Date Night: Hawkers Market & Parka Patio Party

In spite of how far we’ve come, there’s still a stereotype that nothing happens downtown on evenings and weekends. Well, on a recent weekend, we hopped from a great food event to a happening party, which all took place within a few blocks of one another.

We started out the evening at the second Hawkers Market to take place in Edmonton, again at the Mercer Warehouse. Conceived as an incubator of sorts for new food-related businesses, I think it still has a ways to go before it is able to attract the newer entrepreneurial efforts who really are seeking a platform to road test products.

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Brittney and I at Hawkers Market

That said, Hawkers Market is still a great addition to the food scene in Edmonton, particularly in the winter, when economical events are harder to come by. Although the line-up of vendors was remarkably similar to the previous event, it didn’t deter the crowds. Organizers estimated about 100 more people this time around, and at least one vendor sold out an hour and a half into the evening.

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The Drift team!

Kara of Drift Food Truck made a good point – the provision of seating really changed the experience for attendees. They encouraged people to linger and stay and to perhaps have another drink or dish that they wouldn’t have otherwise indulged in.

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Busy night

As a result, the atmosphere seemed more festive, with friends gathering around tables, facilitating sharing all that much more. Mack and I sampled a handful of dishes, starting with bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers ($5) from Low & Slow Barbecue, a new vendor at the event. Some people might be familiar with them from the 124 Street Grand Market, but this was our first encounter with their food. Mack enjoyed them well enough, though we were told later on that their pulled pork was the standout.

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Jalapeno poppers from Low & Slow Barbecue

Slow Food Edmonton had a booth, offering both sweet and savoury concoctions. I really liked their version of grilled cheese ($3), made up of a base of Bon Ton bread, a crackling crust of The Cheesiry’s pecorino, and a dollop of Mojo JoJo Pickles’ salted caramel pear butter.

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Chad Moss cooks up some sandwiches

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Slow Food Edmonton’s grilled cheese

Their local marshmallow trifecta ($4) was a unique dessert, with my favourite of the three being the honey-scented treat, topped with a honey toffee crumb.

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Marshmallow treats from Slow Food Edmonton

Mack couldn’t resist Bully’s perogies and ham ($8). We anticipated tasty perogies, but what blew us away was the house cured and smoked ham steak, which was so tender it flaked under a fork alone. And you can always hand it to Bully to win the serving size sweepstakes!

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Dean serves a mean ham!

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Bully’s perogies and ham

Our favourite dish of the night was from Parts & Service, a food truck hoping to hit the streets this spring. Their take on chicken and waffles ($5) was ingenious from a street food perspective, as it could easily be eaten standing up with one hand. Not to mention, the house made chicken sausage (wrapped in a waffle cone) was delicious! It was served with maple syrup and an apple hot sauce, but really, the sausage was seasoned so well it didn’t need any accompaniments. I’m even more excited about their truck now!

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Chicken and waffles from Parts & Service

I was most looking forward to dessert from Paper Bag Donuts (cooked up by Red Ox Inn chef Sean O’Connor). I had missed them at the last event, as I mistook their table as an extension of the bar. This time, they had an overhead sign advertising meyer lemon curd donuts ($3)  and honey crullers ($5). We chose the latter, and weren’t disappointed with the warm, freshly fried treats.

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Paper Bag Donuts

We had a great time, and based on that night, I think Hawkers Market has the potential to become a staple event in our community. For those who missed out, mark your calendars – the next event is scheduled for April 12, 2014.

Full, we walked over to Latitude 53, which was hosting their annual Parka Patio Party. Mack and I had attended their first ever winter patio party in 2012, but the weather had been kinder that year. This year, with temperatures hovering around –30 with windchill, we were grateful that the event had an indoor component.

Parka Patio Party

Parka Patio Party

That said, we had dressed for an outdoor function, and like other attendees, had no use for the coat racks set aside.

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What coat racks?

Hot tea and soup were served inside, but playing up the Ice Land theme, organizers were offering make-your-own cocktails out on the patio. Not only did this involve an ice luge, but also an array of frozen fruit. Needless to say, we gave it a shot.

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Ice luge!

If that wasn’t enough, Pinocchio Ice Cream was also on hand sampling newer product varieties – popcorn and salted caramel ice cream.

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Tom from Pinocchio Ice Cream

A DJ kept the spirits up indoors, and in addition to art up for silent auction, there was also a fun “Scandinavian Toy-Scape” installed in the space (I loved the little waving monster!).

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Too cute

It was great to catch up with some familiar faces at the party, and to take part in a winter event, that in spite of the cold, played to a packed house.

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The cold didn’t keep people away

Thanks again to Latitude 53 for the tickets! Here’s hoping it’s just a few degrees warmer next year.

Visualeyez 2010

Performance art has always seemed a bit elusive to me – more than anything else, it probably has to do with my lack of familiarity with the medium rather than the art itself.

So when I found out that the 11th annual Visualeyez Festival, put on by Latitude 53, had adopted a theme of food this year, I was excited. Nothing like a topic that I love to get me interested and more willing to take the leap into the unknown.

Unlike an art gallery, where the pieces are static and accessible, for the most part, during operational hours, and unlike the Fringe theatre festival, where every staged production is performed multiple times, the Visualeyez Festival is not only brief by comparison at six days in length, but also, performances of some works were only scheduled to take place once.

That said, on the day Communications Assistant Alaine Mackenzie invited me to the festival, I was able to get a taste of three very different interpretations of the theme (and still can partake in one piece not bound by time – by downloading an audio tour of the Sobeys Urban Fresh).

Alaine was also really excited about this year’s theme of food, and really thought the banner would help break down the barriers of those daunted by the idea of performance art. The gallery was quiet when I arrived, but by the time the afternoon’s main event was underway, the main space was nearly full.

First, she introduced me to Alison Reiko Loader and Kelly Andres, who described their project titled kinder/garden as a “food laboratory”. Different from most of the other performances, both were on-site tending to the lab every day, and made a point of changing the space daily.

Alison and Kelly are based in Montreal, where they applied for and received space at the Concordia University greenhouse. They used the greenhouse to explore the idea of manipulating life, including Alison’s creepy but fascinating project of force-growing vegetables into moulds that resembled fetuses.

Pickled tomato

Pickled fetus-moulded tomato and cross-sections

The installation also featured other “live” foods, including yogurt (packed in plastic containers resembling test tubes for patrons to take home), a “doughbie” (a loaf of bread in a baby sling), and bacteria cultures in Petri dishes. Kelly was even serving up wheatgrass martinis (wheatgrass pulp + sparkling mineral water). Alaine and I decided to indulge. More than tasting like grass, it smelled like grass, but it definitely seemed to cleanse on the way down.

Wheatgrass pulp

Kelly at work making our martinis

Alaine and me

Cheers!

Alison and Kelly were more than happy to talk about their project, and this struck me as the most exciting thing about performance art – the dialogue between the patron and the artist. Sure, some galleries host evenings with the artists, and some theatres offer talk backs with the actors, but here, the very point is the exchange itself.

Next, I chatted with Cindy Baker, the Festival Animator. Her role was to attend all of the performances and blog about it, in the hopes of generating buzz and documenting the festival itself. She has done a great job, filing several thoughtful posts a day. She did comment that for a festival about food, however, there wasn’t much food being served.

I also wandered into Chun Hua Catherine Dong’s rice painting set, called Hourglass. Cindy did an exceptional job elaborating on some of the themes of her piece, so much so that I feel like I don’t have anything to add. Except to say that while the task of attempting to fill the bowl with painted grains of rice was futile, I enjoyed the experience. I liked the fact that there were only two chairs (even though many more hands would have resulted in lighter work), and that I was able to connect with another person, even for a brief moment, by sharing in the same task.

Hourglass

Two patrons taking on the task

Though Food Wars was delayed a couple hours due to the sheer number of dishes the two artists were putting together, I have to say, the food was worth the wait. The performance was billed as an Iron Chef-esque showdown: “Armed with only amateur cooking skills and each family’s secret recipes, Mexican artist Manolo Lugo and Guatemalan born artist Naufús Ramirez-Figueroa cook up a storm to prove which nation has the best cuisine!” The intention was for patrons to sample food from both countries, and vote for their favourite.

Todd Janes

Latitude 53 Executive Director Todd Janes introduces the artists

Manolo and Naufús both did an exceptional job setting up their display tables, Manolo with a colourful fruit garnish and Naufús with an intense fondant-covered cake shaped like a Mayan pyramid (it was handy that a chef from Junction next door was in attendance, as she ended up helping Naufús with the fondant).

Preparing the cake

Dressing the Mayan cake

Guatemalan table

Naufús’s Guatemalan spread

From reading the description of the show, I did expect more exposition before the food free-for-all – someone in the audience had to prompt the artists for explanations of the dishes. Between the two, I thought Manolo did a better job, which was probably the main reason my vote went to him (because really, the food from both sides was equally good). An idea I was hoping they would explore further was substitutions in spite of their quest for “authenticity” – though some of the ingredients needed for their dishes were available to them here, Manolo expressed that he had to use similar but not the exact ingredients as specified in traditional recipes.

Mexican table

Manolo’s Mexican spread

Standout dishes for me included the Guatemalan stewed bananas in spicy chocolate mole, the Guatemalan cake (it was supposed to taste like Guatemalan egg nog, but I just thought it was delicious), Mexican stuffed poblanos with pecan sauce (the pomegranate seeds on top are such an inspired idea) and the Mexicn pibil chicken topped with pickled purple onions (you can check out the full menu here).

Mexican plate

Mexican plate

Guatemalan plate

Guatemalan plate (as you can tell, I reused the plate)

I think everyone was in a delirious food coma by the time I left, before the winner was declared (for the record, it was Mexico, though apparently some ballot box stuffing went down). And though a part of me still wanted more of a “performance” from Food Wars, between the food and the conversation, did it really matter?

Thanks again to Alaine for the invitation – I’m not sure I would have made it down to the festival without a push, and now that I’ve been to Visualeyez, I will likely return in the future.

Latitude 53 Summer Rooftop Patio Series Finale

I don’t know where the summer has gone – I had great intentions to attend one of the earlier dates of Latitude 53’s Summer Rooftop Patio Series, but before I knew it, their final engagement had come upon us. So though Mack had an early start yesterday (having woken up at the crack of dawn for his segments on Breakfast Television), he was a trooper and accompanied me to the gallery to have a drink.

I loved the laid-back vibe of the event, encouraging patrons to peruse the art with a drink in hand, while volunteers brought around trays of food (in this instance, appetizers were sponsored by Blue Plate Diner).

Rooftop Patio @ Latitude 53

Rooftop patio!

It was a weird evening, weather-wise, however. The above photo was snapped just moments before the skies opened up for a huge downpour…only to clear a little while later. So though the intention was to enjoy the cool summer breeze, we spent most of our time there wandering the gallery spaces and chatting with other attendees indoors (Jonas St. Michael’s Gore, Quebec was creepy and stirring all at the same time – how about that cow’s head next to the axe?).

It’s always fun to meet new people at events such as these, and Thursday was no different. We also saw a few familiar faces, and one in particular – my sister Amanda, who was in the area and had decided to join us.

Rooftop Patio @ Latitude 53

Amanda and Mack (shilling for Alley Kat in the photo, apparently)

Though I’m a little sad that this was the last patio date of the season, I’m glad we were able to take in the Rooftop Patio once this summer! See you next year!