Story by Jenn Smith Nelson
SASKATOON, SASKATCHEWAN — A mob of elegantly dressed ladies and gents hurriedly gathered at the doorway of Saskatoon’s Western Development Museum, eager to make their way into the highly anticipated inaugural annual event, Prairie Feast.
Decked out in matching Gatsby-inspired formal period tuxedos complete with patent leather Dickies shoes, chef Dale MacKay of Ayden Kitchen and Bar, and his son (and restaurant namesake), Ayden, greeted guests as they entered the sold-out event. Nearly all 200 guests who attended the prohibition-themed event donned feathers and furs, bowties and vests. Oozing class, decadence and definite pizzazz, the stunning crowd brought the Roaring Twenties back to life in the 21st century.
The excitement of the event’s initial moments weren’t lost on MacKay. “Watching all of the dressed-up guests coming in was pretty cool,” he shared.
VIDEO: Behind the Scenes at Ayden in Saskatoon
MacKay and his team at Ayden spent a year planning the event, which took place on Labour Day weekend and featured celebrity chefs from across the country. The idea for Prairie Feast took seed a few years back, when MacKay and his colleagues started talking about how they could plan an event where people could sample other chefs’ food while also exposing attendees to the province’s cuisine.
With a stroke of ingenuity and passion to spotlight Saskatchewan’s growing culinary scene, the team sought out local partnerships and leaned on strong friendships to help ensure the event’s success. Prairie Feast featured seven of the country’s best chefs who prepared exquisite appetizers prior to MacKay and his team showcasing locally sourced fare during a family-style dinner.
The chefs who made the journey to support MacKay’s initiative included: Lynn Crawford and Lora Kirk of Ruby Watchco in Toronto; Todd Perrin of St. John’s Mallard Cottage; Connie DeSousa and John Jackson of Calgary hotspots, CHARCUT Roast House and Charbar; Trevor Bird of Fable Kitchen in Vancouver; and Nick Nutting and Marty Dean of Wolf in the Fog in Tofino, British Columbia.
[box_light]Read More About Charbar in Calgary[/box_light]
MacKay explained that all it took from him to convince the stellar lineup of chefs was a simple ask.
Working with DeSousa since 1999, and originally from Saskatchewan, chef John Jackson, who has teamed with MacKay on a number of events and collaborative dinners, was happy to participate. “For us it was an opportunity to do something together once again and when he asked us we jumped at the opportunity,” said Jackson.
Camaraderie and collaboration went hand in hand with this tight-knit community of chefs. “Everybody was super pumped and there was no competitive spirit. We are all good friends and it’s a big community — we love to hang out,” added MacKay.
With a food lineup equally as impressive as the visiting chefs, choosing what to eat was quite the task — after all, there was still a massive feast to attend within the hour. Our group started with a gin caesar and smoked salmon dish from Fable, the first table to greet us in the transportation section of the museum.
Everyone seemed in high spirits as they mingled amongst the chefs, sampling the superb food while big band music blared from musicians who were parked next to a snazzy red 1948 Chrysler New Yorker. Taking in the intimate and well-suited atmosphere, guests sipped leisurely on drinks from local distilleries such as Lucky Bastard.
[box_light]Read More About Visiting the Lucky Bastard Distillery[/box_light]
Next to a 1927 Model T touring car, Jackson and DeSousa served up “Gatsby the Great Drunken Rabbit,” a bannock-styled gyro with stuffed pickled rabbit livers, foie gras and a dill sauce made with Saskatchewan dill vodka.
And as a clear testament to the popularity of Lynn Crawford (who was recognized by many in the crowd for her television series appearances in Restaurant Makeover and Pitchin’ In) guests waited in a long line for a taste of Ruby Watchco’s “Tipsy Whiskey Chicken.”
A Prime Culinary Fest Emerges in Saskatoon
Before finishing up the winding loop, we stopped for some tasty blue tuna tartare on a lentil cracker, from Newfoundlander Perrin and followed that up with the Wolf and the Fog’s “Dancing Prawn” — a Tofino spot prawn perogie with chantrelle mushrooms and sweet corn.
Shortly after, guests made their way into the main hall of 1910 Boomtown littered with replicated structures from a town office and harness shop to a café, bank and more. Beautifully set tables, running nearly the length of the town were a sight to behold and brought a real sense of authenticity to the themed event.
While courses were served, spontaneous dance performances ensued, entertaining the crowd while a bearded man sporting a vest and bow tie hand poured Wiser’s into the mouths of the make-shift town’s thirsty citizens. A hearty selection of meat was served and included: trout rillet using local Diefenbaker Lake trout, lamb, and a pork plate full of different cuts from head and tail croquette to bacon-spiced slow-roasted pork belly.
MacKay admitted he was nervous about all the details actually coming together. “There were a lot of moving parts,” he said. “All the pieces were important. From the walk from the car museum to boomtown — taking in the cars, the dancers, and the large table — visually we wanted it to be exciting.”
The smile on MacKay’s face by night’s end said it all. “From a Sask kid, it felt good to have all these people here tasting all the chefs’ food. It was a pretty special night for me.”
It was also exceptional for those in attendance, in particular the chefs MacKay had invited.
“It’s amazing watching Dale come back home and do something really special — it’s been incredible to watch,” Jackson said. “He’s doing things that are bigger than just the restaurant. He’s really helping steer and guide the culinary scene here. There are so many amazing chefs here.”
It’s this type of event, bringing together the community to enjoy food, while staying committed to upping the game in Saskatchewan, that MacKay and his team are becoming well known for. “I don’t want other people thinking we don’t have a food scene or great things going on here,” shared MacKay.
The aim is to bring the event back next year, most likely with a new theme. “We want to change the theme every year,” said MacKay. “That way we make sure that we stay excited about it too.”
Prairie Feast Honours Young Chefs
Prairie Feast was the second component that rounded out a full day of showcasing not only the food scene in Saskatchewan, but also the upcoming talent. First up in the morning was the Ayden Young Chef Scholarship Competition. A panel of chefs that included Bird, DeSousa and Crawford were in attendance to judge five up-and-coming culinary talents who made it through a selection process that included submitting original recipes.
The young chefs participated in a cook-off using fresh Diefenbaker Lake trout at the Saskatoon Farmer’s Market. To the surprise and delight of the revered judges, all the dishes impressed.