The ImMACulate Garden Party at the Hotel Macdonald – August 24, 2014

Every so often, the river valley development debate comes up in the news cycle, with proponents either for the preservation of its current state or to enhance the ability for Edmontonians to better take advantage of one of our city’s key treasures. While I am in favour of providing more opportunities for folks to enjoy our waterfront, I think it’s easy to forget that some ideal vantage points already exist.

The Hotel Macdonald

The Fairmont Hotel Macdonald will be celebrating their centennial next July, though for a building so etched in our skyline, it is far too underappreciated. Being a hotel, it is easily overlooked by locals, and with the Fairmont franchise attached to it, it may seem out of reach to others.

Hotel Macdonald

In my opinion, there are few better places to soak up our river valley’s views than the terrace of the Hotel Macdonald. Not only can you take in the lush greenery below, but the terrace itself is gorgeous. EnRoute Magazine also recently named the Confederation Lounge (the restaurant that offers primary patio seating at the Mac) as one of its top five must-visit Canadian patios.

Hotel Macdonald

To help more Edmontonians discover this well-kept secret, the team behind last year’s Blink: Parkade Party has partnered with the Hotel Macdonald to host the ImMACulate Garden Party on August 24, 2014, from 2-5pm.

Hotel Macdonald

We are encouraging attendees to dress in their garden party whites or pastels for a chic afternoon of food, drink and entertainment. The Mac has put together a fantastic menu for us, featuring their cherry-glazed duck confit tacos, which were a big hit at the recent Taste of Edmonton, as well as a signature drink.

Hotel Macdonald

Tours will be offered every hour, so you can learn more about one of Edmonton’s institutions. For those who may not know, the Mac sat vacant for years, and was nearly demolished in the 1980s.

Hotel MacDonald

We’ve secured a harpist to help set the tone for the event, a perfect backdrop to try your hand at several outdoor games, including croquet and lawn bowling. We’ve also put together a scavenger hunt – those who complete it will have a chance to win a gift certificate to the Confederation Lounge.

The Mac is unique for many reasons, such as its use of a canine ambassador, the first in Edmonton. Smudge is a six-year-old Yellow Labrador, and was originally trained as a guide dog. She is often seen greeting people in the hotel lobby, and can be requested to accompany guests on a stroll through the neighbourhood. In honour of Smudge, the ImMACulate Garden Party is a fundraiser for the Edmonton Humane Society.

Tickets for the event are $40, and must be purchased in advance here. I hope to see you there!

More information about the ImMACulate Garden Party can be found on

The Second Annual Culinary Cook-Off, Slider Edition!

On a snowy Saturday, Felicia and I headed to Mount Royal Arts Core School in Highlands to attend the second annual Culinary Cook-Off. A brainchild of Karlynn Johnson (aka The Kitchen Magpie), the Cook-Off is a great way to engage the wider community, raise awareness of Mount Royal’s arts programming, and of course, raise funds for the school! In its inaugural year, the cook-off featured mac and cheese (which we sadly missed); this year, the competition centred around sliders. Given the blustery conditions, comfort food was the perfect way to warm up!

We arrived about an hour into the event, and the school was buzzing with activity. We were given a handy map as soon as we walked in, charting out where we could find the ticket cashier, silent auction items and the slider contenders. My only minor suggestion would be that a listing of slider names next to each competitor would have been appreciated – it was hard to keep them straight by the end!

Culinary Cook-off 2013

One busy gym!

Each slider was priced at only $2, so for $16, Felicia and I were able to try all eight options. It was incredibly affordable, and I can imagine organizers could increase the price in years to come with minimum consequence.

We loved that all competitors were easily identifiable with banners above their station, and a few of the tables featured signage indicating the name and ingredients featured in their creation. I’m sure the chefs without such signage tired of having to repeat this very basic information, so hopefully all competitors will be encouraged to have these details readily on display.

Culinary Cook-off 2013

Culinary Cook-Off

Sliders were comprised of pulled pork, beef and seafood, and it was great to see the creativity inherent in all of them. We were also impressed to find out that most restaurants baked their own buns for the competition!

Culinary Cook-off 2013

Felicia chows down

Standouts for us included The Marc’s ground sirloin and bacon slider, topped with bacon jam and sauerkraut (we loved the sweetness) and Harvest Catering’s Creole shrimp and salmon slider (the cornbread bun definitely set it apart).

Culinary Cook-off 2013

“The Big Marc” from The Marc

Culinary Cook-off 2013

Creole shrimp and salmon slider from Harvest Catering

Our favourite, however, had to be the dim sum slider offered by Murrieta’s. Inspired by siu mai, the pork and shrimp patty was topped with daikon, a fried wonton chip, and served on a honey bun.

Culinary Cook-off 2013

The dim sum slider from Murrieta’s

We stayed for the announcement of winners in the three categories:

  • Judges Choice: Murrieta’s
  • People’s Choice: The Marc
  • Kids Choice: The Manor, with their top sirloin slider, featuring a slice of fried potato

We really enjoyed ourselves – bravo to the organizers, participating restaurants and volunteers for a wonderful event. Here’s looking forward to next year!

Check out my full photoset here.

Super Saturday: DECL Pancake Breakfast and What the Truck?! at Al Fresco

If you weren’t downtown on June 9, 2012, you missed a heck of a party. Dubbed “Super Saturday”, June 9 saw a convergence of several high-traffic, high energy events in downtown Edmonton, including the DECL Pancake Breakfast, City Market, Pride Parade, TEDx and the Al Fresco Block Party. I am happy to say that I was involved in two of them.

DECL Pancake Breakfast

I took on the lead role this year in planning Downtown Edmonton Community League (DECL)’s annual fundraising Pancake Breakfast. All funds raised are donated directly to Al Fresco’s charity of choice, chosen to be Zebra Child Protection Centre this year.

DECL Pancake Breakfast

Zebra Child Protection Centre’s display

It was a great experience working with Sobeys on 104th, our long-standing lead sponsor who donated the pancakes, sausages and coffee that we served, and Affordable Storage on 104th, who secured a large donation of juice boxes for use at the event. Sobeys and Affordable Storage demonstrated to us again that they are community-minded businesses who didn’t hesitate before committing their support.

DECL Pancake Breakfast

Scott shows ‘em how it’s done

We were also happy to secure a prominent location to set up our breakfast this year. In 2011, we were relegated to the two lanes of Jasper Avenue, out of the sightline of City Market shoppers. This year, the market and the City were amenable for us to host the event in the intersection of 104 Street and 102 Avenue. As a result of this and the good weather, our lines stretched longer than we had ever seen before.

DECL Pancake Breakfast

Around the block!

For a donation of $2, hungry patrons received a plate of pancakes and sausages, served up by enthusiastic DECL board members and volunteers. They were in the weeds for most of the morning as the crowds grew ever larger, but they handled it with grace and smiles to spare!

DECL Pancake Breakfast

Love the aprons!

The drawback to our location was having to vacate the intersection by 11:30am, given the Pride Parade was set to charge down the street beginning at noon. As a result, we had no flexibility of extending our breakfast service beyond 11am, and unfortunately, disappointed some who had been waiting in line.

DECL Pancake Breakfast

Great morning for an outdoor breakfast

At the end of the day, DECL was able to raise and donate over $1150 to Zebra. Thanks again to the generous donations from those who took part!

What the Truck?! @ Al Fresco

Mack and I were excited to take on a more active role relating to the Al Fresco Block Party this year. We’ve attended the festival every year since its inception in 2008, and as this was our second year as residents on 104 Street, we relished the opportunity to positively contribute to the neighbourhood.

What the Truck?!

Thanks to Brittney who snapped this photo of us before the madness began!

I mentioned in a previous post that the Planning Committee thought integrating food trucks into this year’s event was an ideal way to offer food, and Mack and I agreed. Servicing street party patrons than with curbside cuisine seemed like the perfect fit. It was also a great opportunity to be a part of something larger, and plug into the expected crowds that would gather downtown to take in one or more events. Rough estimates for that Saturday pegged the numbers at around 30,000.

What the Truck?!

Al Fresco from above

What the Truck?! @ Al Fresco was our first for 2012, and our largest event to date, with ten vendors in total. We took over both the intersection of 104 Street and 102 Avenue, as well as the street directly north of that. The space afforded us to have a seating area in the intersection, and room for many strategically placed lines.

What the Truck?!

Smokehouse BBQ had the longest line all night

We have to commend the City Market on an efficient load out (an hour!), which enabled us to load in nearly all trucks in less than forty minutes. Special thanks also goes out to Tri-Line Disposal, who donated not only several large collection bins, but also smaller wheeled bins for organics and recyclables, which greatly helped us control the on-site garbage.

What the Truck?!

Busy square

With the skies threateningly overcast for most of the afternoon, Mack and I were worried that a downpour would lead to a dip in attendance. But we were very fortunate to have a solid three hours of operation, as the downpour didn’t begin until 8pm. Until then, we had a very strong crowd enjoying the food and music who didn’t seem to mind the grey skies.

Mack and I even had the opportunity to try some food on our own! Battista’s Calzones was on our list, as WTT was the site of the Calzonemobile’s debut. They were the first truck to sell out.

What the Truck?!

All smiles inside the Calzonemobile

We also tried out the BBQ pork and custard steamed buns from The Lingnan Express. I love that they consistently experiment with items never found on any of their restaurant menus; I know I appreciate it as an eater!

What the Truck?!

Steamed buns

As we spent most of our time at WTT, we didn’t get a chance to take in the rest of Al Fresco this year. Some of the feedback we received, however, was that the stage set up at the south end of 104 Street divided the festivities, and prevented essential north-south sightlines. As a result, many patrons who visited WTT or the extended patios and Melcor tasting lot had no idea anything else was going on down the road. We wholeheartedly agree, and this is something the Planning Committee will address next year.

What the Truck?!

Extended patios from above

The weather also was a factor in the TEDx after-party shutting down early. Their flashy stage and screens set up on 104 Street south of 104 Avenue were only functional for about half an hour until the rain forced them to tear down, lest the equipment sustain water damage. Mack and I were too late to see the stage in its full glory, but from our balcony, it was a pretty epic view.

What the Truck?!

All the way to 104 Avenue

Being a part of Al Fresco, the vendors all agreed to donate proceeds from the evening to Zebra Child Protection Centre. In all, the donations totalled about $4,000!

What the Truck?!

There were a lot of “sold out” signs that night

Thanks again to everyone who came out and supported What the Truck?! Thanks to our tireless vendors for putting street eats on the map in Edmonton. And thanks to the few unsung heroes who helped us pick up trash and move tables after dark.

We still have plans for a few more events this summer, but until then, don’t forget about the final Truck Stop in Old Strathcona on June 27, 5-8pm. Hope to see you there!

What the Truck?! @ Al Fresco: June 9, 2012

It’s that time of year in Edmonton – because our summer is so short and precious, every weekend is an opportunity to take in something outdoors. Next weekend, the place to do this will be downtown, with numerous events and three festivals colliding on the same day.

Downtown Edmonton Community League is kicking things off at 8:30-11am, with its annual Pancake Breakfast (all proceeds benefit charity). The 4th Street Promenade summer mainstay, the City Market, will be running from 9am-3pm. Midway through at noon, the Pride Parade will wind down 102 Avenue from 108 Street all the way to Churchill Square. And to round off the night from 5-11pm, the 4th Annual Al Fresco Block Party will take over the Promenade from Jasper to 103 Avenue. Expect a wine and spirits tasting tent, extended patios, a great musical line-up, fashion show, and a kids zone.

Al Fresco Block Party

One of the extended patios in 2011

Mack and I are two of the members of this year’s Al Fresco organizing committee. After attending the festival in 2009, 2010 and 2011, we thought it was time to give back, especially because we now live on the street and love events where neighbours can get to know one another. On the committee, Mack represents our condo (The Century), while I represent the Downtown Edmonton Community League (of which I volunteer as a Board member).


Volunteering for the 2011 DECL Pancake Breakfast

That said, we’re also involved in another capacity – Al Fresco was looking for a different way to feed hungry festival goers. Last year, the food component was expanded by hosting several downtown restaurants on the street – you may remember Tres Carnales in particular, because their Rice Howard Way digs weren’t yet complete at the time.

Al Fresco Block Party

Tacos to the people!

Given the rise of food trucks in Edmonton over the last year, the committee thought they would be a wonderful addition to the festival. Mack and I might be a bit biased, but we agreed with them.

As a result, our first What the Truck?! extravaganza this year will be taking place in conjunction with the Al Fresco Block Party.

What: What the Truck?! Edmonton’s Food Truck Extravaganza
Where: 104 Street, north of 102 Avenue
When: June 9, 2012
Time: 5-11 p.m.

This will be the largest What the Truck?! we’ve ever organized, with ten of Edmonton’s premier food trucks ready to show the city why street cuisine is here to stay:

Best of all – the trucks will all be donating a portion of the evening’s proceeds to Zebra Child Protection Centre, Al Fresco’s charity of choice this year. A non-profit, community-based organization that improves the lives of children who have suffered abuse, the Zebra Centre is able to provide children and their families with essential social, medical and mental health services and supports.

We will be updating the website with menus on Tuesday – so check back then to whet your appetite. Hope to see you there!

Check out the Facebook event here, and follow us on Twitter! Read more about last year’s What the Truck?! events here and here.

Recap: Hot Chefs, Cool bEATS

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.

Hot Chefs, Cool bEATS

Street fair!

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.

Hot Chefs, Cool bEATS

There were even shoes strung up over streamers (though that might be a little too much street for me)

Hot Chefs, Cool bEATS

Graffiti artists

Hot Chefs, Cool bEATS

Break dancers

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!

Hot Chefs, Cool bEATS

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.

Hot Chefs, Cool bEATS

Sisiq from Filistix

Hot Chefs, Cool bEATS

Jerk chicken sandwich from Drift

Hot Chefs, Cool bEATS

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.)

Hot Chefs, Cool bEATS

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.

Hot Chefs, Cool bEATS

Hall D

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.

Hot Chefs, Cool bEATS

Allez Ouest

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!

Hot Chefs, Cool bEATS


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.

Hot Chefs, Cool bEATS

Ledges helped

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).

Hot Chefs, Cool bEATS

Fish and chips

Hot Chefs, Cool bEATS


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.

Hot Chefs, Cool bEATS

Cool art

Hot Chefs, Cool bEATS

Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Hpnotiq martini

Hot Chefs, Cool bEATS

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.

Hot Chefs, Cool bEATS


Hot Chefs, Cool bEATS


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.

Hot Chefs, Cool bEATS

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.

The 2011 4th Street Promenade Al Fresco Block Party

We’ve been looking forward to Al Fresco for a while now – I love a good block party, and all the better when it’s in our neighbourhood! It was great to see the street closed down to allow only pedestrian traffic, too – between the extended restaurant patios, the fashion runway, and the stage, it definitely put the street to good use!

Al Fresco Block Party

An overhead shot of Blue Plate Diner’s patio

Al Fresco Block Party

Crowds galore

Of course, I was particularly excited for the event’s new food program. Discussed as “what the Taste of Edmonton should be”, the block party would be highlighting “high end street food” from downtown and neighbouring restaurants, including MRKT, Elm Cafe, Pampa, Sabor Divino.and newcomer Tres Carnales Taqueria. Corso 32 dropped out last minute, and had been replaced by the always eager Eva Sweet. Pinocchio was also on hand, adding ice cream to the roster of items available.

Al Fresco Block Party

Nate pretends to be fazed by the hungry hoards

Mack and I met up with Jane and Yi-Li at around 6:30, and at that time, the lines were already rampant! It was clear that food was the main attraction for many, with certain stalls barely able to keep up.

Al Fresco Block Party


The organizers had opted for the Taste of Edmonton-esque ticket format instead of cash (which was likely good on the two fronts of fundraising and ease of use). At $1 per ticket, food items ranged from three to ten tickets each.

Al Fresco Block Party

Ninja meat cleavers!

Our waffle appetizer kept us afloat while we waited in line for Tres Carnales, which had a crowd second only to Pampa. We ordered both the tacos and the corn on the cob, while Jane and Yi-Li opted only for the carnitas.

Al Fresco Block Party

Jane and Yi-Li are Tres Carnales poster children!

The pork was well seasoned, and packed a worthy punch of heat. We all agreed that the flour tortillas underneath weren’t our favourite though – Yi-Li commented that between the two tortillas, the flavour of the meat was lost.

Al Fresco Block Party


The corn, though, was the surprise for me. I’m not usually a fan of mayo, and am definitely not on the fries and mayo boat, but for whatever reason, I loved the combination of corn, mayo and spices. Maybe it was the music, or the atmosphere, but I’d definitely order it again.

Al Fresco Block Party

Grilled corn

Much can be forgiven because this was the first execution of Al Fresco’s street food program, but some improvements for next year would include a small handbill of menu options available, and larger menu displays at each of the food stands. A better layout, keeping in mind the possibility of long lines, should also be looked at (though I know a lack of power on certain sections of the street hampered the organizers this year).

Al Fresco Block Party

Music played well into the night

It should also be noted that Al Fresco was again a successful fundraiser for the E4C School Lunch Program, though final numbers haven’t yet been announced. Congrats to the organizers for another great event – I’m already looking forward to next year!

Want more on Al Fresco? Courtenay, Chris, Liv, Sarah and Raffaella all wrote about it too!

2011 California Wine Fair

What event combines three hundred wines, tasty appetizers, one of the most stunning spaces in Edmonton and the ability to support fine theatre? If you answered the California Wine Fair, you’d be correct! A fundraiser thirteen years running, the proceeds from the event go towards the artistic endeavours of the Citadel Theatre.

I was lucky enough to be given two tickets to this year’s fair, which ended up being a blessing of sorts. Due to a prior volunteer commitment, I wasn’t able to meet up with May until the last hour of the event, which, though unfortunate, still meant we could get a taste of what the California Wine Fair was all about.

Walking into Hall D at the Shaw Conference Centre was a bit overwhelming. Sure, there weren’t three hundred vendors (most booths were pouring several different bottles), but the fair still presented a veritable sea of wines to try. The crowd was diverse, but was definitely younger than I expected – a majority consisted of that “next gen” set.

Given our time limitations, May and I opted to be selective with our sampling choices, opting for varieties that we knew we would enjoy – namely, rosés and dessert wines.

California Wine Fair

We love rosés!

We ended up only trying about ten different wines. Our top three: the Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Moscato (no surprise, given the Moscato was our favourite from a wine tasting at Vinomania); the sweet nectar also known as Deviation by Quady; and the Classic Brut from Domaine Chandon. I was particularly tickled to see Domaine Chandon represented – Mack and I had the pleasure of touring their winery in Napa when we were down in San Francisco last fall.

California Wine Fair

Domaine Chandon

We observed that there weren’t as many rosés as we would have expected, though we acknowledged the season and the fact that they are meant for more uncomplicated palates. Also, it was somewhat surprising that some wines being sampled weren’t (yet) available in Edmonton liquor stores. Of course, a room full of wine enthusiasts provides a great opportunity to introduce new patrons to a brand in the hopes they may look for it in the future.

After attending the appetizer tasting and wine preview, it was neat to be able to see which the planning committee ended up choosing. Like me, May enjoyed the goat cheese sphere with caramelized onions marmalade most of all. The cheese plate and the chocolate truffles were much appreciated (in pairing with our wines and preventing the alcohol from going straight to our heads), but a hearty meal would have been the ideal proactive move.

California Wine Fair

The jerk chicken and mango chutney in a tortilla cup and roasted shallot, spinach and feta cheese tartlet were good too!

At the end of the night, May and I agreed that we would attend the California Wine Fair next year. For the food, atmosphere and of course, the wine, it would be well worth the $65 ticket. Especially if one were to be on time.

Thanks again to the Citadel for the chance to check it out! See you in 2012!

Chefs in the City: Spring Event Recap

When I was invited to the inaugural Chefs in the City event last week, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew that the evening would involve great food for good causes – to promote culinary arts as a viable career to local high school students, and to raise the profile of Canadian chefs on the world stage. Organized by Shaw Conference Centre Executive Chef and Canadian Culinary Federation Edmonton President Simon Smotkowicz, the proceeds from Chefs in the City would be split between the High School Culinary Challenge scholarship endowment fund and Culinary Team Canada, in pursuit of gold at the 2012 World Culinary Olympics. Other than that, however, between the sit-down dinner at the chef “action stations”, I was unclear how the event would unfold.

Chefs in the City

I met up with Bin Lau, Communications Director for Edmonton Economic Development Corporation on Friday evening, and we headed to the salon level of Shaw. There, we encountered a flurry of activity – sparkling wine and canapés were being circulated by efficient staff, guests were browsing the two dozen or so silent auction items available for bid (everything from bed and breakfast packages to cooking classes and portrait sessions), and two action stations attracted clusters of patrons seeking warm appetizers.

Chefs in action

The sautéed alpaca loin, served with whipped potatoes and yam foam was a punchy way to start the evening – this was my second encounter with alpaca, and though I’d be hard pressed to say the meat has a distinct flavour, the tenderness imbued by the chefs surprises me every time.

Alpaca with whipped potatoes and yam foam

We also had the chance to try a light asparagus spring roll, served on a bed of quinoa. I would have never thought to prepare asparagus this way, but the stalk stood up nicely in its crunchy parcel.

Asparagus spring roll with quinoa

At the host’s behest, we eventually made our way to the dinner area of the salon. Tables had been set up in the centre, with six chef stations lining the periphery of the room. Two screens bookended the space, with a camera already projecting the speaker’s visage onto them, useful for those seated far from the stage or at challenging angles.

Inside the salon

MC Danny Hooper was a hoot. Impeccably quick-witted, I appreciated his wry sense of humour as he did his best to maintain the attention of the crowd. He later explained how the evening would work – prior to the serving of each course, he would interview the chef who prepared the dish, Chef Blair Lebsack who would explain which local producers supplied the product for the dish, and the sommelier who would provide some information about the wine pairing. As the night wore on, it became clear that for whatever reason, this format wasn’t working. Unlike the PMA dinner I recently attended, where the chef and winemakers had the rapt attention of the crowd (granted, in a smaller setting with less distractions), the MC was forced to be quite stern when guests continued to carry on with conversations while the interviews were taking place.

Chef Paul Campbell of Cafe de Ville explains his dish while MC Danny Hooper and Chef Lebsack look on

Of course, I couldn’t get enough information – all of the dishes not only highlighted, but rejoiced in local produce and proteins, with over twenty farms featured. Chef Lebsack of Madison’s Grill is well-known for his work with area farmers, and his involvement in sourcing the ingredients for the meal showed, with many of his favourite suppliers ending up on the menu. He told us later that the main reason they were able to afford local product was because of a Government of Alberta program called Growing Forward, which seeks to better support the province’s agricultural industry.

Some of the producers also took the initiative to visit each of the individual tables to answer questions at a more personal level. One of the producers told me that guests seemed genuinely interested in learning about local food, and about the upcoming farmers’ markets. Because of that curiosity, I think it was a shame the program didn’t include further detail about where products from the night’s suppliers could be found (some pamphlets were available on the chef stations and silent auction tables, but it wasn’t a comprehensive package).

Interviewing Patty Milligan of Lola Canola

In terms of the cookery, it was pretty neat that kitchen stations had been set up right alongside the tables, and with the screens focused in on the prep work, it felt like we were being offered a special peek behind the curtain, complete with play-by-play.

On the screen/on the stage

The first course was a light but satisfying trio of a seared scallop with Irvings Farm Fresh bacon and vanilla foam, pea ravioli and a lobster-herb press. I am not usually a fan of scallops, but this one had been cooked well, meaty without being chewy, and set nicely with the smoked bacon. The pea ravioli was actually my favourite morsel on the plate, fresh and clean.

Seared scallop, pea ravioli, lobster-herb press

The course that followed was a dream – pan-roasted duck breast from Greens, Eggs and Ham and venison tourtiere. The duck, as expected, was moist and tender, with a lovely even layer of fat, but the tourtiere was undoubtedly the star. Paired with a confit rhubarb salad, the sweetness helped to melt through the richness of the meat and the buttery pastry.

Pan-roasted duck breast and venison tourtiere

Sometimes simplicity wins, and this was the case of our palate-cleansing, sensory refreshing third course. The Berry Ridge Orchard Saskatoon berry sorbet, served with fortune cookie tuilles and a wild cherry chip, could have been happily taken the place of any complex dessert. And judging by the total silence at my table as we each cleaned our our filled shot glasses, my dining companions felt the same way.

Saskatoon berry sorbet

The fourth course required some coordination – diners would get one of six different beef entrees, prepared by the chef at the station closest to their table. And because each chef had the opportunity to speak about their dish prior to it being served, it meant that table sections would be served one at a time. This made it my favourite part of the evening, as I excused myself to watch the chefs in action.

LUX Executive Chef Tony Le and Century Hospitality Corporate Chef Paul Schufelt watch over the poached eggs

It was a wonder to me why more people weren’t hovering by the action stations. I know I really relished the opportunity to watch the chefs at work, in their element, racing to finish their dishes, each plate a perfect replica of the other.

Chef Schufelt hard at work plating his “steak and eggs”

I was lucky enough to get to try two dishes, the additional entree a gift from Chef Tony Le, who probably noticed I was salivating while watching his colleague plate the dishes. Besides being fun (a play on breakfast “steak and eggs”), the poached egg, which willingly released its yolk with the touch of my fork, provided that extra bite of richness (the steak probably could have used an additional moment to rest, but given the time pressures, it was understandable).

Pine Terra Farms striploin with a soft poached egg, Kickin’ Ash braised short rib, Riverbend Gardens potato hash, Irvings Farm smoked bacon and ancho pepper hollandaise

My only regret was not being able to have more than a couple of bites before the too-competent staff whisked that plate away and replaced it with the dish I had in common with my tablemates – a Rosemary Jordan Wagyu beef tenderloin “Wellington” and buffalo short rib, prepared by Chef Campbell of Cafe de Ville. This was my first experience with Wagyu, and boy, did the marbling ever live up to the expectations, ensuring each bite was moist and flavourful. And while I enjoyed the short rib, it was an unnecessary addition.

Wagyu beef tenderloin “Wellington” and buffalo short ribs, with fine morel jus, sautéed root vegetables and creamed potatoes

Dessert felt like an event, probably due to my proximity to the chef stations (they really couldn’t get rid of me if they tried). I visited several of the plating areas, and  just when I thought they had finished layering on the multiple elements, out came sauces, brushes and the final touch, a diminutive chocolate flower.

Chef Sonny Sung of Bistecca watches the desserts being plated

Last touches

The final product was spectacular, a feast for the eyes with bursts of colour and texture. The Bles Wold yogurt and blueberry tart was dense but not too sweet, but the real gem on the plate was the parfait glacé. Wrapped in a delicate chocolate ribbon, the whipped filling inside, made with Lola Canola’s dandelion honey, was light as air. I really should have taken a photo of the parfait halved – it was a beautiful creation even on the inside.

Wild Alberta blueberry yogurt tart with Lola Canola dandelion honey parfait glacé and raspberry foam

As if that wasn’t enough sweets, along with coffee, we were served macarons in a chocolate box. That’s right folks, a chocolate box (I passed some tables later that had broken apart the vessel, probably to taste it just to be sure). While the meringue shells weren’t as yielding as those from Duchess, I really had no idea the pastry chefs at Shaw even dabbled in macarons.

One for you, two for me

The evening closed with remarks from Chef Smotkowicz, who thanked the members of Culinary Team Canada who pitched in that day (they would be staying on over the weekend to practice further), as well as all of the local chefs who donated their time and talent. Chef Smotkowicz said a second Chefs in the City event would take place at the Westin over the course of a week starting on October 29, and would include a reception, gala dinner and cooking classes.

Bravo, Chefs! (only about 1/3 of them are in this photo)

With fabulous food and wine, opportunities to watch the chefs in action, and chances to interact with local producers, Chefs in the City is undoubtedly a great event. And for a first-time execution, I think it was a successful endeavour, having raised tens of thousands of dollars for both the student scholarship fund and Culinary Team Canada. Still, I can’t help but think it might be overly ambitious. Chefs in the City seeks to raise the profile of culinary arts as a field, local chefs, Alberta producers and national talent – and while complementary, each area deserves elaboration in its own right. With limited resources, however, I can understand why this combined approach would have to be taken.

I’m looking forward to the next Chefs in the City event, and hope others take advantage of the occasion to help celebrate local talent and producers. It will only get better from here!

Thanks again to EEDC for the invitation – it was a night to remember.

Keep up to date with Chefs and the City here. You can also see my full photo set here.