Pork isn’t often given the spotlight—that is, unless bacon is involved. But pork, and Alberta pork specifically, will be front and centre at the Swine and Dine dinner, a six-course event featuring innovative (and gluten-free) dishes highlighting all things pork. The menu was originally meant to be a collaboration between chefs Doreen Prei and Eric Hanson, who worked together at Alberta Pork’s event Christmas in November and competed alongside one another at Taste of Edmonton’s Black Box Chef Off (where they tied for first place.) Unfortunately, Hanson—who is now a chef at North 53—had to withdraw from the event, as the restaurant is hosting its opening the same evening, but was still able to answer a few questions via email along with Prei regarding the event and Alberta pork.
Vue Weekly: What was the concept behind the menu for this dinner? What did you want to showcase about pork?
Doreen Prei: My friend Sharman Hnatiuk is very passionate about pork. She organized many pork-related events and it is always great when someone else shares a passion with you. Over the last two years she made me aware of the great pork producers in our province and I used different local Alberta farmers—and truly they are the best pork producers in the world. Alberta pork tastes delicious and that needs to be highlighted. Pork is very versatile. It is beautiful confit, made into a beautiful meatloaf, braised, brined and stuffed. It likes many different levels of flavour: sweet, salty, smoky and just softly settled with spices. A pork stock is a wonderful base of lovely soups and terrines. The fat you can render gives an amazing flavour and is so necessary by the sausage-making process. Pork is the best animal for all charcuterie products.
Eric Hanson: The concept was to trade off dishes. I serve a course, and then Doreen serves one. Back and forth. Something I’ve never done in a restaurant but would make for a very exciting dinner for our guests that evening.
Alberta Pork is well known for being delicious across Canada. We’re lucky to have such readily available meat from local producers all around us.
VW: Are you able to give any details as to what the courses will consist of? There was talk of a pork dessert. How did you manage that?
DP: In our new cooking world it is quite common to use bacon in desserts. I am not reinventing anything. There was a time where you could see so many chefs doing bacon maple vanilla ice cream. Just think about how nicely something sweet is combined with something smoky and salty like bacon in a dessert. So that was very easy, the easiest course to be honest.
VW: What makes Alberta pork stand out and why is there such a push to get it noticed now?
DP: The Alberta farmers are treating their pigs with a lot of integrity and respect. If you go to the Alberta Pork website (albertapork.com) they explain it very easily: “Alberta pork producers maintain the highest standards of food safety and animal care. Our smaller farm numbers, vast land mass and climate, along with high quality grains, contribute to a superior, healthy pork product.” For me as a chef, I always want the best product available and I can be lucky to live so close by the best pork product.
EH: One of the reasons our pork tastes so good is what we feed them [the pigs] compared to the rest of Canada. A little barley goes a long way. Heat stress is another: we don’t get the super hot summers like the rest of Canada, allowing for better-tasting meat.
1. Amuse: Pork terrine, picked herbs, greens, soft quail egg
2. Pork shoulder, scallops, crispy potato, tomato tarragon chutney
3. Pork-inspired ramen soup, bok choy
4. Pork on pork, carrot purée, garlic, pickled fennel, carbonara
5. Frozen Bloody Mary and pork belly lollipop
6. Apple and bacon Tarte, vanilla ice cream
VW: What are the benefits of pork from a nutritional standpoint? It seems like it often gets passed over for chicken or beef. Why do you think it hasn’t got the same attention in the past?
DP: Pork is an amazing source of protein, vitamin B-12, vitamin B6, phosphorus, thiamin, zinc, selenium and niacin. It is also a source of iron and magnesium. Consumers might think it is high in its fat content (belly, for example) but they forget about the very important nutritional fact that pork is extremely high in protein. I also think many times the consumers had a bad experience of pork being dry, but there are so many different ways of treating lean cuts of pork by brining to keep them moist during the cooking process.
EH: Well, it’s better for you than butter! A lot of us grew up eating over-cooked dry pork from our parents. This left a bad taste in a lot of mouths. Placing your pork into a brine before cooking is a crucial step often overlooked, which allows for so much moisture to stay inside. When cooking a pork loin, for example, brining and then searing the flesh before roasting will trap all the delicious juices right in there.
VW: What might people not realize about pork as an ingredient?
DP: Like I mentioned earlier, pork is the main ingredient for making sausages and charcuterie. There are many different cooking methods and flavour profiles you can treat the different cuts with.
EH: Well, the cheeks are one of my favourite dishes that I don’t see around very often. They have all the deliciousness of bacon with that “fall apart in your mouth” feel to them.
VW: From a culinary standpoint, what are the benefits of cooking with pork? What makes it a versatile ingredient?
EH: There are so many parts of the animal everyone can enjoy. I just finished using a lot of pork neck, a lesser section of meat, and we are just finishing a dish at North 53 where we take everyone’s favourite, pork belly, and after cooking it for three days pair it with barley and mushrooms. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
VW: These farm-to-fork-style dinners are continuing to be popular among diners. Why do you think that is? How can they enhance a diner’s experience?
EH: Oh man, any time we get to pair up directly with farmers it gets us chefs excited. The majority of chefs like to tie the European standpoint on chef/farmer relations, wherein we design a menu and then ask the farmers to grow what we want. We search out these missing pieces to our dish. The Asian standpoint (my fave) is to talk to the farmers and get them to bring you what they’re most proud of. This way, everyone gets to experience the best product possible.
Wed, Jan 15
Edmonton Petroleum Club, $75 (advance)