Guild governor and Ottawa Citizen food writer Gay Cook opened up the magnificent Bayne-Morrison House to her fellow wineaux for a late-summer feast on Tuesday, August 25. For once, the weather held up long enough for guests to enjoy the luxury of an evening al fresco, in the company of good friends, great wine and fabulous food.
As dusk settled between the boughs of the trees and reflected deep blue-green in the fish pond, we mingled about on the sprawling, flag-stoned patio overlooking Gay’s tiered garden. Our barkeep, Tim, kept everyone refreshed with glasses of Codorníu Pinot Noir Rosé Brut Cava (Penedes, Spain), La Chablisienne Vieilles Vignes Chablis (Burgundy, France) and a Tasmanian pepperberry lemonade that both cooled and singed the taste buds with equal measure. Pre-dinner nibbles included Sylvain’s grilled corn cakes topped with a garlic, hot pepper and berry jam, and slices of Chelsea Smokehouse albacore tuna on daikon radish graced with nasturtium blossoms.
For history buffs, Bayne-Morrison House is one of the oldest homes in the city, and contains a treasure trove of memorabilia. A quick walk through reveals a story in every nook and cranny. In one room, Sir John A. MacDonald’s favourite chair; in another, an ornate Venetian walnut fireplace around which literary greats like Byron and Dickens once sat. There’s the knife used by King George VI on his birthday in 1939, and the chair used by the deputy Speaker of the House during the Queen’s coronation in 1953.
I wandered back out onto the patio in time to catch the summons to dinner, and dutifully slid into the queue with plate in hand. Gay lorded over the carving of two mammoth beef tenderloins at one end of the table, while heaps of roasted baby potatoes and heritage carrots were doled out at the other. The meat, exquisitely rare, was smothered in a caramelized onion reduction and sauce chasseur.
The sweetness was complimented by a pair of luscious reds: the Artezin 2006 Zinfandel (Mendocino County, California) was lighter-bodied than most Zins, with elegant structure and good balance. The Virgara 2004 Shiraz (Adelaide Hills, South Australia) ran like berry syrup in the mouth, full of spice and explosive, jammy flavours, with a long finish. Plenty of double-takes over the label; I certainly hope nobody misconstrued the wine’s potential as an “enhancer”, so to speak …
Gay, ever the attentive hostess, flitted from table to table, ensuring that all bellies were properly stuffed. She regaled us with culinary trivia and bemoaned a society hooked on sugar (whatever you do, don’t EVER ask her for ketchup. You might never get invited back again.) And if you happened to have any room left, I’m sure she would have been more than happy to “whip something together” for you.
My tablemates and I were hard-pressed to pick favourites from the cheeseboard: the nutty, ewe’s milk Tomme du Kamouraska; the Bleubry from Portneuf, which was similar to cambozola; or Attrape Coeur, a silky Gatineau Brie. All came from La Trappe à Fromage de l’Outaouais, and were paired with generous portions of baguette, fresh greens, and the light, apple-pear sweetness of a Markus Molitor 2002 Riesling Auslese.
And just when you thought you couldn’t fit in another bite, dessert appeared, in the form of individual blueberry tartlets glistening with apple glaze and concealing a creamy heart. A fitting final salute to a far-too-brief summer season.
Many thanks to Anna Cullinan, Rutha Astravas and Sylvie Malboeuf for their efficient table service; to Sylvain de Margarie for his amuses-bouches and lemonade; to Tim Edwards-Davies for bartending; and, of course, to Gay Cook and Grete Hale for hosting such a splendid feast.