There’s a new culinary adventure in town, thanks to Secret Dinner Canada, which hosted its third Ottawa extravaganza this week. Launched by Vanessa Fedeli and Zach Roy, the intention is to bring some magic to the local dining scene, reflective of the many delicious experiences in unique venues that this globe-trotting couple has enjoyed. It might seem like a leap of faith to buy a ticket to a dinner when you don’t know where you’ll be dining, who will be cooking, or what you’ll be served. But that’s the whole point of Secret Dinners.
At our rendezvous location in urban Ottawa, we enjoyed a tasty hibiscus and mezcal cocktail before boarding our bus, destination still unknown and the subject of much speculation as our group of 30 drove further and further away from the city. Upon arrival at Laird’s Tree Farm, south of Manotick, our hosts greeted us – with glasses of bubbly – and escorted us through the trees to a meadow where a long, beautifully-set dining table for our ‘Smoke + Shine’ dinner awaited us.
Vanessa’s background in event planning is evident in the attention to detail. It felt like she and Zach had invited us to their private dinner party that just happened to be taking place in a field. She admitted, in fact, that when designing Secret Dinners, she thinks back to the crazy, loud and fun gatherings that she always enjoys with her large, Italian family.
Each dinner involves collaborating with a different chef. This time it was Jesse Bell, whose ability to turn out such an elegant meal from a temporary camp-style kitchen was truly impressive. Showcasing local ingredients at their best, he devised dishes that spoke of the transition into lighter summer flavours but with an acknowledgement of June’s cooler evenings. Each perfectly-balanced plate delivered a symphony of flavour, colour and texture, starting with a shaved asparagus salad with smoked blue cheese that was a delicious hint of things to come.
Next up was charred yellowfin tuna crudo accompanied by pickled rhubarb, smoked crème fraiche and a tasty sesame tuille. The beverage pairing for this course was particularly inspired – a sour beer called Mash Up The Jam from Collective Arts Brewing. Intriguing on its own, it was sublime with the food; all other beverage pairings were similarly on point. A plate of browned butter gnocchi with fiddleheads and more was next, followed by duck two ways then a duo of delectable desserts. The final treat was smoked limoncello that was particularly delicious sipped by the roaring campfire near our table.
One thing of which you can be certain is that no two Secret Dinners will be alike but based on this event I think it safe to say that each one will be an unforgettable dining experience offering a true feast for all the senses. I highly recommend keeping a close watch on their website or social media for announcements of upcoming events as they sell out quickly; the next one in Ottawa is July 8. As befits the name Secret Dinner Canada, expect to see additional locations popping up across the country in the future as Vanessa and Zach continue to travel, explore and forge new culinary connections.