Local chefs test the many applications of the humble egg

When it comes to fine dining, meat gets its share of recognition. Pork, beef, chicken, and – in Atlantic Canada – prawn seem to dominate the dinner plate. When breakfast is off the menu and featured dishes are up for consideration, little thought is given to the simple egg.

Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC) wants to change that. The organization, representing over 1,000 regulated farmers across the country, “manages the supply of eggs, promotes eggs, and develops standards for egg farming in Canada.” Fitting, then, for EFC to invite me along to Chef to Farm, an event that educates about egg production and celebrates its consumption.

As the name Chef to Farm suggests, I wasn’t the event’s premier guest. EFC invited five Halifax chefs with professional repertoires as varied as they are impressive to share the essential ingredient’s humble origins. Although touted as emerging chefs, it quickly became apparent invitees were selected on established merit. Among the group was a Red Seal certified personal chef with over eighteen years of professional cooking experience, a bronze recipient of The Coast’s Best Chef category of 2017, a runner-up in the 2018 season of MasterChef Canada, and two executive chefs from notable Halifax eateries.

On a hot August morning, we were bused to Bayview Poultry Farm near Truro, Nova Scotia, to learn more about fresh, local, high-quality eggs. The farm, owned and operated by father and son duo Glen and Blake Jennings, boasts five generations of innovative egg production. Co-hosting the event with EFC was Chef Craig Flinn, Chef and Proprietor of Chives Canadian Bistro, 2 Doors Down, and 2 Doors Down Bar & Bites in Halifax.

“The biggest thing I learned when I started with EFC three years ago was that the eggs we use are going from farm to marketplace in under five days,” Chef Flinn remarked in greeting. “They’re always local, always fresh, always in season. Supply management done by EFC allows that.”

Chef Craig Flinn

The ensuing farm tour reinforced the freshness message. Outfitted in biosecurity overalls, shoe covers, and gloves, we made our way into the barn. The Jennings house 14,000 hens at a time, garnering approximately 7,200 eggs daily. Eggs are collected mechanically soon after they are laid and are washed, graded, and store-bound within days.

“Because a lot of our retailers are branded, many people don’t know how local and fresh Canadian eggs are. They don’t know we have some of the highest standards in the world for freshness, food safety, and animal care,” the elder Jennings explained as he showed us around the facilities.

The second half of the event was a black box cooking challenge. Guests were divided into three teams and tasked with cooking a portion of the afternoon’s meal. The guidelines were simple: use the locally-sourced ingredients supplied, incorporate the signature ingredient selected by Chef Flinn, select a wine pairing, and – above all – give the farm-fresh eggs the star treatment they deserve.

I was posted on team two, the main course. The panic I felt finding myself in a cooking competition with Halifax’s top chefs was mercifully short-lived, as I was instantly put to work fetching, rinsing, and chopping. Chefs transformed from keen observers to masterful directors – the unassuming tent suddenly a kitchen under command.

When time was up and the flurry of activity came to a halt, it was clear I wasn’t alone in my excitement to sample each dish. Chefs worked to perfect their dish presentations while subtly eyeing the competition. Eventually, we sat around a head table and poured an off-dry Avondale Sky Riesling to complement the offering.

Not that the first course needed supplementing. Described as a “fatty, delicious, stick-to-your-ribs appetizer” by one of the chefs who developed the dish, we were served a scotch egg topped with a béarnaise made from No Boats on Sunday apple cider. The mandatory ingredient, halibut cheeks, were marinated in old bay and buttermilk to tenderize then topped with leaks, corn, and chanterelles. My foodie shoptalk could use refinement, but the “stick-to-your-ribs” characterization seemed apt.

If I hadn’t been involved in the development of the entrée, I’d have doubted a chef’s ability to top that first course. Luckily, I’d had a firsthand account of the seared duck breasts topped with crispy chanterelles and brussels sprouts, and apple slaw and roasted potatoes on the side. The chefs in my group were challenged by the mandatory dulse but seamlessly incorporated it with the eggs to create a creamy sabayon sauce (a sauce made with egg yolks, sugar, and wine – usually Marsala). The resulting dish, paired with the smooth Blomidon Baco Noir, was possibly the best I’ve had. Murmurs of appreciation across the table seemed to echo the sentiment.

Just when it seemed impossible to consume more, along came a dessert that made us reconsider. The signature haskap berries, marinated in ice wine, were blended with a lemon sabayon and topped with a white chocolate version. Fried pizza dough tossed in cinnamon sugar with grilled peaches sprinkled with fresh lemon zest completed the dish. An L’Acadie Brut Sparkling accompanied the meal – delicious by its own right, but hard-pressed to find due appreciation after the impeccable meal that preceded.

“When I went to culinary school, I was taught there are 52 folds in a chef hat to represent the 52 different cooking applications of an egg,” remarked one of the chefs. I was struck by the validity of this when the farmers happily reported 13 people had consumed 74 eggs during the meal we’d just enjoyed.

Chef Flinn wasn’t surprised.

“The egg is very symbolic. It’s always been used in everything, but there’s a new way of thinking. The egg is no longer just a staple in a cake, a crème brûlée, or soufflé. It can be the star of a dish for breakfast, lunch, or dinner,” he said in closing remarks. “You can push creative boundaries. It’s nutritious and affordable. It’s incredibly versatile and it just takes young minds to imagine what the egg can be.”