Last month I had the chance to attend the Canadian Chefs’ Congress Pig Roast. The congress happens every two years (in a different province or territory) and it allows Canadian chefs to celebrate their connections and relationships with local suppliers and farmers, as well as each other.
This year’s congress was held in Nova Scotia and was headed up by Craig Flinn of Chives.
While it is mainly an event for professional chefs from around the country, there was a couple of events that were open to the general public. For a foodie, this is the equivalent of being invited to hang out with Obama at the White House.
The event was held in Grand Pré, just outside of Wolfville. If you have never been to Grand Pré, fix that and go.
This past summer, UNESCO determined that the landscape of Grand Pré encompasses cultural characteristics that are so exceptional that they named it Canada’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The landscape is stunningly beautiful with vast expanses of wetlands dissected by the famous dykes built to allow the land to be cultivated. The Grand Pré National Historic Site deserves a visit by all Nova Scotians. It has been updated and upgraded to provide a picturesque yet haunting view into the Grand Expulsion of the Acadians from 1755-1763, a sad and important event in our province’s history.
The pig roast, a part of the biannual Chefs’ Congress, was held at the Land of Evangeline campground, just down the road from the historic site. We arrived just before sunset and the cloudy sky provided a dramatic backdrop for the event. White tents lined one side of the field while bales of hay served as bleachers around the main stage: the spit. Many people took advantage of the bales to stretch out and rest after the day’s other activities, often while balancing a glass of Canadian wine.
Dinner was still in the final stages of preparation so we decided to explore a little first. As luck would have it, the first thing we came across was a wine table where several wines from Nova Scotia and across the country were being poured. We got a glass and wandered to check out the shiny copper mobile bread oven from Speerville Flour Mill, Michael Stadtländer’s retro red congress bus and then finally made our way to the centre of the field to see the guests of honour.
The evening’s pigs were raised by Rupert Jannasch of Ironwood Farm, an organic mixed farm in Hants County. Chris Velden and his team from The Flying Apron Cookery were busy basting, turning and brushing both the whole pig on the spit as well as other smaller pieces being grilled over a fire.
We were just in time to catch them wrestling the pig off the spit to start carving and snagged a couple of pieces of crackling to munch on. We then had a few minutes to grab a glass of Jost Vineyards’ rosé before we were called to the buffet.
A few pig roast facts:
- The pigs were seven months old
- They were cooked over an open fire for eight hours
- The pigs were 195 pounds and 210 pounds
- The two pigs fed about 200 people
Crusty bread baked fresh in the Speerville copper oven, tangy crunchy coleslaw, buttery potatoes and sweet corn on the cob all hailed the end of another summer. The roasted pork was tender and juicy, and for a final flourish it was topped with the single best barbecue sauce I have ever tasted.
The rosé went beautifully with the pork and seemed to reflect the last of the summer sunset. We ate at long communal tables with other people that had traveled from various parts of the province to celebrate the harvest and hobnob with some of the chefs from their favorite restaurants.
For those of us amateur chefs who take food seriously, it’s a treat to be able to meet the masters, those whose skills and dishes we covet. We want to be like them, to learn from them but don’t often have a chance to do so.
For me, this event was a bit like a sports fan walking through Olympic Village: who are you going to see, which hero might you run into? While it may seem intimidating to walk into a conference for professional chefs, it’s also quite delicious!
Even if it’s not the chefs that attract you to an event like this, how often do you have the chance to participate in the roasting of a whole pig? It’s a throwback to the days when celebrating with friends meant inviting everyone you know to share something special and precious.
For me, this was a once-in-a-life-time culinary experience that I will never forget.