By Glenda McCarthy
A dozen graduates from College of the North Atlantic (CNA) volunteered at the annual Eat the Hill event in Clarenville, working side-by-side with professional chefs to serve hundreds of people at the two-day food festival.
Eat the Hill, which is organized by CNA culinary arts instructor Chris Sheppard and former instructor Roger Dewling, incorporates winter activities, entertainment and food from some of the top chefs in the province. All proceeds from the event go to White Hills Resort in Clarenville for facility upkeep and improvements.
Those attending the fifth annual Eat the Hill in Clarenville witnessed the committee at their best, preparing food for some 340 people in the sold-out event, which in turn has a great economic impact on the region.
“Our market for Eat the Hill is getting bigger,” Chris says. “Of the 130 tickets Friday night only 50 were sold to people from Clarenville. Of Saturday’s 190 tickets, 90 were from Clarenville. From a tourism perspective, the research shows that people who come for food events overnight spend about $120 per person, per day in town. So that’s about a $27,000 economic impact for the region from this two-day festival. That is not including the cost of tickets to Eat the Hill.”
Friday evening, participants were treated to a Gastro Pub and Beer Tasting, which offered a selection of culinary delights that appealed to a wide range of pallets. The menu featured a pickle wrapped in smoked meat, coated in beer batter and deep fried prepared by Jonathan Richler of the Jewish Deli; Steve Quinton from Qs BBQ dished up Newfoundland cherry smoked salmon with caper chutney and crisped cheese curds; a beer brine chicken on a beer biscuit with porter hot sauce, Five Brothers pimento cheese, pickles and beer aioli was concocted by Kyle McKenna of Hitchen the Kitchen; shrimp har gow dumplings were served by Steve Vardy of Adelaide Oyster House; a mac and cheese dish with screeched maple back from Adam Blanchard of Five Brothers Artisan Cheese; and tasty cookies were prepared by Coffee Matters for those with a sweet tooth.
Each plate was paired with a beer sample from Quidi Vidi Brewery or Port Rexton Brewery, served by volunteers and graduates from CNA, while DiMaggios and Sherman Downey kept participants entertained with toe-tapping music.
Saturday’s event began with a reception where music was provided by ANUDERDUBBLE, followed by the seven-course Chef’s Dinner. Not long after, The Navigators had the 190 people in attendance out of their seats to work off their dinner, keeping the party going well into the night.
The first course consisted of a smoked Trinity Bay scallop, with Kombu Cream and preserved lemon chicharron, prepared by executive chef Damian Marner; followed by cod coulettes with lobster bisque from Courtney Howell of Grates Cove Studio; and porcetta, warm salad of black beans and quinoa, with red chimichrri from Shaun Hussey of Chinched Bistro.
This was followed by a dish of salt fish and potato dumpling with drawn butter from Tim Charles of Fogo Island Inn; and duck confit with duck bacon, braised purple cabbage, smoked parsnip, leek and carrot puree and double duck fat fried fingerling potatoes with apple cider reduction from Nick Jewczuk of Fifth Ticket.
Da-Woods Pie from Peter Burt of Raymonds Restaurant consisted of a rabbit, moose, beef and beaver stew covered in puff pastry and brushed with bee pollen; and the final course was Barren’s blend bread pudding with screech cream rum sauce from Coffee Matters.
Peter says in preparing the Da-Woods Pie, he wanted a dish that focused on ingredients from some of the game available here in Newfoundland.
“I was just trying to think whatever Newfoundland I could do. I kept everything local so I did local beef, rabbit, moose and beaver because that’s kind of what we have and because we are here at a ski hill, I wanted to make sure it was hot so I went with a pie. It’s very indicative to what we do at Raymonds, but in a more casual setting.”
While this was the second time Peter attended Eat the Hill, his family is from Clarenville.
“My mom lives out here. Last year was the first time I actually skied the hill because I didn’t grow up here. I was looking forward to it and I contacted Roger a while ago to say, ‘If you’re doing it, I’m in.’ It’s a great event and a lot of fun and I’ll come back again.”
Someone else who would be keen to return is Kaitlyn Oldford of Bonavista. Kaitlyn is a two-time graduate of CNA. The 21-year-old graduated from the Cook program in 2014 and is seasonally employed at Bonavista Social Club. She has been participating in Eat the Hill since it started five years ago, even relocating to St. John’s couldn’t keep her away from volunteering this year.
“The atmosphere keeps me coming back each year,” Kaitlyn says. “I enjoy being around everyone because it doesn’t happen very often. It’s nice to be here to see what everyone is making, see what’s new, and catch up with everyone. Every year people do new things and you get to watch everyone prepare their food. It’s great when everyone gets together to help each other plate up, and everyone pushes to get the food out. I hope I get asked back every time.”
While the Chef’s Dinner on the event’s Saturday has sold out each year, Chris says they seem to have finally found the right Friday event to partner with it.
“Over the five years, the Saturday event has essentially worked from year one. For the second event we’ve just been trying to find something that would work for us,” Chris explains.
“We started off trying a Sunday afternoon thing to try to incorporate more people who were skiing and coming in, then we converted to Friday night and did a dessert night so it was all pastry chefs, and that worked well but again, it didn’t really get the people out. Last year we decided to do the Gastro Pub theme, and while our numbers were good, the people who attended last year were super excited to attend again. We had a lot of people return from last year and I think we got a lot of new people based on the enthusiasm from the people who attended last year.”
Chris says the events are very different and even draw different crowds.
“That’s the nice thing about – we get two different groups for both events. We don’t necessarily have the same people buying tickets for both events. Of the 340, it’s close to being 340 individual people because there wasn’t a lot of that cross over.”
He says working with some of the best chefs in the business also makes his job that much easier.
“This was probably the smoothest one we had. When it comes to the chefs, they take care of themselves, besides the logistics of getting them here and the accommodations. We work with chefs who we can depend on and trust, and they will do what said they would do, they will show up and have their work done and prepare their food. That part of it is easy,” Chris says.
“The hard part is always the balancing act of being busy at the hill because there are a lot of people out skiing and snowboarding, and then the changeover from that to getting ready from an event that is a sit down dinner with table cloths and everything. There is always that time where customers of the hill trying to finish up their day and we are trying to do our thing. I think that went really smoothly this year. The Eat the Hill team and White Hills team have found their groove now.”
Overall the event went smoothly, something Chris attributes to tweaking what didn’t work until it ran like a well-oiled machine.
“It’s just about finally finding our pattern of how we move and what’s worked in the past. Every year we do a little bit to change how we do things. This year there were just a couple of some small changes behind the scene that seems to make it move more smoothly than it had in the past. Even the flow of people and where people were standing and how people were coming and going was better. If you could see it, that’s a good thing because it shows it really was efficient and we pumped out a lot of food in a short period of time.”
Chris says Eat the Hill is finally becoming what they originally envisioned five years ago – a family event.
“A lot of these chefs are asking to take part from one event to the next. So many want to be invited and are asking to come to these events because they have a good time, it is good promotion for their business and it’s a weekend away. This year a lot of the chefs brought their families, more than we ever had before. They skied or snowboarded on the weekend and we put them in a hotel with a pool so the kids can swim,” Chris says.
“In fact, we had so many kids this year that next year we’re going to hire babysitters to take the kids swimming and do activities while their parents are at Eat the Hill. It’s become a family event, which when we started this, really was what we wanted. I’m glad to see this year that is finally happening.”
For more information about Eat the Hill, visit www.eatthehill.com.