When your thoughts swing to gelato flavours, how often does canola appear on your radar?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess: never.
Fortunately, the mind of gelato guru Chef Mario Spina of Burger 320 holds no such limitations.
When the team behind Beakerhead – Calgary’s annual smash up of art, science, and engineering – dropped a load of canola hay, seeds, meal, and oil on his stoop, and asked him to produce an entry to this year’s BeakerEats program, he took up the challenge with gusto. Notwithstanding a dramatic confrontation between his convection oven and the canola hay, Chef Spina came through with a toasted-canola-hay-infused gelato profiterole, topped with honey-chocolate sauce and a dusting of canola meal; a dessert that – judging by the moans of rapture emanating from my fellow diners – was right on the mark.
It was the crowning finish to the BeakerEats Chefs’ Collaborative Dinner, a public event that previews some of the delights awaiting diners at participating restaurants throughout Beakerhead. BeakerEats launches today, while the 2018 festival’s full lineup of activities, installations, talks and workshops – including a handful of culinary chemistry sessions – runs September 19 to 23.
Each year under its BeakerEats banner, the festival team selects a theme ingredient from Canadian farmers and producers, puts together a science kit of local products for Calgary chefs and mixologists, and challenges them to do what they do best: apply their creativity to the fullest expression of outstanding ingredients. The theme for 2018 is canola in all its forms – oil, seeds, meal, hay, and sprouts – a true prairie product grown by some 14,000 Alberta farmers.
As Beakerhead’s Paul Gordon noted at the outset of Wednesday’s dinner, canola itself has a long and interesting scientific history. From its lowly origins as an inedible lubricant for the steam engines that powered Canada’s WWII navy, to its current position as one of the world’s healthiest edible oils (whose spent grain has also become a top-grade feed for dairy cattle), canola is a Canadian success story that speaks to the best of health-friendly science and to research both collaborative and tenacious.
Our BeakerEats walk through canola history was fueled by a Bloody Airdrie created by Spirit of the Wench, Wendy Peters. It was a tasty tipple that combined summer tomatoes, cucumbers, and red peppers with blended canola seed and Absolut Lemon vodka.
Then it was on to the tasting menu – and what a menu it was!
River Cafe‘s Chef Matthias Fong started us off with bison tataki, tucked cozily with Highwood Crossing canola oil sorbet and canola hay infused cream, and laced with Fallen Timbers mead, honey-crystallized canola seed, and charred kohlrabi.
It was the perfect prelude to Chef Mitchell Carey’s Instagram-worthy salad of brassica-family vegetables, arranged with a cracker of spent canola & grains and honeycomb sponge toffee among pools of colourful canola infusions created by his Winebar Kensington team.
Next up were spicy morsels of canola seed cake, created by Chef Liana Robberecht of WinSport, with bitey Highwood Crossing confit tomatoes, ninja radish, tomato skin petals, and canola shoots.
Chef Mike Pigot brought his Home and Away crafting style to popcorn-and-canola-meal tempura shrimp, with drizzles of canola seed caramel and a brilliant canola aioli.
The main course was provided by the dinner’s host venue, Brasserie Kensington, and featured a canola-hay-smoked sous vide beef bavette created by Chef Jorel Zielke, sided with ABC Farms honey & parsnip saute and cold-pressed canola hollandaise.
And finally, that dessert: Chef Spina’s toasted-hay gelato, sandwiched between choux pastry layers made from a canola oil/butter blend.
I could wax endlessly about the tastes, textures, and stylings of the night’s creative offerings – but go try them yourself instead. You’ll find each dish on the menu of its creator’s home restaurant, from now until the end of Beakerhead 2018.
Be sure to ask Chef Spina about his canola hay tribulations.
Sample more BeakerEats cocktails and food features at these other participating restaurants: The Coup, Deane House, Oxbow, Yellow Door Bistro, and Shokunin. Two dollars is donated to Beakerhead for every BeakerEats dish and cocktail sold.
Find the full line-up of Beakerhead events here.
For insight into canola’s fascinating scientific history, check out this overview at wdm.ca or the resources at albertacanola.com
Text and photos © 2018 Catherine Van Brunschot