Niagara chefs
By Michael Lowe

For months, fans of Chef Adam Hynam-Smith and his internationally inspired dishes waited patiently for word of his next move. Then the email arrived — he was to host a multi-course dinner at an undisclosed location in downtown St. Catharines.

Niagara food

Billed as the Garden Park Popup, diners booked one of only two nights available, faithfully paid in full online, and awaited further details. It was like a clandestine meeting — food groupie and the subject of their following — congregating to experience the mastery of fine cooking. The location, revealed two days before your reservation date, seemed an unlikely place for such an event — but did serve to amp up the anticipation. A storage room at the rear of Fulton Fitness, accessed off the Art Alley (very top photo), was transformed into a cosy, fall-themed dining room (above photo).

Niagara dining

A dozen or so dishes were presented paired with exciting libations ranging from wine to cider to expertly crafted cocktails. Dishes were categorized as breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, and puddings. Here are a few of the highlights from the first night.

Breakfast consisted of buttery, flaky croissants and the often-maligned Aussie spread, Vegemite. This was my first taste of the stuff — and I quite liked it, particularly with the pistachio milk chaser.

Ditto for dish number two, which featured an “Egyptian” egg (above photo). The runny-yolk quail egg coated in crisp dukkha, a blend of sesame seeds, cumin, toasted hazelnuts and coriander, was served with bastirma, a salted, spiced and dried beef, and thick labneh (yogurt) and brown butter. The salty, earthy richness and citrusy tang of sumac was perfectly matched with a refreshing, sparkling sake.

St. Catharines dining

A quartet of seasonal plates made up the lunch segment of the feast. Spicy and sweet chorizo/tomato consomme, roasted heirloom carrot with carrot-top pesto, smoked “Bacalao” made from parsnips, and a tart featuring fermented potato (clockwise from top left, above) illustrated Hynam-Smith’s knack for blending flavours into harmonious compositions of taste and texture. Drinks with “lunch” included a South African Chenin Blanc and a sweet white vermouth from Spain.

Three dinner plates (clockwise, from left above) featured “scorched” cabbage with garlic, hazelnuts and foie gras gravy, pressure-cooked beef cheek with oyster cream and melon, and sous vide duck breast with maple syrup, cauliflower puree and whey. Succulent is the only word to describe the beef and duck and the caramelization of the cabbage brought out its inherent sweetness. Pinot Noir from Germany paired beautifully with the cabbage and beef while a cool spin on a Manhattan played well with the flavours of maple syrup and duck.

Two of the “puddings” (left to right above) included pear with hazelnuts and sour cherry and something called mint tea and baklava. I devoured the eucalyptus cottage cheese — something I usually detest — served with Australian honey beets and pistachio in such short order I missed taking the shot. Yes, it was just that good. The baklava was an interesting, if not a slightly quirky, rendition of Turkish delight, sandwiched in flaky pastry with dollops of mint something-or-other. It was a fun, admittedly offbeat ending to a multi-course tasting extravaganza. I have often said two things inspire me to cook — really good food, and really crappy food. This was, without question, really good food.

As I write this, interspersed with breaks in the kitchen prepping sous vide beef sirloin with roasted parsnip and cauliflower puree, I want to thank chef Hynam-Smith and his team for the inspiration. Cheers mate! We, the faithful, look forward to your next move!