Masters and Protégés
Chef proprietor Paul Harbor it would seem had again outdone himself. Working with Visa Infinite to bring together master chefs and their protégés, Ravine Vineyard Restaurant was host this past weekend to a magical evening under a blue moon in August. It would no doubt be difficult to distinguish between the masters and the protégés looking at the list of exceptional chefs who would be putting local on my table.
I was first welcomed by many familiar faces and two of my favourite sparkling wines, Trius Brut and Henry of Pelham’s Catharine Rosé, and rather than choose just one, I decided to try both with the Eigensinn Chicken Squire Maklouba, a dish I later learned is traditionally prepared in the Middle East usually with chicken or lamb and tomato, cauliflower and eggplant. Pairing two wines with each course turned out to be part of the evening’s theme, so my indulgence thankfully went reasonably unnoticed.
While sipping on my bubbly, I could not help but drink in the view of our dining tables beneath draped fabric set against the backdrop of the vineyard. I had seen images of this vista before and had no luck wishing myself into the picture, until now. Amazing how something so simple could become so magical. Paul’s parents, Blair and Norma, were inspired to build these delightful marquees at Eigensinn Farm where Paul had trained under Michael Stadtländer. The wood poles were harvested from an Uncle’s property up north by Paul and his wife Nicola for their wedding. I could not wait to be invited to sit down and peek at the menu for a hint at what the evening would bring.
Yum, first course would be Chef Nathan Young’s Peaches and Cream Corn Soup. Nate has been chef at Ravine since May of this year and is no stranger to farm to table cuisine, apprenticing at Langdon Hall, Canoe and also working under Chef Michael Caines in London, England. The recommended wine pairing with the soup was selected and presented by Anton Potvin, Sommelier and former owner of Niagara Street Café.
Anton had selected a Chardonnay and Riesling for the soup but the clear winner for me was Cave Spring’s 2008 CSV Riesling, and I promise it was not because winemaker Angelo Pavan was sitting right across the table from me. It was in my opinion the best pairing of the evening as the sweet corn harvested from Gummi’s garden was balanced perfectly by the pleasant acidity of the Riesling. I also loved how the slight sweetness in the wine played with the spicy note in the soup on my palate.
Next course was Paul’s Foie Gras and Squab terrine. The squab was presented two ways. I assured Tina, seated to my right, that it was okay to pick up the squab leg with her hands to easily enjoy every morsel. Thankfully I did not steer her wrong as I double checked this tip the next morning. We both agreed the Closson Chase 2009 Pinot Noir was divine with the squab, a great example of how red wine can work with fowl. Pinot Noir in particular is an excellent example of how food friendly cool climate wines are with their fine acidity and structure.
Third course, Michael Stadtländer’s baked Lobster and Pickerel with Leek. To quote our host Anton, “Enough said”. Michael’s reputation had of course preceded him but this would be the first time I would be able to judge for myself. The nuances in this course, brought out by pairing the dish with Ravine Nobuyo 2009 Chardonnay were amazing. Normally oaked Chardonnay would not be my weapon of choice, but in this case the fennel in the dish coaxed out licorice notes in the wine. The lobster brought out the prevailing vanilla flavour from the oak. It seemed an ‘Aha’ moment, and the pairing crooned against the backdrop of the blue moon off in the distance.
Next up was Master Chef Frank Dodd’s and Nathan Young’s ‘Nose to Tail’ beef and once again my mind managed to conquer over matter. I had visited Ravine a few months back and tried to convince myself to taste the pickled tongue but was not able to do so. While I again did not taste the pickled tongue, the ox tail ravioli atop the beef was spectacular paired with the 2010 Trius Red and the 2009 Ravine Stadtländer Red. In this case there was no clear winner on the pairing. I am still not sure if it happened by cue, but as the dish was served, fireworks lit the night sky. It seemed to me that they had been set off near Hillebrand Winery where Frank resides as chef. Coincidence I’m sure.
An interlude of cheese, featuring three Ontario favourites – Figaro, Niagara Gold and Casey Blue, was paired with Malivoire’s 2010 Gewurztraminer, a perfect preface to what would be perhaps the most unexpectedly delicious dessert – Chef Ryan Crawford’s Barnyard Dessert. Oh, yes he did. And to quote Marc to the left of me, “It has Baaacon….”
And how do you wrap your head around bacon ice-cream and bacon candy corn? You just dive in and pair it with Riesling Icewine. Enough said. Chef Paul and his peers had of course outdone themselves.
The evening had begun with many familiar faces, a local hang out for me and my posse, and although the evening had taken on a different dimension from my sometimes weekly visits for wood oven pizza, mussels or a glass of wine, one element always remains consistent at Ravine Vineyard. It is quite simply the passion that they share for great food and wine.