With the first sip of Welch’s grape juice, I was instantly transported — as promised — back to the days of skinned knees, PB &J sandwiches, and licking batter off of cake beaters. It was a great, nostalgic start to the first-ever Clam Jam, a collaborative dinner party prepared by a feisty crew of female chefs who came together for a fundraiser designed to riff on the theme of childhood. It was held at Union Local 613 and the proceeds from the dinner and silent auction were in support of Harmony House.
Before each of the seven courses was served, the chef that created it stood in the centre of the room and spoke in front of about 40 eager guests about the inspiration behind their dish. It was a lovely reminder of just how powerful and personal taste memories can be.
When the fried ravioli stuffed with spaghetti and tiny meatballs circulated as canapés, I was concerned that this meal might digress into a mash-up of cutesy and kitschy courses. Instead we were treated to a parade of thoughtful dishes, each with a corresponding tale from young women who demonstrated an early appreciation for the pleasures of cooking. The audience got to peek back in time to see the kernel of passion that presumably led each chef to their professional kitchen careers. Fascinating stuff.
The allure of this type of event, aside from being a great fundraiser, is the opportunity for adventurous eaters to sample food from many talented chefs all at once, yet the collaborative supper club — a concept that is particularly popular at the moment — can be a peculiar thing. You have to put aside your normal expectations about the narrative arc of a meal — what kinds of dishes go together, and are appealing to eat together, and in what order — and instead, just go with the flow.
The dishes served at last Sunday’s Clam Jam took us on a ride from Japanese pickles to pizza soup to rabbit rillettes to funnel cake. It just goes to show, that when you eat for charity and for a chance to get up close and personal with the city’s culinary talent, sometimes you have to drink the Kool-Aid…or, in this case, the grape juice.
Click on each of the images below for a full-scale view of the evening’s varied menu.
Dish #1 Caroline Ishii, ZenKitchen
Chef Ishii created a plate inspired by Japanese home cooking dedicated to her father who recently passed away: a spinach roll topped with miso-sesame sauce, lotus root with matcha salt and orange teriyaki grilled tofu; pickled vegetables and a “bag of rice” with fresh mushrooms.
Dish #2 Katie Brown, Beckta Dining & Wine
Chef Brown shared the story of growing up in a busy household where her mom would always have a big pot of soup on the stove. Brown says her friends still come over for her mom’s Pizza Soup. Her version included bison pepperoni meatballs, tomatillo salsa verde, confit king eryngii mushrooms to which a smoked tomato and parmesan broth was poured and it was served with a “stuffed crust” bread stick.
Dish #3 Patricia Larkin, Black Cat Bistro
Chef Larkin talked about growing up on a court with nine houses in Kanata and every year the families got together for a summer street lobster party. Her family was responsible for the caesar salad so Larkin’s dish combined lobster crudo elegantly garnished with the flavours of a caesar salad: tangy yuzu gel instead of lemon, pickled ramps, a soft-cooked quail egg, and bacon-panko crumble.
Dish #4 Anna March, urban element
Someone had to do mac and cheese and Chef March said her mom makes her childhood favourite. Meanwhile, March makes an impressive rendition with “things she would’ve hated as a kid” like mushrooms, truffle oil, and wilted greens. The gooey delight came in ball-form, wrapped in a crisp breadcrumbs.
Dish #5 Harriet Clunie, Navarra
“I was one of those weird kids with all kinds of food allergies,” says Chef Clunie, “And I was the product of hippie parents.” She says this explains why all the other kids were eating ham sandwiches while she had a thermos full of lamb curry. Her own complex curry was garnished with mango pickle, raita, and spiced chickpeas.
Chef Foucault took us into emotional terrain with a story about hunting for rabbits (unsuccessfully) and cooking them as a form of escape from unhappy times. She created a beautiful homage to cooking with her mom by preparing rabbit three ways; stuffed saddle, rillettes cromesqui (like an ultra-gourmet Chicken McNugget) and liver mouselline, along with shredded cabbage and apples.
Dish #7 Sonia Marwick, Union Local 613
Chef Marwick used to spend her $5 allowance on penny candies and her fondest childhood memories were of going to the carnival. Her dish included funnel cake, candy apple balls, green apple jolly rancher caramel, and lemon sour patch cotton candy.