As the leaves are beginning to change in Nova Scotia, suddenly the idea of needing to turn the heat back on is no longer such a foreign concept. In our province, the autumn brings a beautiful mixture of fall colors, pumpkin flavored treats and the assertion from nearly every thirty something female that, “Fall is my favorite time of year.”
In a week or so much of the patio furniture throughout our Nova Scotian towns will move from the deck to the shed. In only a few short months our restaurants and bars, which now extend over our streets, will retreat backwards and indoors to overlook the salted, wet sidewalks. This is the beginning of the Great Nova Scotian Migration from the outdoors to the indoors; from the patio party to the kitchen party. And it doesn’t matter how large or small one’s kitchen is, soon it will become host to all despite any efforts to the contrary. This is something, as Nova Scotians, we have come to accept and make the most of. Last night Chef Tanner Morgan of Halifax christened the kitchen party season for our party of eight in a very enjoyable way.
My aunt and uncle from the other coast, Coldstream, British Columbia, have come for a visit and my cousin and her husband graciously invited us to celebrate my uncle’s 65th birthday with Chef Morgan at the helm. He came more than prepared and as he was unpacking some of the tools of his trade, my mother asked a question or two about his process. It wasn’t long after, Chef Tanner had us sat in chairs semi-circling the kitchen island, drink in hand, watching and listening to the master chef prepare our meal. As if the educational portion of the evening was an ingredient of the meal, Tanner began by explaining that for him, his passion for food comes from the engagement it allows him to share with people. At any moment a side conversation could be interrupted by an inquisitive guest, for which the chef always had the time and the inclination to indulge and engage. Perhaps, passion, like the meal itself is a dish enjoyed best when shared.
It was somehow fitting that our first Nova Scotian kitchen party of the season to celebrate the man from BC was quarterbacked by the chef originally from that same province. To add a pinch of serendipity, Chef Morgan explained that he had trained professionally out of Calgary Alberta, where my uncle had called home and raised his family, most of his career life.
At this point in the article, four paragraphs in, perhaps you’re wondering about the food. I’m loathed to tell you that was the best part of the evening because doing so detracts from the fact that there is nothing I find more valuable than spending time with those I love. HOWEVER, I gotta be honest… And when you eat as well as we did last night a part of you struggles to locate the defining ingredient which made the evening such a success. Was it the company? The food? The conversation? The setting? I love my family, but in this case it’s hard not to give the cuisine top billing.
So let’s get into it and I’ll tell you what I thought about everything. We knew Tanner was a pro going into the evening, but some of the small touches he added surprised us. The personalized menu for the evening being one. We started with an “Amuse Bouche” – which is one of those French expressions like “entrepreneur” that Google won’t translate for you – but my limited French tells me it means something like, “to amuse your mouth?” Anyway, don’t try too hard to figure it out. Chef Morgan assured me it means “palate pleaser” and to that I can agree. Drizzled with a balsamic glaze, the prosciutto topped melon was an excellent mixture of flavors which did have me saying, “Damn… what else you got?” And perhaps that’s the point. I don’t know if the two photos one after the other really convey the rapidity at which the live edge cutting board was cleared, but trust me, it didn’t take us long to clean this canvas for the chef.
Immediately following he told the group it would be about twenty minutes to the next dish which was to be an original Chef Morgan creation, “The Quail’s Egg Nest with Micro Greens and Piccadilly Mustard.” In the meantime he would explain to the group how he prepared, seasoned and vacuum sealed the main the evening before and describe the cooking method which I found fascinating.
From then, there was work to be done and you could watch as the professional Chef finished the preparation of each portion of our meal to come. Watching him, the BC native, comfortable in someone else’s Nova Scotia kitchen, answering questions and engaging each member of our group, you could tell this guy had done this kind of thing before. And I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t shared several Chef Tanner Morgan meals with friends in the past. You see, Tanner Morgan is a friend of mine and my wife. He’s the partner of our closest friend and when you take some time to get to know him, you can see why she keeps him around. I’d say it has a lot to do with what he does when he’s in the kitchen and maybe a little to do with the food he prepares.
And I gotta say, if you thought shredded wheat was boring, try it in the shape of a nest, housing the sausage enrobed, lightly battered fried quails egg on top of a bed of greens and drippy dilly pickles. You’ll change your mind.
As the evening went on, Tanner apologized for the delay between courses, but we were thrilled for the drawn out experience. In my opinion when you get together for a great meal among friends, its okay to take your time.
The Cucumber Elderflower Sorbet reset the palate nicely for the main course, which was a combination of flavors I would never think to try. On the menu it’s called, “Sous Vide Pork Tenderloin with Carrot, Turnip and Beet Emulsions, Goose Fat Roast Potatoes and Fried Kale.” I’m not a chef, but I mean… WHAT!? I can’t think of a time in my life where inspiration would strike me in a way, walking through the grocery store, to leave me with those particular ingredients in my basket. But for whatever reason Tanner Morgan had been struck in such a way and I’m here to tell you we all benefited because of it. What’s not on the menu, but you can see in the photo is the coffee seasoning he fried onto either side of the tenderloin. Yep… COFFEE. See if I tried something like that… Well anyway… It was incredible.
We finished off the evening with some actual coffee and the, “Baha Rosa Baked Alaska.” Again, homemade ice cream topped with meringue and strawberries and blow torched until it is golden brown? Yeah… Not the kind of desert I’m whipping up on my own.
“From the Prosciutto Melon and Fried Quail Egg to the Pork Tenderloin and Baked Alaska for desert, Tanners meal was extraordinary. What a delight to be in your own home and have a REAL chef prepare a meal and not only that but also teaching us the tricks of the trade. I highly recommend Chef Tanner Morgan, he’s the best!”
– Farris MacPherson, dinner guest.
Shelter, Sex and Food: It doesn’t get any more basic than that. Those are the things we all need. Each of them is one, that when it is removed from your life, it becomes the most insistent thing on your mind. In many ways a Chef has an easy task. He is here to offer you something that time alone increases your desire for. As you wait for your meal the anticipation heightens your appreciation and maybe that’s apart of a great Chef’s understanding of what it means to cook well.
Above I mused about what it was about a good evening that makes it great? Is it the food? The company? The Conversation? The setting? What are the ingredients we need and in what proportion do they exist when we look back on an event and say, “Wow, THAT was an experience.”
I heard someone say once, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve left them.” I don’t know if Chef Tanner Morgan understands something I don’t. I’m not sure if the ethereal nature of his art form; the fact that his canvas is literally devoured before him each and every time he paints a masterpiece, has aided in his ability to enjoy present moments as they pass. I don’t know if he thinks about the way he touches those he cooks for in a primal, tragic way, like a play you’re enjoying that you know will eventually come to an end. Or if he’s simply not bothered by the deeper expressions and meaning of his work.
When you share your kitchen with Tanner, one thing you’ll take note of is his devotion to the question, “Why?” His meals are calculated. He can tell you exactly why he’s chosen the ingredients and flavors he has and why he knows they will work well in concert with one and other. The thoughtfulness he puts into his work, you’ll notice, is evident. And so, for me it’s hard to imagine that Chef Tanner Morgan hasn’t calculated and prepared a recipe for a fine evening among friends that includes the very real ingredients of: gratitude, authenticity, lively conversation, tutorial and time in the exact proportions necessary to leave this article with the impression it has.
You owe it to yourself to give Chef Tanner Morgan a try. Not only for the food, but for the experience.