Review: Abbotsford’s bounty celebrated at long-table dinner event

A Meet The Farmer long table dinner put a deserved spotlight on Abbotsford’s diverse farmers and their products

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Restaurant 62

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Where: 33559 Marshall Rd., Abbotsford.

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When: Lunch, Monday to Friday; dinner, Monday to Sunday.

Info: 604-855-3545.

This sleeping giant is awakening: Abbotsford is the most intensively farmed area in North America with farms and agri-businesses generating some $3.83 billion in economic activity. With over 70 per cent of its land in the Agricultural Land Reserve, it has oodles of diverse products and is a leader in farming technologies.

Tourism Abbotsford figured it’s time to trumpet itself and recently held its inaugural multi-day Taste of Abby Fall Food Festival, albeit two years later than planned — thanks, COVID-19 pandemic. Along with a night market, awards event and farm-restaurant-winery-brewery collaborations, they held a Meet the Farmer long table dinner in an apple orchard for the media.

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It was there that Restaurant 62, a thoroughly farm-to-table restaurant in Abbotsford, cooked a vibrant meal highlighting super local foods, including goji berries, local rice and apple cider from the host farm, Taves Family Farms.

“We have some great farmers and producers and many offer experiences around their farms,” says Craig Nichols, executive director of Tourism Abbotsford. “We want to shed light on all the hard work.”

Especially so after the catastrophic flooding of Sumas Prairie farms last year.

For starters, Taves Family Farms, third-generation farmers, grow a lot more than apples and goji berries and they offer all sorts of family fun, including corn mazes, hay rides, petting barn, pedal carts, jumping pillows, a zipline, a pumpkin house, country store and U-pick opportunities.

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Saffron risotto, with the saffron coming from Ramsar Berry Farm, was on the menu at the Meet the Farmer long table dinner.
Saffron risotto, with the saffron coming from Ramsar Berry Farm, was on the menu at the Meet the Farmer long table dinner. Photo by Mia Stainsby

Ramsar Berry Farm contributed an unusual ingredient — in Canada, at any rate. When blueberry prices dipped, the family farm pivoted, adding crocuses to produce the most expensive spice in the world in saffron.

The prospect of picking 400,000 stigmas from crocus flowers to make one kilogram of saffron didn’t deter them.

“I can pick 200 flowers in 10 minutes,” says farm owner Avtar Dhillon.

He and his family are the only saffron producers in B.C. and one of two in Canada.  Their saffron was in a risotto at the dinner.

Ramsar was one of the farms devastated by the flood last year but it is recovering, with crocuses planted for a November harvest and plans to keep expanding the business. About 90 per cent of saffron is from Iran, but B.C. is even better suited to grow crocuses, Dhillon says.

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“In other countries, you can only pick before 6 a.m. because if it gets too hot, the stigma quality goes down. Here, we can pick them all day. It’s hardy, even in snow.”

His saffron sells for about $50 a gram.

One acre will produce one kilogram and that’s $50,000,” he says.

The dinner had started with hors d’oeuvres of candied salmon with sea buckthorn jam, nasturtiums on puffed wild rice crisp and local bison tartare with pickled chanterelle, blueberry and juniper crumb on fry bread.

Masa Shiroki of Artisan SakeMaker grows rice in Abbotsford for some of his sake production, and used it for the risotto that hooked up with the saffron. He had tried growing rice without success in other areas of B.C., but in 2011 found Abbotsford had the perfect clay soil. “It was hard since there’s no history of growing organic rice in Canada,” he says.

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“This dinner is very emotional for me. Abbotsford has been so good to us.” His sake is brewed to drink with Canadian food, “not just for sushi and sashimi.” 

The organic heirloom tomato salad, courtesy of Baker Breeze Farm, part of the Meet the Farmer long table dinner.
The organic heirloom tomato salad, courtesy of Baker Breeze Farm, part of the Meet the Farmer long table dinner. Photo by Mia Stainsby

The risotto was served with his sake, which was indeed richer and creamier. The risotto incorporated local squashes, Mt. Lehman goat parmesan cheese and tarragon oil.

I loved the Baker Breeze Farm organic heirloom tomato salad, with wondrously old-fashioned tomato flavour. Mt. Lehman bufala fresco cheese, cucumber, puffed quinoa, lemon basil and goji berry dressing added to the allure. The goji berries, of course, were from a few yards away at the host farm.

Braised B.C. pork belly came with apricot preserve, caramelized cauliflower purée and pickled onions. And just as I undid the button on my jeans, another course appeared — Maple Hills chicken roulade with braised cabbage, Campbell’s Gold Honey Dijon gastrique, roasted carrots and potato pave. It was so moist and flavourful I was gutted not to finish it all.  And I passed on the S’mores with chef-made graham crackers and marshmallows, although I enjoyed the campfire that came with it. Meanwhile Singletree Winery, Taves Estate Cidery, Ravens Brewing Company and Maan Farm wines kept us all in especially good spirits.

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“Farmers work so hard, it was a challenge to get them out for a night,” says Nichols.

Indeed, one busy farmer arrived mid-meal.

Jeff Massey, owner and co-chef with Matthew Nichols at Restaurant 62, cooking in a trailer on site, habitually calls farmers his partners, vital to his business.

“I can go five, 10 minutes in any direction and find great ingredients of all types — pork, beef, duck, chicken, farmed steelhead and Arctic char, bison, cheeses, berries, vegetables, fruits. I don’t haggle to reduce our costs, I give them market price.”

Massey, who had worked at Cioppino’s, Glowbal Grill and Coast Restaurant, says he pays more for ingredients than via wholesale distributors but economizes by scaling to needs.

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“I’m not buying 50 pounds of pumpkins when I need only 10 pounds. I buy small quantities, more often. I’ll get new potatoes, fresh from the farm and they’ve got such sweetness. Beets and carrots are outstanding that way, too. The No. 1 comment from people is that they’re amazed at how good our vegetables taste.”

One farm partner is a woman, almost 80, he says.

“She has a beautiful boutique farm on the water and she grows things like hazelnuts, walnuts, Cornelian cherries, Thumbelina carrots, heritage pole beans, wild chives, rhubarb. She’ll wash ‘em, bag ‘em and bring ‘em,” says Massey.

Every week, Abundant Acre Farms delivers a 60-pound Community Supported Agriculture produce box to him.

“We don’t know what we’re getting but it’s fresh and hand harvested,” he says.

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That requires swift, frequent menu changes.

“We don’t have fewer than five different vegetables on every plate and we handle each one individually.”

The restaurant has won a Wine Spectator’s Award for Excellence annually for the past 10 years. 

[email protected]

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