April 14th, 2012 was the day of the 2nd Eat Alberta conference hosted by NAIT, and organized by a whiz-bang team of local food supporters consisting of: Suzanne Dennis, Ming Franks, Valerie Lugonja, Mack Male, Nicole Schroth, Allan Suddaby and Sharon Yeo. The presenters’ list read like the family tree of a Bon Appetit sire and a Cordon Bleu dame. With a roster like that, ticket buyers knew this was going to be one heck of a food extravaganza, and it was.
At 9 a.m. all attendees assembled for the morning keynote session to listen to Shannon and Danny Ruzicka of Nature’s Green Acres farm talk about “Life on the Back 40”. We learned of the importance of moving animals from pen to pen in order for the land to renew itself; we leaned of how sensitive chickens are to change and what social animals they are; we learned of the importance of raising animals on grass instead of grain and without hormones and antibiotics; we learned that Ruzicka’s pigs don’t wallow in their own poop, preferring the spa-like attributes of good clean mud and water, and lastly we learned why Danny doesn’t like bees.
|This is NOT Shannon and Danny, but I didn’t take a picture of them at the conference, so consider this a stand-in photo.|
Most importantly we learned that people like the Ruzickas work hard not only to put conscientiously raised food on their own table, but on the tables of Albertans as well. Hopefully now, more people will understand why someone like award-winning Chef Blair Lebsack supports this young farming family and why his Range Road 135 Field to Fork dinner on their property last year was a phenomenal success.
|The Intense, Passionate Suddaby|
I had, through the food community, heard about Suddaby and was aware of people’s adoration of the man, but I had no idea the level of knowledge he had, nor the passion he possessed for the product. Eat Alberta was wise in choosing this presenter for a class. We learned about the meat, the casings, the technique of stuffing and the science behind everything sausage. About two minutes into the session I became a Suddabite. One hour was not enough to soak up this man’s wit, skill and expertise.
|Contemplative, yet daring to go where no sausage maker has gone before|
I don’t know why more people didn’t sign up for beer tasting in the morning slot. A low class enrolment in the early session meant more beer for those of us who put a lot of thought into scheduling.
|Jason Foster in action|
|the view from my desk|
Fortified by sausage and beer, we headed to the dining area to have lunch. Us foodies needed more food, and NAIT stuck to the theme of local by providing lunch made with local products. Nicely done.
We put our mozza balls into ziplock bags and placed them in the cooler to set until we could take them home at the end of the day. When I opened the cooler door and saw everyone else’s perfect cheese balls lined up, I have to admit I was tempted to exchange mine with Carmen Cheng’s (@FoodKarma) whose mozza mound looked like it came straight from Italy. But somehow, through the miracle of science, cooling, and absolute fluke, my cheese transformed into a rather tasty, somewhat toothsome oblong mass of mozzarella.
|Blair Lebsack trimming bison striploin|
|Cutting into bison brisket|
By 3:45 we waddled into the final session where a panel of food warriors (Shannon Ruzicka, Amy Beaith, Kevin Kossowan, Jeff Senger, Allan Suddaby) expounded on How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse using personal methods of food preservation, caching, fermenting and storage techniques. It has to be said that no one on the panel has yet encountered a zombie, but I have no doubt that come the day of the Apocalypse, we’re all better off now knowing what to do to survive. In all seriousness, we learned that it doesn’t take much to sustain oneself either by growing one’s own food, or trading with others who do. It takes commitment and heart; two things Albertans have a heck of a lot of.
|Warning: Members of the Panel Are Not as Docile as They Appear|
And all that for $125. I’ve been to conferences where I’ve learned less and paid more, and where the food was hardly fit to eat. Thanks to the organizers, the presenters, the volunteers and to NAIT. For those interested in next year’s conference, keep your ears on the foodvine; tickets are going to be one hot item.
Speaking of tickets, be careful where you park. Right, Kevin?
|Steve, aka Johnny Lawyer on the Spot, tending to a “Much Ado About Nothing” parking incident.|