Spending a hot and sunny evening at the Old Red Barn (just south of Leduc) feels like a true shot of summer, an experience we city slickers will want to be part of.
Time spent at the Old Red Barn is an experience--more than a farm to table dinner, or barbecue feast--and that's all down to the passion of Matt and Melissa Schur and their Agri-tourism business, the Old Red Barn (which is adjacent to Melissa's family's dairy farm--Glen Park Holsteins).
I got to enjoy a recent 'farm to flame' long table dining event, just the latest of what the couple has been nurturing since starting with farm to table dinners in 2017. Partnering with area farmers, restaurants and chefs, these memorable dining experiences are just as much an education about the farmers and producers in the region as the food itself (exquisite though that food is).
"We met working in a restaurant, and food is definitely our passion," said Matt, who has been known to serenade visitors between courses; this night it's a song for a couple celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary. "Melissa's love of agriculture (she's the farmer's daughter, after all), and mine of hospitality fuel everything we do."
That love is evident in all the small touches here, from a neighbour's flowers placed in mason jars along the length of the long tables, to Matt's touring of guests through the barn and its history (an original 1950s milking barn), to Melissa's selling of fare from fellow women farmers at the barn store (butter, bison and more).
During the down time of the pandemic, Matt says he became inspired by wood fire cooking, so much so that he's now the proud owner of a wood-fired brick oven just outside the barn--an ideal spot to bake up the fresh focaccia bread that greet guests at every farm to flame event. Edmonton Pit Master Peter Zukiwski (owner of Pitt County BBQ) is on hand to introduce visitors to the melange of grills--Argentine-inspired fire cooking apparatuses of iron and steel set over hardwood fires that infuse flame-licked flavour to meats, vegetables and fruits and become the foundation of the dining experience to follow.
"It's like sitting in a restaurant, but this is a more intimate setting where I can explain the cooking methods and answer questions," said Zukiwski who, with his team, is creating a summer of memorable, demonstration-style meals at The Old Red Barn.
Partnering with Zukiwski (who designed the fire kitchen and caters whole hog BBQ feasts in the region, pittcountybbq.com) is an example of The Old Red Barn's emphasis on connecting consumers with chefs and producers. At the long table event this evening, the Schur's neighbours Randy Begg and Brenda Da Ren have brought haskaps from their berry farm to include in the evening's first course: the blueberry-like tart/sweet bulbous berry becomes a lovely complement to the charred broccoli, peppercorn aioli, sunflower seeds, bacon and pork snow appetizer.
"It's great for us to see what Matt and Melissa do here, and be part of the community of producers who support each other," said Begg. And FYI, the 795 Haskap Berry Farm is open for U-pick on weekends through July. See 795haskap.ca for more on the unusual and delicious new-ish berry on the Alberta landscape.
An event at The Old Red Barn is a joy, not only for the delicious meal but, as Melissa says, to be part of an honouring of the farmers--our rural neighbours--and an education on their values, practices and products.
Those living in the Edmonton area, or here on a summer visit, can check out the upcoming dinners (theoldredbarn.ca) or seek out the tours offered throughout the season i.e. mid-August's Alberta Open Farm Days. Upcoming events include a dairy-focused farm to table evening with Chartier Restaurant, and another featuring Chatsworth Farm and a lamb-focused menu.