Last night, in countless places around the world, people celebrated Julia Child’s 100th birthday. I had the good fortune of being at one of over 40 events organized by Les Dames D’Escoffier British Columbia, and was graciously hosted by everyone at The Fairmont YVR, located right inside Vancouver International Airport. It was the first time I’d taken the sky train out there with nothing more than a purse and camera bag; I kept thinking I ought to be hoisting my backpack over my shoulders and getting ready for a long flight. But not last night! All I needed was my appetite.
We started with an amuse bouche, the Sous Chef Sarah’s take on a nicoise salad, served with a sparkling Chardonnay by Bella Wines in the Okanagan Valley. The salad was composed of a stripe of black olive tapenade, confit fingerling potatoes, micro-greens, seared tuna, and a soft-boiled quail’s egg. The salty tapenade and spiced seared edges of the tuna made the dish. So good.
Next we had a French onion soup with caramelized onions, crostini with duck confit and Oka cheese, and a sweet oniony broth poured over. The best part was the crostini, with its thick layer of duck and melted cheese. So rich! So French! As Julia said “Fat gives things flavour,” and I couldn’t agree more.
Between the soup and main course there was a palate cleanser so cold and naturally sweet, I know I’ll be craving another tomorrow as soon as the mid-day sun hits. It was like a rustic sorbet; flaky ice mixed with pureed local blueberries and served in a glass with club soda, strawberries, and blackberries. A purple, fizzy scoop of summer.
Our main entree was a deconstructed version of Beef Bourgignon, served with a Terrazas de Los Andes 2009 Malbec. Something you need to know about me is this: I rarely follow the word “deconstructed” with the phrase “I loved it.” The most brilliant chefs in the world can deconstruct something, and I’m still likely to wish they’d just put it back together again. The beauty of beef bourgignon is in its array of simple ingredients, which take time to bring together. The plate had slow-cooked tenderloin, braised short rib, pork belly, mashed potatoes, carrot puree, mushrooms, and a few Brussels sprout leaves; it was gorgeous, but I also kind of longed for a traditional bowl of red wine-fuelled stew.
On their own, however, most of these components were cooked beautifully; I found the pork belly to be a bit dry, but the tenderloin was lean, pink, and well-seasoned, the short rib a sweet and savoury tribute to braising, and the carrot and potato purees both wonderfully rich.
To finish the meal we had a vanilla crème brûlée served with pistachio and cranberry biscotti, more fresh berries (kudos Fairmont, for keeping so seasonal), and a glass of the Quail’s Gate Optima, The brûlée (one of my favourite words in the world) was classic and creamy, with its burnt-caramelized sugar-top that shattered pleasingly with the tap of my spoon.
This lovely meal, as well as all the others put on by Les Dames D’Escoffier, cost $69, with proceeds (at least from our dinner) going to Growing Chefs, a fantastic organization that connects chefs and growers with their community, particularly elementary schools. Thank you Julia for providing the inspiration, Les Dames for launching such an ambitious celebration and fundraiser, my fellow-diners for the fine conversation, and the Fairmont YVR for hosting such an exquisite evening! AND I finally got to meet Mijune of Follow Me Foodie fame!
Besides all of these treats in honour of Julia, I also recently had the chance to join a film crew from China’s Travel Channel and National Geographic Traveller as they made a stop in Richmond as part of a tour of western Canada. The highlight of the day was a stop at the Richmond Schoolyard Society in Terra Nova Park, which is set up very close to The Sharing Farm. Ian Lai, the society’s dynamic director, arranged for the visiting hosts to experience “The Story of Bread,” composed of wheat grown and harvested on the farm that was freshly-milled into flour, made into dough, grilled on the bbq, then filled with salad greens picked freshly from the garden. They even replanted the leftover kernels! There were kids involved at every step of the way, all of them happy, loud, and knowledgeable about where the food they were working with came from. Between that and our first stop at Pajo’s to learn the art of fish and chips, I took hundreds of photos. Here are some of my favourites.