Our communal table was decorated with figurines of a moose, bear, zebra and tiger. If I was betting that at least one of those animals will be appearing on my dinner plate, I would have made some solid money. Welcome to Death Row Meals: Hunters Feast II.
Much like Secret Pickle and Charlies Burger, Death Row Meals is behind some of Toronto’s more innovative dining experiences. Hunters Feast was a carryover of sorts from last year’s event, taking the leg from last year’s wild boar, curing it for a year and incorporating the wild boar prosciutto into the various courses. Each course was paired with some of Ontario’s tastier wine offerings.
Course 1: “Hunting Trip Gone Wrong” – chef Nick Benninger. Slow poached duck egg, trail mix, boarscuitto, fois granola, crab apple verjus, forest edibles.
There’s a certain child-like giddiness I get when I cut my knife through a perfectly poached egg and see its golden yolky goodness ebb and flow across my plate. The richness of the duck egg combined with the pickled ramps, granola and prosciutto made a great start to our four hours of feasting and drinking. Rich and savoury with a nice, sweet tartness from the ramps and verjus, this would make a perfect late-start Sunday breakfast.
Course 2: Confit of Acadian sturgeon belly, boar prosciutto brodo, wild leeks, dumpling – chef Scott Vivian.
For some of us who are trying to overcome our piscophobia, sturgeon is a difficult choice for a gateway fish. Seeing that we had many courses to go, I politely passed on this dish so I could focus on (mostly) land mammals. I sat, envious of other diners as they ate away at their sturgeon and finished off by picking up their bowls to drink the proscuitto-flavoured broth.
Course 3: prosciutto Spamstrammi with smoked bean puree, Canadian Club infused kimmel crumbs & sage oil – chef Tom Davis.
I admit that I raised a Spockian eyebrow at Chef Davis when he described how he made his own Spam pastrami from the boar proscuitto. With one bite, the eyebrow was lowered and I was a believer. Slightly smoky and perfectly spiced, my little loaf of luncheonmeat disappeared within 2 minutes.
Course 4: Duo of green and yellow French Canadian split pea soups with boar proscuitto, pheasant sausage & duck spledini – chef Steve Wilson
Chef Wilson told us that this dish was a tribute to his French Canadian and First Nations background. Our bowls were beautifully divided in half, with the green split pea soup side having tender pieces of sausage. I made sure to alternate between the soup and the duck kebab, grilled in a savoury Italian style.
Course 5: Gator, duck liver and boar prosciutto boudin balls with sweet corn pudding, cracklin’, sofritto criollo, ramp coulis – chef Rossy Earle
When this course arrived, I had mixed feelings. Part of me wanted to stare at the beautiful presentation, while the carnivore in me wanted to tear that boudin ball apart and have my first crack at gator. The carnivore always wins and it wasn’t disappointed. Rich and moist and full of flavour, Chef Earle’s take on boudin was deliciously executed. The creamed corn and the tiny moat of Earle’s Diablo Fuego hot sauce were excellent accompaniments. This dish was intense in all the right ways.
Course 6: wild game ragout, seminola, sour cream & crispy tasty bits – chef Jason Bangerter
When Chef Bangeter said that it was wild game, he meant it. The ragout was a mix of venison, moose and beaver (!!) sitting on top of a pillowy ring of seminola. The ragout had the warm and hearty flavour that I’d expect from game meat, with a rich and slow-cooked goodness that screams both “comfort food” and “sophistication”.
Course 7: Midnight campfire with marshmallow, coffee & booze – chef Jason Bangerter
Let’s be honest: can you really go wrong when you combine home-made marshmallow, mini beaver tails and Kaluha in a large mason jar? It was a booze, coffee jar of goodness. I desperately struggled to eat every last bite of the dessert, fighting off the pain of overindulging. This was a killer ending or an amazing night.
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Photos by Robin
Text by Richard