Bier Markt spearheads white asparagus cuisine and umlaut abuse
As restaurants across the city put the emphasis on local ingredients, the Bier Markt becomes the bad boy of culinary correctness by featuring—gasp!—an imported vegetable throughout the month of May. The sixth annual White Asparagus “Feastivül” (the restaurant’s affinity for excessive umlauts doesn’t diminish even though the asparagus is from France) is the brainchild of Bier Markt’s “culinary think tank,” says Robert Medal, one of the restaurant’s owners. In keeping with the beer emporium’s Dutch influence, white asparagus is a seasonal obsession because the Netherlands is a major producer of the “blönde” crop.
To make the asparagus white, farmers cover the stalks with dirt, depriving them of sunlight, so no chlorophyll is produced. Though the Bier Markt imports its from Alsace, Cookstown Greens, a distributor north of Toronto, also grows the veggie. When asked why the Markt has snubbed the Ontarian version, Medal explains: “The ones that we get are a different strand. They’re bigger, not as fibrous and firm as green asparagus. It’s much more subtle and buttery and less bitter and sharp.”
He goes on to say the French variety is more delicate than its Canuck counterpart but defends the restaurant’s use of imported ingredients. “We use a lot of local suppliers. We get our pork products from the Niagara region and our foie gras and cheeses from Quebec, so we’re familiar with the concept of using local producers. It’s just that in this particular case, you can’t get the real thing in Ontario.”
The month-long celebration features such entrées as ahi tuna with grilled European white asparagus ($36), the duelling asparagus plate with white asparagus and Ontario green asparagus ($19), and white asparagus wrapped in Berkshire bacon ($17). It should be noted that the pomegranate panna cotta ($9) listed on the festival’s—sorry, Feastivül’s—menu does not contain asparagus, though hats off to the pastry chef for creating an asparagus–white chocolate brûlée ($10).