The scene: It's Wednesday night. I've spent past 90 minutes in a limo bus drinking bubbly. I've eaten my weight in oysters. I have a galling nine wine glasses spread out on the table in front of me. And Lynn Crawford is cooking me a romantic meal.
Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore. We're in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
To be fair, it's not just me the celebrity chef is cooking for -- there's a group of us gathered for this event hosted by the Inniskillin Vineyards. We've been whisked away from our urban lives to experience the wonders of the region in winter. The other star of the night, alongside Crawford, is icewine, and we're here to have our tastebuds dazzled by both.
The drinks take the early lead in 'wow' factor points when the winery's hosts Deborah Pratt and Del Rollo hand out flutes of sparkling vidal icewine - the tiny bubbles add just enough fizz to cut the intense sweetness, and I'm instantly hooked. But Chef Lynn -- whose long list of credits includes former Executive Chef of the Four Seasons Toronto, host of the Food Network's Pitchin In, and owner of new hotspot Ruby Watchco -- follows up strong with her version of Oysters Rockefeller. Oysters Lynna-Feller are a heady mix of malpeque, smoked bacon, and icewine mignonette, a delicious combination that makes me reel a little on the way to the dining hall.
And here's where things start to get a little crazy. We start off reasonably, with some flaky cheddar biscuits slathered in icewine butter. Then Chef Lynn and Inniskillin chef David Perry roll out a delicate hazelnut crusted pickerel with warm lobster lentil salad and brown butter vinaigrette -- a mouthwatering combination of flaky, tender, smooth and crispy. Then comes the crispy pork belly with apple celeriac puree, an ideal dish for the pork lover in us all.
I could have stopped there. Two mains is perfectly reasonable. But we push on to a third -- a slow-roasted, dry-aged striploin with charred kale and mushroom short-rib gravy. Heavenly. My pants are feeling snug. Then in comes the cheese plate, featuring two of my favourites, Niagara Gold and Comfort Cream, with Ruby Watchco beet marmalade. I. Cannot. Resist. Cheese.
And about those nine wine glasses I mentioned: each and every one of them is put to use. We sample a stunning total of six icewine varietals over the course of the night -- who knew there was even more than one? -- and a complementary flight of other wines as well. I should be under the table at this point.
Thankfully, Chef Lynn keeps things grounded -- she's the same energetic, warm, passionate and funny woman that she appears to be on TV. She greets familiar faces with hugs, takes photos of the guests and emails them via iPhone, and jokes that she'll travel home with us on the party bus. And she even admits to a cooking flaw: she burns s'mores. "I'm the worst," she says.
She's lying. The s'mores consist of handmade vanilla bean marshmallows with cabernet franc ganache, but I'm so full at this point I can't even muster the strength to put two graham crackers together. I steal two mallows and sneak them home on the limo bus. Upon exiting, I wave a hazy goodbye to my fellow guests, and promptly drop those beautiful, fluffy, pristine marshmallows onto the dirty sidewalk.
Toto, we're not in Niagara-on-the-Lake anymore.
Check out these recipes, courtesy of Lynn Crawford:
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