This spring saw yet another in a series of successful fundraisers for the London Health Sciences Foundation. TASTINGS, which brings together two of our favourite things — fine food and fine wine — was held at the London Hunt & Country Club on May 5th. The tenth annual gala evening also brought together hundreds of generous patrons who helped to raise funds for the Cardiac Care Program, one of the leading health care programs of its kind in the world.
The evening began with a tasting seminar for a small group of oenophiles, led by the popular and personable master sommelier John Szabo, who made himself available throughout the evening for questions and conversation.
The main event saw the attendees sampling items from local and regional restaurants and producers. And select vintages from wineries around the world, as well as spirits from Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers of Beamsville, Ontario.
Market-style dining focused on fresh foods, creatively prepared. Among the chefs offering small plates at the marché stations were those from F.I.N.E.: A Restaurant (Grand Bend), Pazzo (Stratford), Sixthirtynine (Woodstock), and, from London, The River Room, Porcino, Black Trumpet, and the London Hunt & Country Club.
David Chapman, of David’s Bistro, with his wife Cindy Kinsella and Chef Elvis Drennan,were offering elegant and tasty lamb pâté en croute, with a minted pea coulis. David expected to be putting out at least 400 plates over the course of the evening.
Chef Andrew Wolwowicz of The Springs Restaurant had a long line up of guests anticipating his beet burger – slider-sized, and served with a creative selection of condiments, such as fennel ketchup and truffle aioli.
Individual spring lamb pâté en croûte with minted pea coulis, from Chef Elvis Drennan and David’s Bistro
At the next station, Topher Beck was hosting a table for Lifford Wine & Spirits, whose agency staff, along with winery representatives, help to guide guests through the pairing possibilities. London diners will be pleased to find Topher back at The River Room, after having taken some time away from the restaurant scene.
Across the way, Jess Jazey-Spolestra (of The River Room, and North Moore Catering) and Chef Jeff Fortner were serving up crostini topped with pork belly, quail egg, smoked garlic purée and pickled cherries.
Nearby, Chefs Scott Wesseling and Matt Rice of the Black Trumpet team delighted diners with both their enthusiasm and their cuisine. The plate was a take on bacon-wrapped scallops — deconstructed. Served with a purée of sweet corn and chèvre, micro greens and balsamic and fig “caviar,” it was a well-executed example of sensory design.
From Toronto to Prince Edward County to the shores of Lake Huron, Chef Michael Potters of The Little Inn of Bayfield has always been a strong proponent of using locally sourced ingredients in the kitchen, and here he showcased Huron County produce and protein in the Farmhouse Chicken Parfait, served with spring morels and wild leeks.
Chef Yva Santini of Pazzo served up house-smoked rainbow trout with horseradish aioli, granny smith apple and picked potato
Pauline Bucek, a partner in Woodstock’s marvellous Sixthirtynine, was serving apple-smoked pulled pork croquettes, with apple butter, pickled pearl onions, and mustard greens with house mustard and apple cider vinaigrette. The dish exemplified Chef Eric Boyar’s roots in classical French cuisine, enhanced by his commitment to the use of very fresh and locally-sourced ingredients.
From Grand Bend, Chef/owner Erryn Shephard and Chef Ben Sandwith of F.I.N.E. A Restaurant brought slow-roasted veal cheek, which was accompanied by a smooth and fresh corn polenta.
Moving on to the cheese plates, Rick Peori’s wide selection included offerings from area producers such as Gunn’s Hill, as well as a number of international cheesemakers. One of the original vendors at London’s Western Fair Farmers’ & Artisans’ Market, Rick also shares his cheese connoisseurship with clients at All ‘Bout Cheese on Dundas Street, in Old East Village.
As she has for the last several TASTINGS events, Nicole Arroyas (Petit Paris Crêperie and Pâtisserie), along with Chef Nathan Russell, pulled out all the stops with a dazzling array of exquisite cakes, cheesecakes, squares, petit fours and those iconic French treats — macarons!
What to drink with all that delicious nosh? Wines of the world are well-represented at TASTINGS. This year guests could sample from the output of 26 different wineries from New Zealand and Australia, from Italy and France, from Argentina and Chile, and from the United States and Canada. Bachelder offered chardonnays and pinot noirs from not one, but three cool-climate regions; Oregon, Niagara and Burgundy are each home to a tiny Bachelder craft winery.
Some of these award-winning wineries are represented at TASTINGS by Lifford Wine & Spirits, but others had their own winemakers or family representatives on hand, among them Staete Landt (New Zealand), Gigi Rosso (Italy), and Echeverria (Chile).
Ruud Maasdam (right) founder and winemaker of Staete Landt Wines in New Zealand guides two guests through a sampling of his vineyard’s wines.
For some of those attending TASTINGS, the food and wine is but a prelude to the auction. Generous donors contribute items that range from fine wines and scotches to dining and travel experiences. And of course, the generous bidders helped to add to the success of the evening, as did the many sponsors, led by presenting partners CIBC Private Wealth Management, CIBC Wood Gundy | The Seabrook Financial Group and CIBC Commercial Banking.
Many restaurateurs and chefs frequently participate in charity and fundraising events, donating their time and resources. “TASTINGS is special, though,” says Andrew Wolwowicz of The Springs. And many others echoed his sentiments. Of course, exposure to large numbers of potential customers is a good thing, but even better is the value of this very special event to Londoners and those in the surrounding region. Over the past ten years TASTINGS has raised over 1.5 million dollars for the London Health Sciences Foundation, improving outcomes, and lives, of countless patients and their families.
Put it on your calendar, for next May. As event Co-chair Kelly Tranquilli noted, “The quality of this event started at extraordinary and, like a fine vintage, has become better each year.”
All photos courtesy of London Health Sciences Foundation.