December is a time of festive gatherings and celebration. It is, most certainly, a time for feasting. And the chefs from The Group Of 7 collective certainly know how to host a feast! Held at Sanagan’s in Kensington Market, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It’s a small space and most notably, a butcher shop. But as we milled outside in the cold, our curious faces peering into the brightly lit space, a long table set for what looked like 40 people called to me. Waiting for us to partake in this, the Hunter’s Feast.
The long table that greeted us was already set with nibbles – a wooden board laden with enormous portions of rabbit liver & kidney wvrst, moose kielbasa, macaroni pickle head cheese (I think), pickled smokies (jar), and tongue in aspic. So many delicious things! Pickled curried veg and pickled herring were also on the table. It’s hard to articulate the amount of excitement this elicited in me, but I could barely contain my eagerness to get right in there. It was an auspicious start to the evening and an augur of what was to come (if only I had kept that latter thought in mind as I ravaged the platter)! I enjoyed the tongue in aspic so much that I wish I had asked to take some home.
A drink, compliments of the Martini Club, was handed to me as we made our way into Sanagan’s. Glass in hand, we settled into our seats before the appetizers began circling. Loved the pickled oyster from Chef Jamie Bissonnette – lovely irony flavours from the blood sausage and a tart hit from the pickling brine played so well with the oyster’s creaminess.
Vegetables made their spotlight appearance early on, and both offerings were quite delicious. More of that pickled+salt+creamy combination continued with Chef Scott Vivian’s zucchini dish and lovely sweet notes from the Chef Chris Brown’s roasted heirloom carrots. With an added crunch from toasted hazelnuts and richness from the Hollandaise, it was very appealing, both in taste and visually.
And then the meat parade began.
Each plate bearing meaty and delicious things was loaded with ridiculously generous portions, and each could have been a main in and of itself. So by the time we’d gotten through four non-vegetable offerings, people had begun to sit back in their chairs. It was a futile attempt to ease the strain of bellies ballooning over waistbands.
It was at this point that I recalled the terrine board we began with, and I regretted (only a little bit) being quite so liberal in my consumption of its contents. We were winding down with only a few more dishes to go, but I knew that things were going to get challenging from here on in.
Of course, I hadn’t anticipated the last main dish of the night. Large cast-iron skillets began their progression out to the tables, and before they could even set the dish down, I gave a groan as I realized they were going to serve us what Anthony Bourdain calls the single heaviest dish in the French repertoire: cassoulet.
Bissonnette was pretty stoked to cook horse, as availability and reception in Boston is not what it is here in Toronto. Just to push things further, bone marrow, pig’s feet, and fried sweetbreads were all a part of this dish. Rich and over the top, this hearty dish nearly destroyed me.
I was a little leery of the cheese course when it was announced – I wasn’t sure I could handle more food right then, let alone cheese – but Chef John Horne’s sheep’s milk mousse was blessedly light so I could still enjoy the lovely flavours of roasted beets, parsnip cream, and the mousse. As the large slates (brought in from Canoe) for the cheese were cleared away, I rallied. I could eat a few more bites. Just a few more.
One side of the table was asked to push their chairs back to make some room. But for what?
Why, two 7-foot long buche Noels with eggnog cream by Chef Bertrand Alépée, of course! An incredible edible woodland wonderland of cake, sponge, cream, chocolate, and marzipan. I saw others delicately nibbling away at this, and I simply dug in. How could I not give my best (though feeble) shot at doing this justice? It truly made for an unforgettable cap to an ultra-decadent evening.
Having been to some Group Of Seven events (Hogtown Throwdown, Prohibition) throughout the year, this certainly topped anything I’d ever experienced put on by these guys. Actually, put on by anyone in Toronto so far. The tsunami of food, course after course, yet each one compelling enough to push the creeping tide of food coma away for just a little while longer, to taste just one more spoonful. A really fantastic night that I’m so very glad I was able to attend!