There is poetry in the potato if you open your eyes – or sit down for dinner with a chef and a farmer for company.
Feasting with farmers is a fabulous affair and a humbling one for someone who does much of their working in the seated position. Doug, Jeanette and Anna Helmer of Helmer’s Organic Farm in Pemberton have made the familiar drive down to Vancouver for a special affair – Market Monday.
On a windy wet night within Raincity Grill, one Vancouver’s most roundly regional rooms, I wonder where else our paths might meet than here.
I know we have at least three things in common: a pulse, a passion for potatoes and a shared appreciation for the C Restaurant Group’s executive Chef Robert Clark. When it comes to living the vida local, few can match his footsteps – which is why he slows it down for us and likes to let the food do the walking. Tonight, he’s not cooking though. Tonight Chef Clark is hosting Market Monday at Raincity Grill and even he is taking mental notes from the farmers.
As organic farmers who took to the soils of Pemberton in 1992, the Helmers have pursued a passion for both the potato and our relationship with the land to spectacular success. They provide many of the cities top chefs with a steady supply of the best potatoes you may have never tasted.
The truth is, for all the pure passion we may possess for eating local, none of us knows as much as those who live and work at the source of our daily meal – except perhaps for those cooking in a room like Raincity. Botanists, biologists and backyard gardeners more advanced than this learning Locamore might also be included.
Though they travel often enough from the family farm, on 50 acres of pristine, glacier-fed farmland some 20 miles north of Whistler, tonight the Helmers are both featured guests and the primary supplier of much of what touches the table. This is a Market Monday at Raincity Grill, the most recent in an ongoing series of farmer-friendly dinners on the final Monday of each month. The concept is right at home in a room that has championed both the virtues and variety of eating local.
At our most eloquent, what we know of potatoes extends to white, red, baby, nugget, fingerling: baked, boiled, mashed and sometimes scalloped. What the Helmers know of potatoes is what Shakespeare knew of words: Netted Gem, White Rose, Russian Blue, Rinegold, Sieglinde, La Ratte, Desiree, Gemstar, Warba, Pontiac and Bintje. A few of those varieties might have even fallen beyond the bard’s vocabulary. To the Helmers, these are the seeds of daily living.
In the hands of Raincity Grill’s Chef Nigel and Pastry Chef Giana, they are transformed into a four course menu paired with wines from Garry Oaks, Laughing Stock, Sumac Ridge and Paradise Ranch. The touch is light and the flavours ripple with inspired potato pageantry. A slow-poached egg is stirred into a Helmers garlic and Sieglinde potato soup and a Russian Blue and White Rose dauphinoise with Farmhouse Castle Blue and whipped camembert delivers bites of bliss. Pan-crisp and fork tender Netted Gem gnocchi with a garlic confit and potato puree makes farmer, chef and foodies slide further into our seats – as does a Fraser Valley roasted lamb saddle on a plate swathed in celeriac brown butter and studded with roasted Pontiac and Cal Whites. All eyes however, were on dessert – even the Helmers.
Inspiration takes many forms, in this case a batch of botched mashed potato whipped up by the pastry chef’s sister. Taking the silken texture for inspiration, Chef Gianna served up a lesson learned and a dessert worth rooting for, drawing not only upon the Helmers popular potatoes, but the pumpkin, beetroot and parsley root of of another local supplier Ice Cap Organics.
Go ahead, black box that list of dessert ingredients and rest assured, what emerged was an autumnal ace: a White Rose potato mousse, parsley root ice cream, sugar pumpkin cake and a frozen beetroot chiffon.
Seated beside me, Doug Helmer is as amazed as I am and in that simple sharing of childlike wonder, I realize we have at least one more thing common: a sweet tooth.
Raincity Grill’s mastery is undisputed. For those looking for recipes a bit closer to homestyle, you can always ask the Helmers at market or visit www.helmersorganics.ca.