Monday, May 17, 2010

Newspaper Column - "Cultivate" at the Market

This column appeared in today's Star Phoenix.


Three student chefs from Cultivate, the new “pop up” restaurant at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market, with their mentor (l-r) Jerimiah Bezaire, Erica Krumpitz, Chef Moe Mathieu and Kyla Hurst.



It was an evening of fine dining—carrot coconut soup, roast hip of beef with horseradish and potatoes, fresh foccacia bread and, for dessert, cheesecake smothered in cherry sauce. The food was delicious, the service was friendly and the setting was, well, strangely familiar.

I am a regular patron of the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market on Saturday morning, when the place is bustling and my sack is heavy with fresh local food. But this was my first visit to the market after hours, when the vendors were serving food rather than selling it.

In an effort to showcase their products and bring more people to the market, some of the vendors have decided to serve Sunday dinner now and then. The next date isn’t set yet, but will be advertised on the farmers’ market website.

While many of us know the market as a great place to buy locally-produced food, it’s also becoming known a great place to eat locally produced food.

Several food stalls are now open daily from Tuesday to Saturday. The Riverbend Plantation Market Café serves fresh baking and light lunches, as well as products made with saskatoon berries from the Riverbend orchard.

Giuseppi’s has a loyal fan base for its generous slices of quiche, sausage rolls and barbeque beef on a bun. The Garlic Guru serves soups, sandwiches and, yes, garlic cookies. And for those who don’t have time to sit and eat at the market, there’s Sous Chef, which sells prepared take-away foods such as savoury strudel, lasagne and salads.

Next month, a new restaurant will pop up at the market—literally. Called a “pop up” restaurant, it will materialize at the market four days a week, and disappear as soon as dinner is done. It’s an experiment conceived by Chef Moe Mathieu, who is well respected for his dedication to local foods at his restaurant The Willow on Wascana in Regina and now teaches culinary skills at SIAST in Saskatoon.

The restaurant is called Cultivate and the theme is Canadian cuisine—classic comfort food elevated to the level of fine dining—entirely prepared and served by a group of culinary students on their summer break. “When young chefs work in a kitchen, they do a lot of chopping and prepping, but they don’t get a lot of opportunity to cook,” says Mathieu. “Now they’re going to learn to run a restaurant, from cooking to paying the bills.”

As if to prove the truth of it, he invited my husband and me to a “pop up” restaurant for just us two, where three of his students practiced preparing some of the dishes that will appear on the menu of Cultivate.

The meal began with a bite-sized appetizer of chickpeas and couscous. Then a thick Both Coast Chowder made with east coast lobster, west coast prawns and Saskatchewan vegetables in between.

Next, a tortiere with a twist—not the traditional meat pie so popular among French Canadians, but slow braised duck served under a crisp of pastry glazed with maple syrup, along with beet chutney and vanilla flavoured carrots. Yumm.

That was followed by a Canadian not-yet-classic: Coffee and Donut Spare Ribs in a sauce made (that's a timbit in the picture) with coffee and donuts from Tim Horton’s. The sweet spare ribs were balanced with a slightly spicy scoop of mustard mashed potatoes. As if we still had room for dessert, the students served a slice of maple syrup pie with a dab of sour cream.

Mathieu says Cultivate is a not-for-profit restaurant; the students are unpaid and the proceeds will be put back into the culinary venture. The restaurant will “pop up” for three hours on Tues., Wed., Fri. and Sat. evenings from June 18 to August 20 at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market.

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