Created by the fab duo behind Living.Loving.Local, the Death Row Meals Supper Club put on interesting, delicious, fun dinners that bring together the food lovers in Toronto. My first go ’round was at the Taco Madness meal. I had such a great time that I was hooked, knowing I had to make it to as many of these meals as possible. When the email arrived with the title “Old Hunter’s Feast”, I was in.
On April 1 & 2, hungry collections of people gathered at Beast Restaurant, eagerly anticipating the promised hunter’s feast. They were not disappointed. Let’s call it what it was: Meatapalooza. We sat down in the cozy room at the communal table and got to know our neighbours. As expected, everyone came from different backgrounds, but food was the common denominator. To help stimulate conversation, tiny little plastic animals were placed on the tables and it took no longer than 10 minutes before said animals were…providing entertainment.
Perusing the menu, I was glad to have made the executive decision to not wear tights. That would have been uncomfortable by the end of the night as there were seven amazing courses to ingest and I wanted to savour every bite. First up was Nick Benninger’s “Hunting Trip Gone Wrong”: a slow-poached duck egg, trail mix, “boarsciutto”, foie granola, crab apple verjus and forest edibles. The duck egg was just lovely, and the yolk ran all over the plate as soon as my knife touched it, mixing with the other elements on the plate. The salty boarsciutto (boar prosciutto, a by-product of the first Hunter’s Feast dinner), the savoury crab apple verjus and the creamy yolk were a fabulous combination and something I’d like to have for breakfast. (Hint, nudge.)
Next up was the creation from Beast’s sous chef, Trish Gill. To a lovely, light boar prosciutto brodo, she added confit of sturgeon belly topped with caviar, wild leeks and scrumptious dumplings. If the slurping and spoon-clanking sounds were any indication, the rest of the diners enjoyed it as much as we did. Knowing it was going to be a large, meat-heavy meal, it was nice to have a lighter dish. And hey…there was caviar!
Third on the menu was Tom Davis’ prosciutto “spamstrami” with smoked bean pureé, Canadian Club-infused kimmel crumbs and sage oil. The Stockyards chef explained that he isn’t much for hunting, so if he were out in the woods, he’d need to take some basic provisions like Spam, beans and maybe some bread. Out of that, he created what I thought was a playful take on, basically, a sandwich. The kimmel and pastrami were a natural pairing (pastrami on rye, anyone?) and the smoked bean pureé was fantastic. If you haven’t made it out to Stockyards yet, get there now!
Several dishes – and glasses of Coyotes Run and Sandbanks wine – in, the restaurant was positively buzzing. There was much laughter and merriment as the fourth course arrived: a duo of green and yellow French Canadian split pea soup with boar prosciutto, pheasant sausage and duck spiedini. The chef, Steve Wilson of the Summit Golf & Country Club, referenced his Native Canadian heritage for this dish and it was beautiful. The soup was creamy, smooth and rich and the pheasant sausage was absolutely fantastic. For me, this dish was so wonderful to see (and eat!) as it reminded me of my mom, who used to make split pea soup herself. In fact, it has inspired me to make some of my own.
On to the fabulous Rossy Earle’s dish: the gator, duck liver and boar prosciutto boudin ball with sweet corn pudding, cracklin’, sofrito criollo and ramp coulis. Magic. As anyone who has eaten it can attest, Rossy’s food is incredible. Creative and delicious, this dish was no different. People were literally scraping their plates. The sweet corn pudding alone would have been sufficient, but the rest of dish came together beautifully. I considered proposing marriage, much to J’s confusion.
The final dish before dessert came out was courtesy of Luma’s chef, Jason Bangerter, clearly in his element here. The menu read, “Wild game ragout” with semolina, sour cream and (much to everyone’s delight) crispy tasty bits. Gee, I thought, that’s an awfully vague menu item. I wonder what kind of wild game he has in store. What went into this aromatic dish? Venison, moose and…beaver. Yes, beaver. It was fabulous. Extremely rich, pungent and tender, this dish was a delight to eat. When we were warned that we’d be “uncomfortably full in a great way” at the beginning of the meal, I suspect that this dish in particular was the cause for the alert. The crispy hazelnuts and garlic were a nice counterpoint to the velvety texture of the ragout and, once again, I scraped my plate clean.
It was with mixed feelings that the last course arrived, also concocted by chef Bangerter. This was the “Hunting Trip Gone Right”: homemade marshmallows, mini beaver tails and a Kahlua-infused cream with little graham cracker-like pieces at the bottom, all served in a mason jar. Un-be-lievable. I love dessert: I have a real sweet tooth and this hit the spot. Several spots, really, as I dug down into the jar to get a bite of everything on my spoon. Satiety and good sense be damned, I was going to finish this dessert!
What a wonderful way to spend a few hours: stellar food made by excellent Ontario chefs; great Ontario wine; wonderful company; and friends old and new. If you’re interested in checking out one of these meals for yourself, head on over to Living.Loving.Local’s Facebook page and sign up for their mailing list! For some great pics of the night, head on over to the If Looks Could Fill site!