Fall suppers are a Manitoba tradition. Typically, they are rural events that take place in town halls or community centres, and for a small ticket price (C$10-C$20), community members share a hearty meal.
The usual fixings include ham, turkey, mashed potatoes, vegetables, and — if you’re lucky — some Ukrainian classics such as pierogis and cabbage rolls. All the food is made by hand and with love, and the money goes to support various community organisations or charities.
With that tradition in mind, the Winnipeg Free Press developed our version of a fall supper; the same rural, homey feel, the same charitable component — just with an elevated menu that partnered closely with an editorial feature.
Early in 2021, the arts department of the Winnipeg Free Press began work on a months-long project that laid the groundwork for the event. Each reporter in the department profiled a single local ingredient through its production process — from beets and squash to chicken, to cheese, to herbs and mushrooms. Our reporters documented the growth and harvesting of them all.
Some reporters made multiple visits to their chosen producer, and our photojournalists went along to capture each ingredient’s growth with photos and video.
These stories were compiled into a massive farm-to-table food feature, highlighting all of the ingredients that are at our fingertips here in Manitoba, Canada. This feature ran in print on October 2, 2021, a little more than two weeks before our event on October 17.
From the page to the plate
The Free Press Fall Supper event was directly tied to the feature. Winnipeg chef Matty Neufeld of Prairie Kitchen Catering used the ingredients from the stories to create the entrée for our supper event, so the exact ingredients from the exact producers featured in the story ended up on attendees’ plates. Matty also developed an appetizer and dessert to complement the entrée and round out the meal.
Our entrée for the evening was a sunflower-oil-poached chicken breast with confit chicken leg and chanterelle tortellini, Golden Prairie cheese fondue, butternut squash, beets, toasted hemp seeds, and sunflower shoots. Yes, it was as delicious as it sounds!
In keeping with the farm-to-table theme, we used a venue located rurally, about 30 minutes outside of Winnipeg. The venue itself is a renovated barn, lovingly (and beautifully) restored, and is now a popular wedding and event space. We used a local-to-the-area décor company to bring our vision to life and had local beer and spirits available to sample before dinner.
Keeping it local
In addition, we had a table of free samples of locally made food products and asked a local music organisation to curate a dinner playlist of all Manitoban musicians.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions and concern for the safety and comfort of our guests, ticket sales were limited and vaccination requirements were in effect. We were able to sell out, hosting 136 people, and were ultimately able to donate more than C$4,500 to our charity of choice, Harvest Manitoba, a local food-bank network.
The second Free Press Fall Supper is already in the works for October 2022. This year’s meal will be based on a community cookbook project which includes submitted recipes and features that explore the history of food in the Free Press’s pages as the publication marks its 150th anniversary this fall.
All photos by Jessica Lee/Winnipeg Free Press.