You’re Sure to Feel at Home on the RangeThursday, July 18
This past weekend my wife and I had the rare opportunity to go for dinner without the little ones.
After reaching out to the twitterverse for a little inspiration I was informed that Chef Blair Lebsack and his team at RGE RD (Range Road) would be hosting another in their series of farm to table dinners. When I heard the news there was no doubt that we had to take part. What makes Blair’s dinners so special is that he has managed to take the farm to table idea a giant leap further, by bringing the table to the farm. He sets up a dinner table at a local farm, setting up a makeshift kitchen and preparing incredible meal, highlighting what is available right then and there.
This weekend’s event took place at Prairie Gardens, just outside of Bon Accord. It was my first visit to the farm that has been in operation for over half a century and I was quite impressed. Not only does the farm grow an incredibly diverse range of delicious produce, but they offer over 50 different fun-filled activities to entertain the whole family, and it welcomes over 50,000 visitors every year.
As impressive as the farm was, the meal that Chef Blair and his team prepared was the standout. Rather than writing a menu weeks in advance and hoping the land would co-operate, Blair allowed the farm to dictate the menu. He visited early the morning prior to the meal to piece together what the meal would look like, and they were even harvesting ingredients the morning of the dinner to ensure everything was at it’s peak of freshness.
With the threat of inclement weather looming, the dining table was set up in one of the greenhouses.
Our first course was a simple, yet skillfully prepared, strawberry and arugula salad, featuring baby amaranth, and highlighted by the radish top pesto. The use of such a commonly wasted item exemplifies everything Chef Blair is trying to accomplish. In fact his commitment to using everything to it’s fullest could be seen throughout the meal.
This dish was followed by a potato salad, as Blair described it, but it was so much more. It featured a pepper-stuffed with scrumptious pork trotters, another often overlooked ingredient, and some eloquently smoked whitefish.
Following that we were treated with a simple heirloom tomato salad and bocconcini salad with a slight twist. He used a technique of wrapping the cheese in thin bread and frying it. This gave the otherwise bland cheese a rich creaminess and touch of salt that really worked beautifully with the rest of the dish. The tomatoes were at the perfect ripeness, naturally sweet and juicy, ever so slightly seasoned, and complimented with five varieties of fresh basil and some first press canola oil. As it came together the dish was reminiscent of grilled cheese and tomato soup, making me feel at home.
The main course didn’t disappoint either. It featured grilled bison flatiron with the subtle smoked of applewood, served atop braised oxtail and barley, flavoured with onion greens, kohlrabi, collards, tomatoes and fresh herbs.
Rounding out the evening was a pleasantly light and slightly tart rhubarb galette, featuring sweet ricotta finished with honey, and topped with field strawberries. Blair showed great restraint in allowing the tartness of the rhubarb to be cut by the subtle sweetness of the ricotta. It was a perfectly light and well-balanced end to a delicious meal. The meal was paired with an exquisite selection of Canadian wines, highlighted by the Black Hills Syrah and the surprisingly pleasant Domaine Pinnacle Ice Cider, from mere miles away from my hometown in Quebec, for dessert.
Over the past several months Chef Blair, alongside his partner Caitlin Fulton, have been working diligently to bring their desire to further connect with the local culinary landscape into fruition. What started with an idea in 2011 has now become a full-fledged restaurant, opening this past weekend. Rge Rd, their intimate 40 seat space on 123 St. and 106 Ave., will be open Monday to Saturday at 5 p.m., and will feature a broad range of local fare. Their menu will change frequently, allowing their connection to the harvest of local farmers and purveyors to dictate what will be served. So if you haven’t had the pleasure of enjoying a Range Road meal out at a local farm yet, now you can experience it six nights a week, no rubber boots required!
Blair has graciously shared with me his secret for the success of his tomato salad dish and now I will share it with you. I think we would both agree though, the real secret to a delicious tomato salad lies in the ingredients themselves.
Tomato Salad with Toasted Bocconcini
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes
Special Tools: Pasta roller or rolling pin (optional)
Remember, the key to something as simple as this is great ingredients, so take the time to visit a local farmer’s market, or better still, make the trip to Prairie Gardens, it will be well worth the trip! Use a variety of colors, shapes and sizes, as each variety will provide a range of flavors.
1 lb. fresh heirloom tomatoes, ripe
8 pc. bocconcini
2 oz. fresh basil, try some different varieties
2 oz. first press canola oil, I enjoy Mighty Trio Organics
4 slices white bread, Pullman loaf, unsliced if you can
2 oz. clarified butter or cooking oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Using a serated knife, thinly slice the bread into four slices
Using a pasta roller, a rolling pin, or even a bottle of wine, roll the bread slices out as thinly as possible
Slice the bocconcini in half and lay four pieces at one end of each slice of pressed bread
Proceed to roll the bread up, much like you would roll up sushi or a tortilla wrap
Cut the tomatoes into wedges and place in a bowl
Tear the basil leaves gently and place in the bowl
Season the tomatoes well with salt and pepper and then drizzle with oil
Heat a frying pan to medium heat
In stages, add a small amount of to pan and place the “cheese bread” in the pan, browning the bread on all sides, much liking making grilled cheese, I recommend placing the bread in the pan opening side down first to allow it to seal
Remove the “cheese bread” from the pan and slice into 3-4 pieces
Assemble the plate by placing the tomatoes on the plate, followed by the toasted bocconcini, and serve!