Why are heirloom tomatoes so popular right now? Well, it might have to do with how unpopular grocery store tomatoes have become.
On last week’s episode of Day 6, CBC Radio One’s newsmagazine show, a University of Florida scientist discussed how measures spent preserving and enlarging the fruit have sapped it of flavour. Professor Harry Klee and colleagues have spent a decade unlocking the tomato's genome and are now putting it together with more taste.
But until then, you can unlock the flavour of a real tomato yourself at tomorrow's Heirloom Tomato Festival, hosted by Sage, the fine dining establishment of the River Cree Resort and Casino headed by chef Christophe Ithurritze, who not that long ago was backing Wolfgang Puck at his Las Vegas restaurant, Spago.
The first annual festival was inspired by one in Carmel, California, that celebrates 350 varieties of this remarkable tomato that’s sometimes born from beautiful chaos.
According to TomatoFest, the Carmel festival, heirloom tomatoes are grown in one of four ways:
1. Commercial Heirlooms: Open-pollinated varieties introduced before 1940, or tomato varieties more than 50 years in circulation.
2. Family Heirlooms: Seeds that have been passed down for several generations through a family.
3. Created Heirlooms: Crossing two known parents (either two heirlooms or an heirloom and a hybrid) and dehybridizing the resulting seeds for how ever many years/generations it takes to eliminate the undesirable characteristics and stabilize the desired characteristics, perhaps as many as eight years or more.
4. Mystery Heirlooms: Varieties that are a product of natural cross-pollination of other heirloom varieties.
On June 20, Ithurritze and his second-in-command, Robbie Oram, who was once the head chef at the Canadian embassy in Beijing, will highlight their culinary abilities by integrating an heirloom tomato into each dish in a five-course meal, including dessert. The total experience is $55. For reservations, call 780-484-2121.
Last week, I got a preview of what you might encounter. (Wednesday’s menu is very likely to change.)
Jumbo shrimp in liquid-nitrogen-cooled gazpacho.
Wet pizza made with fresh rare AAA steak slices on yellow tomato sauce.
Halibut fillet with corn and lobster ragu and, if you look closely, heirloom tomatoes.
What's underneath that sheet of tomato? A pond of intense chocolate cream. It's a messy, but guilt-free dessert by chef Ithurritze, who, by the way, happens to be a pastry chef.