Harvest Noir Ottawa 2011 - A Success?

Photo credit - T. Kisslinger

We were looking forward to this event for a long time.  The idea seemed very exciting, chic and mysterious.  An outdoor picnic, with good friends and good food.  The time of year was not great, but I understand the organizers wanting to get it done before the snow flies.  Hours of preparation - outfits, plates, cutlery, decorations, a flurry of emails, gathering friends together and making delicious food - there was a definite buzz in the air around our house.

I was carefully timing my Elk Tortiere (as Local was the word of the day) so it would still be warm for when we arrived at the mystery site.  Around noon, the promised email arrived.  With anticipation I read the details.  The picnic was going to be held at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau.  We had plenty of notice to make plans on when to arrive.  There were also contingency plans, depending on what the weather decided to do. (Turned out the original plan was what worked!).
Photo credit - T. Kisslinger

Five of us met up to travel down to the museum - to be met by our other three table guests on site.  By the time we parked and brought our stuff to the Adventure Land park behind the museum, it was 3:52pm.  We passed through security (everyone was searched for any contraband alcohol) and we were ready to be shown to our table.  They weren't quite ready yet (we were early after all...so were a few anxious others).  We stepped back and waited.  A few minutes and flying papers later, we were walked down to our table.  We got ourselves organized, tablecloth on, starters laid out and waited for the event to begin.  And waited. And waited.  We were disappointed that there was no official start to the meal - an announcement from the hosts to get everything started - a 'blessing', for lack of a better word - a 'Welcome' to fall and the first annual Harvest Noir picnic.  One of our dining companions checked the weather update on his phone, saw a weather system approaching, and decided that we better start chowing down!
Delicious local cheeses and creton
Appetizers were passed around - a cheese board with some local Quebec cheeses, creton and crackers; heirloom tomatoes with bocconcini and basil skewers; butternut squash and pecan dip with Asiago croutons.  When that was finished, we moved onto our main meal - French potato salad, Elk tourtiere, marinated mushrooms, baguette and homemade chive butter.  For dessert we enjoyed The Table's chocolate and beet cake - yum!  All of this was enjoyed while there was a marching band meandering between tables providing some excellent background music and ambiance.

En masse - en noir

I really wish I had taken more photos, but as Chef-de-Table, I was more concerned about getting all the food out and keeping the flow going.  We had a fantastic dinner, despite the weather - a few of us (not me, of course, cooling problem, remember?) were cold, but we managed to make the best of it.  When a light rain started, a sea of umbrellas popped open and covered tables and dining patrons.  It was a beautiful sight to behold.  I wish I had a video of the moment it happened.  Seems like most people followed the advice in the emails from our hosts, to bring umbrellas.
Most of us were prepared - rain didn't stop dinner!

With the sky rapidly darkening, we decided to take our own advice and decided to pack up our food and picnic items and take them back to our vehicle.  Just as we finished packing up, there was an announcement that everyone else should probably do the same thing.  Our gentleman diners took all the picnic items to the car, while the ladies waited for them to return, so we could all get inside.  This is where things (again) could have been handled a bit better.  While waiting at the top of 'the hill' behind the marching band, the plan was that there would be a processional into the Museum with everyone waving sparklers.  It didn't look like that was going to happen - not many people seemed interested in waiting around in the inclement weather, until people gathered for the processional (some were still eating - late arrivals, and many had just begun to pack up their stuff).  The group that was waiting, en masse, decided to go on ahead and forego the processional.  I understand the hosts were disappointed as their vision of how the evening should proceed wasn't going to happen, but sometimes you gotta give the people what they want and go with the flow.

Line for the Bar :-)

Once inside we found our way to the grand hall, got a table, ordered a few drinks and waited for the rest of the evening to commence.

There were a few words from the hosts, Greg Searle and Samantha Biron - a couple of prizes for best decorated table and the Chef-de-Table who had organized the largest group of attendees.  The prizes were generous $100 gift certicates (I believe one was for a restaurant).  After an interesting Fashion Show, the music started.  We didn't stay very long, a little too loud for conversation and a little expensive on the beverages.

- expensive drinks - $38 for a bottle of wine
- a schedule of times for events for the evening (a start and end time for dinner) would have gone a long way to prevent confusion
- the standard they were trying to set for the event wasn't met by everyone (not the fault of the organizers...)
- there should not have been a VIP section (it may not have been called that, but I don't recall seeing an option for sheltered seating, for an additional charge or otherwise.  It would have been nice(r) if everyone was seated in the same place - however tempting it was to utilize the covered area.
- perhaps a Food Bank donation (everyone was bringing something anyway, an extra can of soup wouldn't have been too much more trouble) to contribute to the Local theme - our own less fortunate citizens
- if it was Ottawa's first Harvest Noir, it should have been in Ottawa, not in Gatineau

As with everything someone tries to do, there will be detractors.  I do not think my criticism is harsh.  Yes, to some that read this, it may sound like sour grapes.  I did take some time to mull over the events of the day.  We did enjoy our dinner with our friends. I suspect many had other expectations - after seeing various images and videos from other similar events in other cities.

Was it a success overall?  Did the hosts achieve something new for Ottawa?  Did people have a good time?  For the most part, I think everyone did.  The hosts managed to get 700 people out of their homes, into some spiffy duds and sitting outside in the middle of a field in October to enjoy their friends, family and their delicious food - smiles all around. 

Just my $0.02

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