October 14, 2009

BIA Chefs' Night a feast for the senses

As published in The Erin Advocate

It was a tough assignment, but someone had to do it. Advocate readers deserve to know just what it was like to tour through five magnificent homes and sample culinary masterpieces from some of Erin's finest chefs. So I made the sacrifice.

The Erin House Tour, a fundraiser organized by the Erin Village Business Improvement Area (BIA) on October 2 and 3, opened with a "progressive dinner". We travelled from home to home with about 60 fellow diners, partaking of a new course at each location.
It was a great column topic, and a fun night out for Jean and I to celebrate our 28th anniversary, so I knocked off two birds with one stone.

The appetizer was served at Someday Farm on Winston Churchill Boulevard, the home of Willa Gauthier. It was a flaky Ricotta Tart, with feta and goat cheese, and a touch of balsamic fig jam, made by Jim Devonshire of Tintagels, at 50 Main Street.

It was a fine social event, with familiar faces from around town, and new people to chat with. Now if I could only connect all those names and faces. It was also quite an undertaking for the hosts, welcoming a horde of dinner guests into their homes.

The next course was at Ashlar House, located on Main Street just past the stop lights at the south end of the village. It is not easily visible from the street, but it is one of Erin's oldest homes, an impressive stone farmhouse from 1850 that was once on the road to Belfountain. Now owned by Tim and Rebecca Sutherns, it can be rented during much of the year for corporate events, retreats, weddings, vacations or even as a film set (www.ashlarhouse.ca).

Jo Fillery of What's Cookin', at 98 Main Street, served up a delicious Autumn Harvest Soup, created by Tamara Honiball. It included locally-grown pumpkin, parsnip and carrot, with Steen's cream (of course), and an ample shot of ginger. Some of the decorating highlights were provided by Decor Solutions and The Village Green.

The pasta course took place at Cattail Farm, on the Eighth Line, the home of Jim and Susan Clift. A superb gnocchi, fried with onions, was served by David Netherton of David's Restaurant at 20 Shamrock Road, and chef Dwayne Presley. It is soon to be added to their catering menu.

Next, we braved the mud of the Tenth Line to reach Hayven Farm, the home of Genie Hayward and Robert Venables. There we were treated to a creative and tasty variation on fish and chips. It was prepared by chef Thorntin Holdsworth, who with his wife Sonia Catino operates Bistro Riviere at 82 Main Street. The fish batter used crushed Miss Vickie's potato chips, while the fries were made from long, curly strings of sweet potato. Fantastic with beer.

The dessert finale was at Little Brook Farm, also on the Tenth Line, the home of John and Jennifer Rogers. Jeff Holtom, of Holtom's Bakery at 78 Main Street, stirred up an addictive mixture of custard, berries, chocolate and liqueur, topped with whipped cream. It went nicely with Joe Lafontaine's Turkey Truffles (in the shape of turkeys, not made with turkey), courtesy of Debora's Chocolates.

The guests were truly impressed as they toured these homes, not just with the decor, but with the architecture. The innovations used to expand older houses and make unique living spaces were a marvel to behold.

The dinner and tour was a great deal at $45 per person. The pace was more relaxed for the house tour only on Saturday, with tickets at $25. This idea looks like a winner for the BIA, so I hope they do it again next year.

This column reminds me of 1988, when I worked as a restaurant critic in Etobicoke. People always envied my job, not realizing that it is not always easy to come up with entertaining ways to describe restaurant food, decor and service. The thrill can wear off if you do it every week, even with an expense account. Speaking of which, I wonder if I can get one of those at The Advocate. [Editor's note: Forget about it.]