Sunday, 22 September 2013

An Afternoon at Fraser Common Farms with Forage

The locavore movement is hot right now and I love it.

Some of the city's most established restaurants have been using local ingredients since the very beginning (ex. Bishop's, West) but nobody really ever made a big deal about it.  Now, chefs are shouting "local" off their rooftops for all to hear.  It is the new buzz word, the hottest trend.  And, fingers crossed, I think it is here to stay.

With this shift towards the locavore concept, many new "local-centric" restaurants have popped up in Vancouver over the past year, including Forage located downtown on Robson.  Forage is now approaching its one year anniversary, and it is quite impressive what it has accomplished in such a short time.  From its "Green Award" at the Vancouver Magazine Awards, to it weekly local Meat Draw, to Chef Whittaker's appearance at a number of events supporting local food, Forage has quickly made its mark on the Vancouver dining scene.  Click here to see the review of my last visit to Forage.

Last weekend, Hubby and I had the pleasure of joining Chef Whittaker of Forage for a celebration of local food at Fraser Common Farms in Langley.  Fraser Common Farms is most well known for its salad greens which are supplied under the name of Glorious Organics, which make weekly deliveries of its freshest greens to many of the best restaurants in Vancouver.  This al fresco dinner was a fundraiser for a new educational centre on the Fraser Common Farms property and therefore was a great way to support the local food movement and be treated to an outstanding meal with the freshest of ingredients.  How could I not attend?

The first sign that this would be a great evening was that the wine and beer were already freely flowing by the time we arrived at 3pm.  The (free) wine was supplied by Backyard Winery, which is located literally just down the road from Fraser Common Farms.  Some grapes grown on the property while other varieties are brought in from the Okanagan.  On this particular occasion, they were offering their Sauvignon Blanc which was not overly acidic as some Sauv Blancs tend to be and therefore worked well for both sipping and for pairing the dishes of the evening.  For red wine lovers, they brought their Meritage which I also enjoyed.  Hubby chose to to try the local beer made by R&B brewery located in East Vancouver.  I highly recommend giving both these wines and beer a try, both to support our local producers and to discover how fortunate we are to have such great products so close to home!

Nothing says a day on the farm like wine and beer served in mason jars:)

As we sipped our local wine and beer on what turned out to be one of the most beautiful late summer evening that one could ask for, we were treated to some of Chef Whittaker's finest pre-dinner snacks.  He has composed some outstanding charcuterie complete with locally-made sausages from Gelderman's Farm in Abbotsford and some local cheeses.  Accompaniments included a raw honey straight from Chef Whittaker's backyard (he has his own bee hives!), mustard, potted fruits as well as some amazing pickled carrots, green beans and peppers (my favourite part!).  With a glass of wine in one hand and some cheese and honey in the other, in addition to some local musicians strumming away with some great tunes, I was hard-pressed to think of a better way to spend an end-of-summer Saturday afternoon!

When everyone arrived, there was a quick introduction to the farm and to the schedule of events for the afternoon and then it was off for a tour of the farm and some foraging.  Our kind and knowledgeable guide for the tour was one of the lead farmers at Fraser Common Farms.  He knew every nook and cranny of the farm and was very enthusiastic in answering all of our questions about the farm and what lived and grew there.  We learned about the streams that run through the farm in the cooler months (they had all dried up after such a hot summer!) and the salmon that spawned there.  We visited the greenhouse that housed some of the new seeds that were being prepared for planting and it was here that we got to try a bite of a spilanthes, also known as the toothache plant, that turned your whole mouth numb for several minutes (wild!).  We visited some chickens that not only lay eggs but also help to get rid of unwanted pests which serves as nature's answer to pesticides.  My favourite part of the tour was getting to pick some ingredients for our meal including kale (3 different varieties), black chilies, chickweed and purslane.  The latter two are wild plants that many weed out of their garden but that are actually incredibly tasty and are harvested to use for salads and garnishes.  I just loved learning about all of the different crops that they have on their many acres but it seems as though we did not even  scratch the service of what there was to learn before we had to head back to deliver our foraged items to Chef Whittaker.
Chickens of all shapes and sizes!
Rows full of all sorts of goodies!
Hot peppers (dare ya!)

After our little walk and having seem all of the amazing produce growing at Fraser Common Farms, we had built up quite an appetite and could not wait to discover what Chef Whittaker had in store for us.  Fortunately, the menu had been posted so that we could start to anticipate what a fabulous meal it would be.

It was a special treat to watch Chef Whittaker prepare our meal in his quaint outdoor kitchen.  Although he was obviously very busy, he was very kind in taking the time to chat with us about what he was preparing and to let us sample some of the ingredients beforehand.

Cioggia (aka candy cane beet)

Shortly after, we were seated at the long, communal table in a big open space just in front of the main farmhouse and dinner service began.  Here are the amazing dishes that Chef Whittaker prepared for us:

Centrepieces with vases made by a local blacksmith

Cucumbers with mint yogurt, black chilis and purslane- Who knew there were so many different types of cucumbers?  This salad included three different varieties of cucumbers including bread-and-butter pickled cukemelons (look like mini watermelons, so cute!) that we had sampled earlier that day at the Trout Lake Farmer's Market.

Celebration and wild greens with cherry dressing and chioggia beets- As mentioned, Fraser Common Farms owns the brand of Glorious Organics who are experts in the world of greens of all shapes and sizes and therefore, no meal at the farm would be complete without a green salad!  And Chef Whittaker kicked these greens up a notch with a sweet summer dressing, colourful cioggia beets and stunning edible flowers (also from the farm of course!).

Duck fat roast potatoes and rosemary- For all those meat-eaters out there like Hubby, there is nothing better to accompany meat than vegetables cooked in meat drippings!   Talk about sheer decadence!

Honey-glazed roast vegetables- Although everything was amazing, this was my personal favourite and I definately went back from seconds (and thirds and fourths)!  The medley of squash, carrots, parsnip and beets were roasted with raw honey from Chef Whittaker's backyard.  Heavenly!

Hay-roasted Gelderman's pork with mustardo fruit- I myself am not a meat eater but Hubby happily dug right into his thick and juicy slice of pork.  My fellow diners raved about the smokiness of the pork from its roast on the hay and how well it was balanced by the sweet mustard sauce.

Watermelon- This little pre-dessert was so clever!  Not only was it super refreshing on this warm summer evening but we were also asked to put all of our seeds in a jar so that they could be used to grow next year's crop.  I cannot wait until I get to eat watermelon grown from these seeds next year!  

Wacky cake with roast apple and pear and verbena jelly cream- This dish was prepared by the pastry chef from Forage who accompanied Chef Whittaker to help with the meal. This flourless souffle-like dessert was chocolaty and light, and was full of big chunks of fresh fruit from the farm.  It was topped off with a beautiful cream made with lemon verbena, a perennial shrub, to give it unique farm flair.

I cannot even begin to express how much I enjoyed this night at Fraser Common Farms.  I cannot think of any better way to spend one of our last sunny Saturdays of the summer.  I am so thankful to all those at the farm who taught us about all of the amazing food that they grow for us all to enjoy, and would like to commend Chef Whittaker for his support of local farms such as this one.

Thank you all so very much for such an unforgettable evening of all that is local:)

For more information on Fraser Common Farms, see here.

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