marinated pork loin cooked all day on a rotisserie and then glazed with black currant sauce accompanied with smoked beets.
The finale of the Long Table Dinner was with Chef Darren’s dessert. He picked this dessert because for him, “nothing says summer better than strawberries and cream.” This dessert used lightly-thickened cream with miso anglaise to increase the flavour. Fresh strawberries were incorporated into the gelato and more fresh and dehydrated strawberries were used to accentuate the dish. To counter balance the sweet, it was served with peppercorn shortbread.
This was a memorable, truly one-of-kind culinary experience. A big applause to the community of Markerville for successfully hosting a superb culinary extravaganza.
As to who gets the standing ovation for the meal, Chef Darren summed it up humbly by quoting Thomas Keller: “If you and I have the same capabilities, the same energy, the same staff, if the only thing that’s different between you and me is the products we can get, and I can get a better product than you, I’m going to be a better chef.”
The Long Table Dinner succeed in shining the light on the high-quality bounty offered by the farmers and producers of Central Alberta.
Supplier farms: The Farms with the Good Food, Country Thyme Farm, Hillside greenhouses, Bowden Farm Fresh Chicken, Markerville Berry and Vegetable Farm, SweetMeadow Farmstead Cheese, Upper Green Farms, Beck Farms, Starkroft, The Jungle Farm, YB Quality Meat, Nixon Honey and Edgar Farms.
Madhu Badoni is a Red Deer-based freelance food writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @madhubadoni. Watch for Madhu’s Masala-Mix blog on bprda.wpengine.com.