What’s in McGill’s giant brownie?
McGill à la carte event to highlight Fair Trade and Mac farm products
By Neale McDevitt
As McGill’s Executive Chef, Oliver De Volpi isn’t usually fazed by a little heat in the kitchen. But these days he’s feeling stressed. “The last few nights, I’ve been waking up at 3 a.m. and having trouble getting back to sleep,” he says with a laugh. “I start thinking about brownies and that’s it, I’m up.”
De Volpi’s culinary talent has brought him to lead some of Quebec’s finest cuisines such as the Casino de Montréal and Casino du Lac Leamy, the Queen Elizabeth and the Place d’Armes hotels.
So why is he losing sleep over brownies?
It’s more the scope than the actual meal, as De Volpi and the Student Housing and Hospitality Services (SHHS) team is responsible for cooking and assembling the world’s largest brownie that, once finished, will measure 30×15 feet and top the scale at a gut-busting 3,500 pounds.
The gigantic brownie will be the main attraction at the annual McGill à la carte event to be held in the tent on the downtown lower campus on Tuesday, Aug. 26, during which thousands of students, faculty, staff and hungry Montrealers will be invited to sample the delicious dessert. Surplus food will be sent to the Old Brewery Mission and other charitable organizations. “It’s the most public way to flop if things don’t go well,” says De Volpi with a laugh. “That’s why we’re all a little on edge these days.”
But the SHHS people aren’t new at preparing a mega meal. In 2012, they shattered the Guinness World Record for largest fruit salad, by making an 11,197-pound mountain of freshly cut fruit. Last year, the team hosted the Tomato Fest in which thousands of people dined on a five-course tomato-themed meal that included salsa, gazpacho, Greek salad, pizza with fresh tomato sauce and a 500-pound tomato cake.
Clearly, SHHS adheres to the adage “Go big or go home.”
Huge food aside, what makes this year’s event different is that it is doubling as a food fair. In all, 27 food kiosks from corporate vendors with whom McGill partners will share the tent with the massive brownie, including Première Moisson, Van Houtte Coffee, Coca-Cola, St-Viateur Bagel and Danone Yogurts. Many vendors will give away free samples of their produce.
While the size of the brownie adds to the spectacle, the real message is contained in its ingredients. “Brownies contain a lot of cocoa, sugar and chocolate. [As an officially designated Fair Trade campus] we wanted to highlight those Fair Trade products,” says De Volpi. “All the ingredients in this brownie will be Fair Trade, something that isn’t necessarily true when you buy brownies at the supermarket or at your local coffee shop.”
And some ingredients will also be very local, as the 8,400+ eggs needed for the behemoth brownie will all come from Macdonald Campus farm. “People don’t have to worry, our hens lay about 3,000 eggs a day,” Paul Meldrum, the farm’s General Manager, says with a laugh. “We haven’t had to put the hens on a treadmill or anything like that.”
The farm has been supplying McGill cafeterias with some 8,000 dozen eggs annually for the past three years as an extension of the McGill Feeding McGill project. The project began in 2010 with the aim to provide locally grown fruits and vegetables from the Mac farm to McGill’s downtown residences and the general student community. Today, Mac Farm supplies McGill with the bulk of its fruit and vegetables through the fall, as well as approximately a third of its meat. “It makes sense as the quality is second to none because it’s so fresh,” says Meldrum. “The fruit and vegetables are shipped downtown the day they are picked and we know exactly what is in our beef. We age it longer than what is typical in the industry so it is more flavourful.”
The arrangement is also a boon to the environment as it significantly reduces transportation distance and time. “We figure with the eggs we take out about 300 km of transportation,” says Meldrum. “With the beef it’s two or three times that.”
On top of the 8,400+ eggs, the brownie will take 1,440 pounds of Fair Trade sugar, 720 pounds of margarine, 540 pounds of Quebec-grown and milled flour, 360 pounds of Fair Trade cacao powder, 16 pounds of baking powder and 420 pounds of organic Fair Trade dark chocolate. In the end, it will produce some 19,000 portions.
Because of its size, the brownie has to be cooked in stages over a number of days at various kitchens on campus. At noon on the day of the event, the trays of brownies will be brought to the tent on lower campus, assembled and iced. At 3:30, Principal Suzanne Fortier is expected cut the first portion and the rest of the brownie will be served to the public.
For more information, go here.