As the date of Hot Chefs, Cool bEATS grew near, I became more and more excited. Although Gurvinder had done his best to explain his vision for the event, I really wanted to see how it would manifest itself in reality. A fundraiser for Culinary Team Canada and the High School Culinary Challenge, a success in its first year would really help boost its profile for future years.
Well, Mack and I were floored by what we encountered in the lobby of the Shaw Conference Centre’s Hall D two weeks ago.
You might think it difficult to transform a carpeted, dimly lit hallway into an outdoor street festival, but they did it. Colourful flag streamers hung from the ceiling, alongside graffiti art and a fenced area meant to replicate a back alley. On this stage, break dancers took to the floor, wowing the crowds with their rhythm and acrobatic moves.
There were even shoes strung up over streamers (though that might be a little too much street for me)
Food (and drink) vendors lined the rest of the lobby, serving up different interpretations of street cuisine. To be honest, we actually didn’t sample all of the dishes available – too much chatting, and not enough eating!
We loved Drift’s wooden booth
That said, we particularly enjoyed the Filistix’s sisiq, a roasted pork belly (I’m selfishly hoping Filistix puts it on their What the Truck?! menu in June). Drift’s jerk chicken sandwich had a nice bite to it, and after several meat-heavy offerings, Wild Tangerine’s tofu and vegetable curry was a nice reprieve. And though we’re huge fans of poutine in all its incarnations, Culinary Team Canada’s duck fat fries poutine was a bit too salty for us.
Sisiq from Filistix
Jerk chicken sandwich from Drift
Poutine from Culinary Team Canada
On the drink side, I absolutely loved the St. Germain cocktail made with champagne, lemon and soda water – simple but fantastic. (On a side note, we welcomed the idea of using the wine glass we were provided with upon entry, but most of the beverage purveyors actually handed us their own cups, so it was a bit redundant.)
St. Germain cocktails
The program didn’t include the exact time when festivities would shift to Hall D, and we heard there was some confusion about it, so perhaps for next year the transition between the two parts of the event could be more pre-defined. That said, it was a pretty grand reveal when the hall doors were thrown open.
Little India, the French Brasserie and Granville Island/Little Japan each occupied a corner of Hall D, while individual vendors like Elm Café, Duchess and Transcend were sprinkled throughout the rest of the space.
Japanese drummers Kita-No-Taiko started off the entertainment, and because sound easily travelled in the hall, performers traded off with one another. This was quite well organized – there wasn’t a moment when music wasn’t audible.
MC Bridget Ryan also provided great commentary on a live Iron Chef-style challenge that saw two Team Canada chefs prepare salmon for a panel of judges selected from the audience. Clearly, there was more than enough to take in that night!
The hall easily accommodated three hundred people, and could have held several hundred more. Because of that, it was curious why there wasn’t more seating available. We saw many small parties “reserve” tables for the entire night, and as a result, didn’t get to sit down until the later part of the evening. More cocktail tables also would have been a welcome addition – it was challenging to balance plates and wine glasses.
Still, we found ways to sample most of the food available at the various stations. Among my favourites was Culinary Team Canada’s take on fish and chips (fried cod with potato foam – I could just see the Top Chef Canada judges frowning), and Duchess Bake Shop’s warm macaron with caramelized chocolate cake and fresh raspberries (I loved that they even brought a tiny chandelier with them to decorate their booth – it’s always the little things).
Fish and chips
On the drink side, the novelty of the vodka luge was tough to beat, especially with ice carvers hard at work demonstrating their craft, though a close second was Transcend’s latte.
Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Hpnotiq martini
Josh hard at work
At some point, guests were told to make their way to a table in the centre of the hall. This was the only seated portion of the evening, and trays of pre-plated desserts were waiting.
While we satisfied our sweet cravings, we watched a live auction to end the night. Bridget Ryan was a fantastic auctioneer (if she ever loses her Breakfast Television gig, she’ll be fine), but as the numbers for the auction items crept to upwards of $10,000, we couldn’t help but wonder if we were in the wrong place. Was this the same fundraiser that was geared towards the 25-45 crowd? Sure, some in that age group might have the cash to legitimately bid on such items, but I don’t think it was a coincidence that most of the auction winners were 50+. It’ll be interesting to see how this aspect of the event develops, especially if they continue to target patrons in the next gen set.
A sweet takeaway
All in all, Hot Chefs, Cool bEATS lived up to our expectations. It was a great way to spend a Saturday night in Edmonton – dabbling in different food and drinks from some of the city’s most street-savvy chefs, all while benefiting a good cause.
You can see my photoset here.