A taste of heritage? Canadian Food Network crew captures local flavor in Marion County

ChefSamplingCameraman127.jpg
ChefSamplingCameraman127.jpg

As Tim Unruh watches, master chef Lynn Crawford offers cameraman Kristoff Roehon a sampling of Unruh?s cherry mousse during a break in filming for the Canadian Food Network show tentatively titled ?Fearless Chef? in the Peter Paul Loewen House. Don Ratzlaff / Free Press

As a part-time caterer and stay-at-home father of three young sons, Tim Unruh has done his share of baking and cooking under challenging conditions.

The Hillsboro native?s biggest test may have come last Thursday, when he whipped up a batch of zwieback dough under the scrutiny of perhaps the best chef in all of Canada and a professional camera crew.

And he did it all in the stark surroundings of the Peter Paul Loewen House, the traditional Russian clay brick house built in 1876.

The show?s host, Lynn Crawford, most recently the executive chef at the five-star Four Seasons resort hotel in New York, and her camera crew of five were in Hillsboro to film part of an episode for a new show the Canadian Food Network is producing under the working title of ?Fearless Chef.?

By every observable indication during filming, Unruh passed his baking test with flying flour dust.

In addition to raving about his baking techniques, Crawford simply gushed as she sampled the Mennonite-ethnic New Year?s Cookies, mulberry-rhubarb pie and cherry mousse he had prepared in advance.

?I?ve eaten pie in some of the best restaurants anywhere, and this is absolutely the best I?ve ever had,? she said between bites.

Such high praise could be hard to swallow for a person hoping to represent traditional Mennonite humility.

?I guess I was really surprised,? Unruh said about Crawford?s response. ?Here you have this five-star chef?in my mind, that?s like the ultimate. She?s experienced everything?she went to chef school and is really well-trained. She was working at a famous hotel-resort.

?For her to compliment me like that… it was a good feeling.?

Food journeys

The concept of the Toronto-based show is to get a renown chef out into the ?real world,? where food, particularly ethnic delicacies, is grown and prepared.

?Chef Lynn? then gets involved in the process?usually with little or no advance briefing. In the end, she prepares a feast for her hosts with entrees that she adapts from the dishes she has experienced on-site.

?As an executive chef, often you don?t have the opportunity to see where your food comes from?to see how product is raised and grown,? Crawford said.

?For a chef, that?s key. Work?ing in five-star properties, for me it?s about finding the best of the best. This is what this (show) is?to go to different areas in the country that have product that is really spectacular.?

No neophyte to television, Crawford has appeared on popular Food Network shows such as ?Restaurant Makeover? and ?Iron Chef America.? In the latter, she lost a close peanut butter battle with Iron Chef Bobby Flay.

This is Crawford?s first show as host.

?To see Chef Lynn off in a turkey field trying to catch a turkey to band it?it?s ridiculous,? Crawford said. ?But I know it?s going to come across as very real and fun. Food is fun. I enjoy it so much. Of course I?m serious about it, but you have to enjoy life.?

Ethnic enclaves

Prior to coming to Kansas, Crawford and crew have been to places such as a Berkshire pork farm in Dixie, Ga., a crawfish farm in Rayne, La., and a lobster operation on the eastern-most point of Nova Scotia, Canada.

?I have more respect now for the farmers, for the fishermen and for the ranchers that I?ve met,? Crawford said. ?It?s incredible the kind of passion they have and the amount of hours and dedication they put in to be the best of the best.?

The stop in Hillsboro was part of a larger episode planned for central Kansas. The crew had already filmed at the Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch near Lindsborg, and Danny Williamson?s Windmill Ranch near Tampa, a sister operation with Good Shepherd.

With Heritage turkey being the centerpiece entree, the crew wanted something bread-related for dessert, Unruh said.

?Frank Reed, who owns that farm (at Lindsborg), works at the hospital here in town some,? Unruh said about the connection with Hillsboro. ?He was aware of the Mennonite heritage here in town, and they were looking for somebody to be on the show.

?I think they were having a hard time finding somebody to be on camera, so I said, ?Hey, I wouldn?t mind doing that.??

The initial call came in late April.

?They just asked me over the phone what some of the ethnic foods are,? Unruh said. ?They didn?t know what zwieback were, so I explained that to them. They were really looking for baked goods to go along with the meal.

?Then they asked if I would have some other things to sample when they got there.?

In the research process, the crew made contact with Stan Harder, Hillsboro Museums director, who told them about the Loewen House.

?They liked the primitiveness of it and thought it would be a neat place to do it,? Unruh said.

Filming at that location lasted more than three hours. How conscious was Unruh of the camera?

?It was always in the back of mind, ?Yeah, I?m on film,? so I was trying to be careful about how I was doing things,? Unruh said. ?Sometimes I have these nervous twitches and I was trying not to do that.

?But once (Crawford) was in there and we were in conversation, I kind of lost track of the camera.?

Feast day on Friday

Filming at the Loewen House was only the first stage of a three-day experience for Unruh. That evening he was interviewed at his home for an additional hour.

But that wasn?t the end of it either. The traditional ?feast? was to follow the next day.

?That ended up being at our house,? said Unruh, who also is a veteran horticulturalist who works a few hours a week for The Garden Center in Hillsboro.

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Tim Unruh responds to an inquiry from Lynn Crawford about Men?no?nites prior to the start of filming. Unruh said participating in Hillsboro?s 125th anni?versary beard contest gave him an authentic ?Mennonite? look the show was looking for.

 

?Because of the kitchen and the garden and everything (at the house), it really went together with their heritage theme,? he said. ?They just said, ?This is going to make our job so easy.??

Unruh called the feast experience on Friday ?wonderful??as was the food Crawford prepared.

?She took what she learned from the turkey farm and what she learned from me,? Unruh said. ?The whole purpose of traveling around to do different areas and trying different foods is to give her inspiration. She kind of felt she was getting in a rut and needed some new material.?

Her feast began with a smoked-turkey club salad, with a dressing made from the chelated fat she extracted from turkey wing tips.

The main course featured a stuffing she made from Unruh?s zwieback, layered with mashed sweet potatoes, turkey and gravy.

The desert was a combination of zwieback and New Year?s Cookies, to which she added dried cherries and white chocolate chips. Crawford then put warm cherry mousse on top.

?It was really good,? Unruh said.

Hoping to learn

If there was any disappointment about the experience on Friday, it was that Unruh couldn?t observe Crawford?s techniques as closely as he would have liked.

?I could observe to an extent, but they wanted me to be wowed by what was brought out during the feast, so I couldn?t watch her the whole time,? he said.

The new show will begin airing in Canada after the first of the year. Director Cheryl Zalameda said they hope they have done enough shooting in the United States that the program will be purchased also by the Food Network or Discovery Channel in this country.

Whatever the outcome, Unruh said the crew promised to send him a copy of the finished episode. But it isn?t likely that Unruh or his family will forget the experience anytime soon.

?For a small-town boy in Hillsboro to have this opportunity to learn something from?or just be in the presence of a famous chef?it was one of those opportunities that you can?t pass up,? Unruh said.

?I love cooking so much, and I wanted to learn as much from her as she was learning from me. It was a huge honor for me to have her here.?

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