Devour Festival Pairs Mushroom Foraging Film With Nova Scotia Seafood Bounty

"Now, Forager"

No question, serve lobster: Chefs Michael Blackie and David Smart whip up a "Now, Forager"-inspired dinner at the fest in Atlantic Canada.

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia – "When I saw their menu and what they were preparing, I knew they'd seen my movie," says Jason Cortlund, who directed the U.S. indie Now, Forager with Julia Halperin.

Cortlund, the Austin, Texas-based filmmaker, is talking about Canadian chefs Michael Blackie and David Smart, whose food pairing with his U.S. indie Thursday night at Devour: The Food Film Fest included a local seafood bounty of octopus, lobster and striped bass.

And a lot of mushrooms.

Now, Forager is a bittersweet drama about Lucien and Regina, Basque-Americans who gather wild mushrooms in the woodlands of New Jersey and sell them door-to-door to New York restaurants.

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As Regina (Tiffany Esteb) becomes a well-paid prep cook at a hip new octopus restaurant for security, Lucien (Cortlund) remains a nomadic forager.

"When you watch a food movie, you notice the food," Blackie, a partner in Ottawa-based banquet and restaurant venture NEXT, said of devising the chef/filmmaker collaborative dinner's menu with Smart.

Asian octopus was a natural first course for the $100-a-pop dinner, which followed a screening of Now, Forager at the Al Whittle Theater on Main Street in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada's secret foodie destination.

"We also wanted to reflect the Basque cuisine influences," added Smart, chef at the restaurant Front and Central.

So the first course brought in by waiters to the sound of clinking glasses was a Mediterranean-themed dish of grilled octopus and potato slices placed on top of a romesco sauce, a blob of black kalamata olives, preserved lemon and a hint of smoked paprika.

The second course was a mushroom broth, an homage to Lucien the forager, and director Cortlund, who in real life is the editor of the newsletter of the New York Mycological Society.

But Blackie and Smart instilled the broth with attitude by adding miso, oyster mushrooms, soba noodles and smoked tofu, and pairing it with a local wine, a 2012 Benjamin Bridge Tidal Bay from the local Annapolis valley.

In Now, Forager, as Lucien's pick-and-sell, slow-food lifestyle leaves him penniless, especially after an ill-fated catering job for a demanding socialite, played by Gabrielle Maisels, his marriage begins to unravel.

So Blackie and Smart upped the dinner's drama with the third course, a white bean and sage cassoulet with butter-poached lobster, whose creamy touch was balanced by seared scallops, crisped clams and baked kale.

"It's a lot of fun to play with the textures," Smart said of the Nova Scotia lobster vehicle.

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To complete the rich mixture of white beans and fish, autumn comfort food at its best, the chefs reduced six liters of 35 percent cream down to four so that it became 50 percent.

Then they tossed in a wheel of goat cheese, two pounds of butter, truffle oil and fresh lemon juice.

No one nibbled at the final dish, which was paired with a 2011 Quail's Gate Chardonnay, whose acidity helped cut the richness.

Now, Forager includes a scene where Lucien catches and fillets striped bass.

So the fourth course crisped the bass, and added a sunchoke pave, a caper-raisin pulse and a foraged-mushroom flash.

The celluloid feast finished with a gingersnap-crusted classic cheesecake.

Devour: The Food Film Fest continues through Sunday.

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