Roots, Rants, and Roars: FOOD HIKE

“So, it’s all setup along the Elliston coastline, which is beautiful in epic proportions, and you walk a bit, and then you eat, and then you walk a bit more, and eat again, and you just keep doing that ‘til you’re stuffed.  And there’s music, and everyone’s happy, and some guy is spreading pork fat honey butter on molasses bread next to a root cellar.”

This is pretty much how we described the Roots, Rants, and Roars Food Hike to our friends, and we got the same reaction every time.  Jaws dropped, heads cocked, and there was a lot of “WHAT??  That’s MY dream!  That’s MY DREAM HIKE!”

Know what?  It’s ours too.  The morning after Cod Wars, we gathered with about 400 others at the sun-bathed event grounds, and first perused the craft market setup by local artisans. 

There were jars of bakeapple jam, jewellery, clothing, photography, and sooo much gorgeous knitting.  Oh my word – Newfoundlanders really know how to knit.  

At 10am, the pistols fired and the hike began (kidding - there were no pistols, just some really nice opening remarks from host Seamus O’Regan).  The festival brings in five chefs from “Away,” and each serve a course along the five kilometer route that winds along Elliston’s coastline.  We opted to hop on the bus and head to the last of the stands, and work our way from end to beginning.  

We started with Chef Jessica Pelland, Executive Chef at Calgary’s upcoming Charbar, and Alberta’s first winner of CHOPPED Canada

She served perfectly-spiced kofta with pickled veg on homemade roti, which we ate standing next to the fish flake we’d admired in Elliston last year.  

Next, we walked up and around a hill, and watched as Chef Marc Lepine and co. carved up glistening slabs of grilled ribeye, which they served in a miso broth with turnip, carrots, barley, chanterelles. 

The highly-lauded Chef Lepine was visiting from Ottawa, where he’s chef and owner of Atelier.  Of all his credentials, my favourite is “International Shellfish Champion,” which he won last year in Charlottetown, PEI.  

A stroll down the hill and a glass of rhubarb lemonade later, we arrived and got in line for Chef Anthony Walsh’s dish. 

He’s the Corporate Executive Chef for the Oliver and Bonacini group in Toronto, and former Executive Chef at the iconic Canadian restaurant Canoe

His offering couldn’t have paired more wonderfully with the days’ brisk but sunny weather: saucy braised lamb with pickled rutabaga, a slice of cheesy cornbread, and cactus in ‘nasty sauce,’ also known as ‘some of the spiciest sh*t you’ll ever eat.’  

Further down the road was Chef Matty Matheson of Parts and Labour - he's a talented chef, Vice host, and a real eccentric (all you have to do is look at his Instagram feed and you’ll see what I mean). 

His setup was perhaps most iconic of all; his table was backed by not one, but two grass-covered root cellars;

the gorge before them was (very aptly) described by Matheson as looking like Middle Earth;

and Jim Payne, Fergus O’Byrne, and Sean McCann were playing music.  On the root cellar

Matheson served up the meatiest of meaty baked beans (an entire pig went in there - Dana watched as he pulled a hoof from it - true story), grilled pig face (also a true story), and molasses bread, which he smeared with pork fat honey butter.  It was like frosting on a cake and we couldn't get enough of it.  Picture at the top of the post!

Nearby, Dialog Wines had setup a wine garden, and we hung out there for a while, chatting with locals - including one we met in Trinity last year!

Our last stop was Chef Dale MacKay of Ayden Kitchen and Bar in Saskatoon, the first Top Chef Canada champion.  He’d brought along his restaurant Co-Chef, Nathan Guggenheimer, as well as his son Ayden, for whom the restaurant is named. 

I don’t think bearded dudes love being described as adorable, but as a team?  These three were adorable

They’d brought some corn along from the prairies, and made a splendid cod and corn succotash dish.  

Despite just having eaten five meals, there was no question we’d be getting dessert.  Why?  Because the local ladies of Elliston had baked it themselves, and there is NOTHING better than local ladies’ home-baked goods. 

They had several long table covered with cakes, squares, and cookies, and they let us pick anything we wanted!  Even two pieces! 

We ate our pieces of cake - including a piece of partridgeberry pudding with butter sauce, because that pork fat honey butter hadn't quite been enough - then joined dozens of others taking naps on the grass.  After all, in about two hours The Feast was set to begin, and there was some serious digesting to be done.

See what I mean?  Best hike ever.

-LA


Roots, Rants, and Roars: COD WARS

We get to describe the shores of Elliston as “familiar”! 

Though we had many adventures in Newfoundland this September, the main reason we came back was for a big-hearted festival in the town of Elliston.  

We learned about Roots, Rants, and Roars while we were on our historic root cellar tour last year, and it immediately topped our ‘festivals-to-go-to list.’   We’d been so charmed by the community of Elliston during our road trip, it felt unreal to be back on those familiar shores less than a year later.

The Roots, Rants, and Roars Festival is a celebration of the bounty of land and sea.  All three of the signature events—Cod Wars, the Food Hike, and the Feast—demonstrate the inherent badass-ery of Newfoundlanders, particularly because they all take place outside, in a windy coastal town, and in Autumn.  In other words, wear ALL of your layers, and do not forget a toque.

The first official event was Cod Wars, during which seven Newfoundland chefs (many of whom participated in the From This Rock Dinners we went to last year!) served dishes that featured cod, the iconic Newfoundland ingredient.  Festival-goers sampled all seven dishes while sipping Qidi Vidi beer and wines selected by Dialogue Wines in St. John’s, only taking breaks from cod for hand-rolled truffles from the Newfoundland Chocolate Company or mussels prepared by Chef Adam Blanchard of Five Brothers Cheese

At the end, everyone cast their vote, and the King of Cod was crowned.  Here’s a brief breakdown of the many culinary delights we tried:

Chef Roary MacPherson (of the St. John’s Sheraton)

Chef Roary’s warmly-spiced cod pakora was served with partridgeberry chutney and raita.  It was a fun alternative to fried fish, and so, so warming during the chilly evening.

 

Chef Murray McDonald (of the Fogo Island Inn)

Prior to the event, we stumbled upon Chef Murray on the beach as he foraged for juniper along the coastline.  His cod was barbequed over juniper-smoked coals, and served with salt cod, sautéed chard leaves and chard rib chutney.

 

Chef Todd Perrin (of Mallard Cottage)

As a festival founder and one of Newfoundland’s most beloved chefs, Chef Todd’s cod-heavy dish did not disappoint.  He served pickled cod cheeks with smoked cod belly, cod roe yogurt on a cod cracker, fennel slaw, and chard rib relish, all topped with fish skin salt.   This was our second encounter with chard ribs this evening, and I’m officially inspired to start experimenting with ruby red chard stalks.

 

Chef Chris Chafe (of the Doctor’s House Inn)

After a spectacular meal at the Doctor’s House Inn just a few nights before, we knew Chef Chris would deliver.  Heck, we’d have been happy to eat his cod caprese salad all over again.   He prepared something entirely different, however: fried cod with sweet corn and bacon veloute, served with organic chili, and a pepper fritter that was so good we wished we’d eaten ten.

 

Chef Roger Dewling (of Feast Catering)

Chef Roger made savoury cod sausages served in a brioche slice with corn and mascarpone pudding, salsa verde, and buttermilk coleslaw.  It was served alongside some root vegetable chips and capelin tapenade.  It was a playful take on a festival classic—the hot dog!

 

Chef Roger Andrews (of reLISH Gourmet Burgers)

This was a unique combination of flavours.  Chef Roger combined cod with peaches and cream corn, bacon, and a peach salad.  It was a refreshing dish, with the sweet peaches pairing surprisingly well with the cod.

 

Chef Kyle Puddester (of Tavola)

Chef Kyle served cod tightly wrapped in savoy cabbage alongside cured pork cheeks, chickpea puree, root vegetables, and a honey mustard apple and pickle relish.  The dish was a nod to a classic Jigg’s dinner.

 

It’s a testament to the skill of these chefs that we were able to try seven cod dishes in one evening and not get sick of cod.  It was SO hard to choose between the distinct dishes, as each showed so much creativity and local pride.

Through their votes, however, the crowd spoke, and Chris Chafe of the Doctor’s House was named King of Cod.

Congrats to Chef Chris, and to all the other chefs who masterfully flexed their cod-preparing muscles that night.

Jim Payne, Craig Young, and Sherman Downey were the evening’s musical guests, and once dinner was over, the cod-stuffed crowd took to the dance floor.

More to come from the festival, including a “grueling” food hike, and the final feast!  

-DV

Here's a little tune by Sherman Downey to virtually transport you to Elliston..