Inside an authentic culinary experience with Pilsner Urquell at Grant van Gameren’s Prince Edward County retreat
On a brisk fall morning five years ago, a mix of Torontonians found themselves in the deep historical cellars of a 150-year-old Czech brewery, as part of a brand ambassador press tour. Nestled away in a tiny town outside of Prague, the Pilsner Urquell brewery has a rich heritage: it’s the home of the world’s very first golden pilsner — unpasteurized, unfiltered and straight from the source.
There, in the heart of Bohemia, affectionately known to locals and tourists alike as the “land of beer,” we got schooled in the art of brewing beer from the Pilsner Urquell team. Our group included a few artisans at the top of their respective crafts, and renowned chef Grant van Gameren, of Toronto restaurants like Bar Isabel and Bar Raval, was among them. We sipped fresh beer side-by-side (Na zdraví!) while we learned all about traditional brewing processes.
Fast forward to earlier this month and I am reclining lakeside and sipping another cold beer while looking out at the endless blue sky and infinite waters of Lake Ontario. I have been invited by Pilsner Urquell and Grant to experience a culinary excursion at Grant’s latest venture, a compound in Prince Edward County called Cressy House. The excursion is part of the popular event series Keepers of the Craft, which was launched four years ago by Pilsner Urquell to explore true craftsmanship and celebrate the dedication it takes to produce the best — whether it’s in the food, beverages or design industry.
Pilsner Urquell loves to salute fellow craftspeople like Grant. More than a chef, Grant is a true culinary artist and a longtime champion of Pilsner Urquell (he’s been partnering with them since our visit to Prague in 2013). The two share some similar values and have built loyal followings on the traditions of quality, craftsmanship and taste. Pilsner Urquell is one of the rare brands that has stayed true to its roots by maintaining traditional brewing processes and using natural, authentic ingredients that come together in a super-flavorful brew.
On the two-day getaway to Grant’s county retreat, an intimate group — including a few rock stars, a few bearded hipsters and a bevy of photographers — got a taste of the passion and dedication he’s demonstrated in his career, all while taking in the surroundings on his stunning six-acre estate. “Over the years, the Keepers of the Craft workshop series has given me the opportunity to meet a ton of amazing individuals, all unique in their own craft,” says Grant. “The connection through various forms of food, drink and art has made this a great collaboration with Pilsner Urquell.”
To kick off the event, the group gathered for a casual welcome lunch prepared by Grant and his team — paired with ice-cold golden pilsner, of course. The meal was served in a clapboard garden shed on his property that had been converted into a covered dining area, and the spread was definitely worthy of all the social media photo shoots that followed. A favourite were the pierogies, which were perfectly prepared and served with assorted mustards, pickled beets, pretzels, sauerkraut, spicy sausage grilled to perfection and enough cured meat to feed an army.
Next, we all pitched in to help prepare a dinner for 30 people. A collection of cool county residents was also invited, including the brains behind popular PEC restaurant Flame + Smith, the florist behind Coriander Girl and the owners of the soon-to-open Bloomfield Public House. The mandate of Keepers of the Craft is to get your hands dirty, so everyone had a task, whether it was foraging the property for fresh herbs and edible flowers, deboning the local pickerel or helping stoke an epic fire that would serve as the main grill for all of the dinner’s side dishes.
The mission of the menu was to highlight the fresh, seasonal ingredients that were sourced from nearby growers like Edwin County Farms. We also got some cooking tips from Grant’s friend and collaborator Albert Ponzo, head chef at the much anticipated Royal Hotel.
While Grant and his team enthusiastically put the finishing touches on dinner, the group explored the grounds with a Pilsner Urquell in hand. As the sun was slipping away, we ambled into the guesthouse’s main room, where couches had been removed to make way for large harvest tables featuring twinkling candles and delightfully simple place settings. The mouth-watering meal included coal-charred sweet potatoes, county corn (no butter or salt required), a rustic salad made with freshly picked tomatoes, Ponzo’s famous lasagna, a perfectly tender rib-eye and delicate grilled pickerel. After, everyone unwound by the fire and raised their Pilsner Urquells to salute Grant and the Pilsner team for their shared pursuit of excellence.