Dartmouth Veg Out
Friday, April 19
Cafe Good Luck, 145 Portland Street
Ian Lea is hosting a dinner party in five days, but he doesn't really know what his guests will be eating. "At the moment I'm using a lot of celeriac because that's available and I don't think it's a vegetable that's as widely used," muses the founder of Third Season Food. "It's got a really nice, delicate celery flavour. But there's also a lot of things you can do with it, from having it raw in salads to roasting it to mashing it. It's a very versatile, weird-looking vegetable."
The dinner in question? This Friday's Veg Out, a self-described "five course vegetarian feast" at Cafe Good Luck (where Lea has worked since the modern Dartmouth diner opened its doors at 145 Portland Street last August). At $55 a ticket, the one-night-only, veggie-focused evening is nearly sold out when Lea answers the phone—and it sees Cafe Good Luck making good on its plan to be a gathering space in the community with more foodie events rounding out its repertoire.
But back to the menu: "All the sorts of cooking I really enjoy doing are based on seasonal produce, what's available at the right time of year because that's when stuff is at its best. Most of the dishes I cook and the stuff we'll be cooking Friday is ingredient-led, so we'll see what's available and then create the dishes from there," Lea says. "I think a lot of people have moved towards that now, stripping back the fanciness of the dishes to the key elements of the ingredients and the providence of the ingredients—which I think is becoming more and more important for chefs but also for consumers as well."
Lea's British accent seems to become more pronounced with each word (he's from York)—but perhaps that's just because he sounds like he's channeling something Nigella Lawson, England's patron saint of seasonal eating, would say. "We'll be using some kohlrabi, some celeriac, things like that. We'll probably be working with very local greens, grown down on the Dartmouth wharf," he continues.
"Obviously at the moment in Nova Scotia, there's not loads of stuff available—it's quite a limited palette of ingredients," Lea generously offers of the root-vegetable-heavy local scene this time of year—where "limited" could border on monotonous for the locally minded vegetarian. "But that's also a challenge, that makes it more fun to create a more varied and interesting meal with a smaller amount of ingredients."
The dinner will also double as a swan song of sorts for Lea, who'll soon be returning to England to continue his pop-up dining adventures.
"We're wanting to make it quite friendly, accessible food because vegetarian food can have a bad rap as hippie rabbit food or bland stuff. And also, the idea is sharing dishes as well," he says. "Even though the cafe tables are in fours and twos, we'll still be sending out plates where people can dig into [the food] themselves rather than plated-up dishes, so hopefully it'll be a bit more engaging in that way."