Julie Ann Bertram
Special to the Tribune
Over 400 people spent a glorious evening strolling, nibbling and chatting at Leisure Farms on Saturday, August 13, as the West Nipissing Chamber of Commerce presented its popular Feast on the Farm event. No one left hungry as thirteen stations were set up along a meandering trail through meadows of bountiful berry bushes and towering corn fields, where local chefs presented delicious courses from a wide variety of regionally grown food. The creativity didn’t stop there as the rocking music played by North of Quiet rang out and the skillful bartenders from Tie the Knot happily engaged with everyone in the decorated cocktail barn.
Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Nathan Sauvé feels grateful for the experience and expressed his delight as everyone worked together to create such an incredible experience. He jokes that even Mother Nature collaborated, ending the day’s downpour just before the event got underway so that everyone enjoyed clear skies and mild weather in the fields. “Honestly I just want to thank everyone; like the sponsors, the help, the hands that we got, Michaud Levesque for putting up all the tents and doing such good work, especially in the rain. Paul (Levesque) was out there in the pouring rain setting up some of those tents on Friday. They did an amazing job. The people that helped us, the vendors, the guests that attended, everything was amazing. People were nice and polite, great company, and it was beautiful to see. I just feel very, very grateful.”
Sauvé began his term at the Chamber of Commerce in January and had “big shoes to fill,” after the years of success before Covid hit and pressed pause on the Feast. It was a bit like starting all over again, but the enthusiasm from all participants made it easier. “Honestly, I’m new and this was not only my first time running it, but it was also my first time attending. I think it went really well.” He went on to say that “it has always been important for the Chamber to promote local producers and restaurants, but it’s especially important now” after the lockdowns.
While the event typically sold out well ahead of time in the past, it was not sold out this year, though over 400 tickets found buyers. With this strong comeback, the Chamber expects the Feast on the Farm will be back to its pre-pandemic glory of 500 guests next year, as word-of-mouth spreads. “I spoke to quite a few people there. I spoke to chefs who spoke to other people and yeah, everything was well received. It was a little bit more than they expected, and so yeah, it was good. It was fantastic.”
As a fundraiser for the Chamber, this year’s Feast on the Farm exceeded expectations, “I believe we made a profit, though I haven’t had a chance to really look at the numbers yet,” says Sauvé. However, that is not the only objective of the event, which aims mostly to promote local food and make lasting connections between local food producers and restaurants, hopefully leading to long-term supply agreements.
That was on display this year, as chefs created deliciously inventive dishes from locally sourced ingredients. When stopping the Leisure Farms wagon in front of the tent offering strawberry soup, owner Mitch Deschatelets laughed when asked if the strawberries were from his farm. “Of course they are! They wouldn’t even be let onto the property if they weren’t strawberries from here,” he joked, as everyone on the wagon agreed that Leisure Farms strawberries are the best in any case.
Everyone was excited about the variety of international tastes represented on site, turning the event into a culinary voyage for eager samplers. Brigadeiro’s, a husband-and-wife team working out of Sturgeon Falls, gave out samples of their Brazilian sweets and ‘Pão de Queijo’ a gluten-free cheese bread which was enthusiastically received. Himalayan momos are Nepalese dumplings, a spicy vegetable version was introduced by North Bay’s Momo Magic. “It’s great because we’re bringing a taste of the world that’s been brought here. We had Mexican food, Turkish delights, a Brazilian dessert… a little bit of everything rolled up into our little festival, you know, a taste of what the new world looks like in our area, right?” Sauvé enthuses.
Other delectable delights included a spicy drunken jerk chicken with charcoal aioli and coleslaw from Wayne Gretzky Estates. Estates’ chef Maurice Desharnais hails from Sturgeon Falls and kept the crowds entertained with his quick wit as he piled the food high on plates. The Wasi Chefs, René and Laura Dubois, also born and raised in Sturgeon, served a chilled strawberry soup with goat cheese and chocolate mint – an enticing combination of both savoury and sweet. There were flavourful gluten-free pulled pork tacos from Mr. Panchos, mouth-watering Turkish baklava from The Bison, tasty marinara meatballs from Sonia’s Patio and more. Cecil’s Eatery was happily sharing gigantic portions of pork schnitzel with coleslaw on cranberry bread. 1886 Lake House Bistro served up juicy bison sliders, and next came a much-needed fresh salad of lettuces and microgreens from Earth and Soul Farm, who are new to the area. Delicious shortbread cookies were lovingly made, decorated, and packaged by Mommy and Benny’s Bake Shop.
In addition to tasting, guests also got to witness some of the magic that goes into preparing the food, like watching Dan Lelièvre hand-flame every one of his delicious raspberry crème brulée by Chez Jean-Marc Bakery. The crew from Extreme Pizza were tossing dough and creating wood-fired pizza right in front of the eager crowd, with new pepperoni and hot honey pizza creating quite a buzz. The food was washed down with appreciation and local wines and beer from Thomson Farms Cider & Winery and New Ontario Brewery, not to mention free Whiskey samples from Gretzky’s Estates.
MPP John Vanthof always enjoyed Feast on the Farm before the pandemic and he was thrilled to see it return, heralding it as “one of the premiere events in all of Timiskaming-Cochrane!”