Recap: FEASTival of Fine Chefs 2018

In Edmonton, we are fortunate to have a diversity of culinary events to attend. While it sometimes seems like there are new tastings or markets popping up every weekend, other events can claim a long history, and have endured the whims of an ever-changing food community. The FEASTival of Fine Chefs, put on by the Alberta Food Processors Association, is one such example, celebrating its thirtieth year in 2018. Mack and I were fortunate to attend the event as guests last week alongside our friends Linda and Sharman.

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

A showcase for Alberta products and a fundraiser for apprentice chefs, FEASTival pioneered the idea of the “black box” challenge. 24 hours before the event, participating chefs receive a hamper containing a variety of locally sourced produce, grains, pulses, and proteins which they have to transform into 4 different courses. Diners are given four vouchers that correspond with each course and a restaurant station number. The distinct aspect of this event, however, is that the station numbers change after each course, so guests end up with dishes from four different places. Linda captured her experience of this really well, but I will say this Russian roulette-style dinner was unique. It’s ideal for those with adventurous palates, and created a easy going atmosphere in the Shaw Conference Centre hall.

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

Our meal tickets

There were a total of 17 participating restaurants this year. Because of the time and labour-intensive nature of the function, organizers shared that it is difficult for smaller establishments to participate. As a result, all of the restaurants were representing hotels, institutions, or chains. Still, event chair Chris Short maintains that FEASTival is a great opportunity for young chefs to challenge themselves, in addition to exposing them to the range of products available from home grown producers.

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

Chefs hard at work

Before dinner, we whet our appetites by exploring the menus the restaurants had put together. Although I could extrapolate from the dishes what ingredients were provided in their black box, it would have been visually interesting to see what a sample hamper contained.

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

Plating perfection

I was particularly impressed by the few who had an overall theme to their dishes (the Renaissance Hotel was inspired by Korean cuisine), or a fun display (the Royal Glenora had set up a big top tent complete with popcorn decorations and a spin-the-wheel game).

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

The Royal Glenora carnival

Overall, I was pretty impressed by the food, and by circumstance, ended up with a fairly cohesive meal. My appetizer was prepared by the Highlands Golf Club; a birch-glazed bison short rib with a sweet potato purée and charred rutabaga. The meat was nicely tender, and I appreciated the pair of vegetables served together, as they complemented the other well.

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

Birch-glazed bison short rib

I was delighted to see a soup course on the menu (Mack jokes that I could eat soup all day every day, and it’s true). Of the two I sampled, I preferred the roasted chicken mushroom consommé from Stages Kitchen & Bar. While it was on the salty side, I thought there was a lot of depth to the broth.

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

Roasted chicken mushroom consommé from Stages Kitchen & Bar

My main course was prepared by the Royal Glenora Club. I very much enjoyed the spiced rack of boar, served with a curried cauliflower purée, cabbage, and northern bean cassoulet. At an event this size, I often find the meat to be overcooked, so I was pleasantly surprised that the boar was a perfect medium rare. In addition, the highlight of the plate for me was the flavourful bean cassoulet.

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

Spiced rack of boar from the Royal Glenora Club

Most of the desserts around the table were chocolate-based. Considering the event’s local philosophy, I was expecting more dairy, egg, or fruit concoctions, but I recognize that chocolate is a crowd-pleaser. My dessert was a flourless chocolate cake from the Highlands Golf Club; it was a very rich way to end my meal.

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

Flourless chocolate cake from the Highlands Golf Club

The event finished with a rousing bagpipe-led parade of chefs, providing diners with the opportunity to show their gratitude to those that had their hand in preparing the evening’s food.

FEASTival of Fine Chefs

Chefs’ parade

Thanks again to the event organizers for a fun evening, and to Linda for inviting us to join her! Tickets for the 31st FEASTival of Fine Chefs next September will go on sale April 1, 2019.

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

And…go!

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

Macaron

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

Stage

Hot Chefs, Cool bEATS

Dessert

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.

An Innovative Food and Drink Event: Hot Chefs, Cool bEATS

Hot ChefsThere’s no doubt that the appetite for food and wine events in Edmonton has been growing. In many ways, this is great for consumers who have much more to choose from, though with every passing year, distinguishing one from another has become more challenging. Every so often, however, a unique concept is introduced, and a second look is required. I think the Shaw Conference Centre’s upcoming fundraiser, Hot Chefs, Cool bEATS, is one such event.

What: Hot Chefs, Cool bEATS
When: Saturday, April 21, 2012
Time: 6:30-10pm
Where: Shaw Conference Centre
Cost: $150 (all inclusive)

Mack and I had the opportunity to sit down with Vinomania’s Gurvinder Bhatia recently to talk about the event. He and Shaw Executive Chef Simon Smotkowicz are co-chairing Hot Chefs, where funds raised will support Culinary Team Canada’s quest for gold at the Culinary Olympics in Germany this fall, as well as their High School Culinary Challenge program that supports young talent with apprenticeship opportunities and scholarships for formal training. Their driving vision behind creating Hot Chefs was actually wanting to break the mould of a typical wine-and-dinner event – how far outside of the box could they go?

As it turns out, by leaps and bounds. To start, instead of a traditional cocktail reception, guests will encounter a street festival in the foyer of Hall D. All of the food was inspired by dishes that could be found in street hawker stalls from around the world: The menu includes (all food and drink samples are included in the ticket price):

  • pork belly on rice from Filistix
  • jerk chicken with pineapple and lime slaw from Drift
  • barbeque duck on arepa with fermented slaw from Transcend
  • laksa noodles with tofu from Wild Tangerine
  • beef tartar from Bistecca
  • brisket sliders and duck fat poutine from Culinary Team Canada
  • tequila, Mexican beer, wine, St. Germain cocktails

The main event will move inside Hall D, which will be transformed into a culinary tourist’s dream. Gurvinder described a space where guests will not only be able to sample different types of cuisine and liquors, but will be immersed in the sights, sounds and experiences those regions have to offer:

  • In “Little India”, Guru will be offering Kathi rolls alongside Indian beer, and Mendhi artists will be on hand for henna art
  • In the “Brasserie”, Culinary Team Canada will cook up mussels and fries, croque monsieurs, and offer a selection of cheese to accompany French wines and Alley Kat beers, with French Canadian band Allez Ouest setting the tone
  • In “Granville Island”, Culinary Team Canada will be serving oysters two ways (on the half shell and as fried oyster sliders), salmon tacos and fish and chips to be paired with Granville Island beers
  • In “Little Japan”, guests will be able to try sake and roll their own sushi with Culinary Team Canada chefs, with Japanese drummers Kita-no-taiko providing entertainment

Elm Cafe, Duchess and Transcend will also be on hand sampling appetizers, macarons and coffee, respectively, and guests can also look forward to an Iron Chef-style competition featuring Culinary Team Canada chefs.

The only sit-down portion of the evening comes at the end, with a plated dessert prepared by Culinary Team Canada’s pastry chef.

In many ways, its disappointing that the vision of Hot Chefs isn’t better articulated on either the poster or the webpage. Given the number of local restaurants involved, and the street festival and culinary tour concept, I think this event is one that food lovers cannot miss – Mack and I picked up our tickets this weekend. Hope to see you there!

Find out more about Hot Chefs, Cool bEATS on their website and on Facebook.

2011 Festival of Trees

It’s been a few years since I last attended the Festival of Trees, but when May offered me an extra ticket she had been given by her office, it seemed like a good chance to get reacquainted with one of Edmonton’s Christmas traditions.

Festival of Trees

It would be difficult for most people not to be swayed by the spirit of the season after stepping inside the immaculately decorated halls of the Shaw Conference Centre. Between the music, the lights, and of course, the trees, the room was glowing with the joy of Christmas.

Presents make up the tree!

A recyclable tree

Display

One sweet hearth

May and I agreed that attending the festival towards the end of its final day was actually not a bad idea; by that point, most of the crowds had dispersed. It meant we could take our sweet time admiring our favourite trees, revelling in their beauty and detail.

Festival of Trees

Dissipating crowds

Trees

Bringing the outside in

It’s hard to know how veteran contributors come up with new ideas year after year, but it was evident there were some wonderful creativity behind some of the tree themes. Most of my favourites were probably aimed more at children, but what can I say? I’m a kid at heart.

Sesame Street Tree

How can you not love Elmo?

Under the Sea Tree

Under the Sea

Toys tree

More toys (yep, that’s a Furby you see)

We also noted new-to-us displays of interesting wreaths, including a stunning wreath constructed out of steel ribbons.

Wreaths

May and I also made sure to tour the gingerbread creations (most definitely went above and beyond construction of a “house”). Being a Star Wars fan, I had a soft spot for the Ewok tree hut, but I also had to marvel at the detail in the very aptly named “Have You Any Wool?”, down to the texture of the knit stocking.

Ewok gingerbread house

“Forest of Endor”

Have You Any Wool?

“Have You Any Wool?”

I also loved the comical scene in “A Merry Little Christmas Tree”, created by the Shaw Conference Centre pastry chefs. They definitely had a sense of humour when it came to this particular landing of Santa’s sleigh.

Shaw Conference Centre gingerbread house

“A Merry Little Christmas Tree”

Thanks again to May for inviting me – it was a great reminder of what I’ve been missing these past few years!

Homeless Connect 7

On Sunday, Mack and I volunteered for the seventh Homeless Connect, the “one-stop shop” of services for those who are homeless or at-risk of being homeless. It takes place twice at year at the Shaw Conference Centre.

Mack!

Homeward Trust always does a great job of coordinating the event (not easy if you consider all of the logistics and players involved), but what is most impressive is that they are never complacent – the staff are always looking for ways of improving the event. This time, for example, they began the orientation period earlier so that volunteers would have a chance to better familiarize themselves with the layout and the services available (something I know I would have appreciated as a new volunteer). As well, they introduced a pre-registration component for the first time.

Registration materials

Mack and I were among a dozen experienced registration volunteers who were asked to help pre-register guests. For about an hour before the doors to the halls opened, we did our best to get through as many people as possible. The intention was to help reduce the bottleneck, and to help service providers better manage the flow of guests – particularly those services which are heavily used, such as dental and hair.

The form, which always changes slightly, will need to be tweaked again. There were way too many options to choose from in the “Where did you hear about the event” question (I’m not sure most volunteers would be able to tell the difference between an “Agency” and a “Service Provider”) and there were a number of options in the immigration-related section that could overlap (e.g. Temporary Foreign Workers and Refugee Claimants could be seeking permanent residence; refugees are likely also landed immigrants). But I realize the data committee just wants to collect as much information as possible to help with future planning, and this event is a good place to do so.

At 10am, we joined the rest of the larger registration team in the hall, and the madness began. Mack and I both figured the numbers of guests this time had to have been extremely high – typically, the line dissipates by around noon, but on Sunday, it was still going strong by the time our shift was over at 12:30.

Registration team!

This was also the first time in the five Homeless Connect events that I have been a part of where I was confronted by a guest who perhaps should have been removed. He was visibly angry and frustrated by the time he reached me at the registration desk – he was upset that he couldn’t get a hot meal right at that moment (lunch wouldn’t be served for another half an hour). Although he had the option of not completing the form, he simply did not want to leave the chair, swearing profusely at several other volunteers who offered to bring him coffee, or take him somewhere to lie down. Two Shaw security officers showed up, but he refused to go with them. Eventually, he filled out the form on his own accord, and stormed off into the hall. While this guest’s behaviour didn’t surprise me (he may have been facing addictions and mental health issues, among other things), what did surprise me was that he was permitted to disrespect and verbally abuse those around him without consequence. I doubt that kind of behaviour would be tolerated at local shelters and drop-in centres, so why would it be accepted here? Hopefully it was just a one-time blip, and not the policy of the event.

Other than that, I really enjoyed my time as a volunteer. It’s such a rewarding event to be a part of, especially when all it takes is a few hours of your time. Kudos to the organizers for another well-run day. Looking forward to Homeless Connect 8 in May!

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!

The 2011 California Wine Fair: A Sampling

I know you’ve seen it, just as I have – the bold, back-page ad in The Tomato advertising the California Wine Fair, now in its thirteenth year. One of the Citadel Theatre’s premiere fundraising events, the California Wine Fair boasts over 300 wines and food catered by the Shaw Conference Centre, all for the price of $65 a ticket. This year’s event will be held on March 8, 2011 at 7pm in Hall D.

Part of the preparations for the Citadel staff include selecting the food which would complement the wines. Along with Mel, it was a privilege to be asked to join several staff for a tasting of hors d’oeuvres at the Shaw Conference Centre on Thursday.

Table

The tasting table

Natasha Susylinski, of Treasury Wine Estates, had chosen four wines for this tasting. A range of representative California wines, they included a Stag’s Leap Chardonnay, Santa Barbara Pinot Noir, Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon, and a St. Clement Oroppas Cabernet Sauvignon (a list of the wineries that will be present can be found here).

Wine selection

The wine spread

As one who prefers white wine, and sweeter whites at that (most Chardonnays are too dry for my taste), my palate probably wasn’t the best one for the wines. That said, like most wine reps, Natasha had a fun anecdote about each of the wines, which always helps with making that particular label memorable. For example, Sapporo (the Japanese beer company) once owned St. Clement, and named one of the wines after themselves: Oroppas (or “Sapporo” spelled backwards).

After we had familiarized ourselves with the wines, we were introduced to the food options. The idea was to choose three appetizers from the fourteen options presented.

SEared scallop fork with vanilla apple chutney

Cold platters, featuring seared scallop form with vanilla apple chutney

All of the hors d’oeuvres were so visually appealing – daintily prepared, garnished with bursts of colour, they were almost too beautiful to eat.

Jerk chicken and mango chutney in a tortilla cup

Jerk chicken and mango chutney in a tortilla cup

Though most of us were hard pressed to pick our preferences, a few emerged as favourites around the table, including the goat cheese sphere with caramelized onion marmalade (creamy texture with just the right amount of sweetness), the barbequed duck with hoisin mayonnaise and wonton chip (a perfectly rounded bite with a satisfying crunch), and the roasted shallot, spinach and feta cheese tartlet (buttery and a good alternative to the more pedestrian spanakopita). These three will likely end up on the final menu.

oat cheese sphere with caramalized onion marmalade

Goat cheese sphere with caramelized onion marmalade

Barbequed duck with hoisin mayonnaise and wonton cup

Barbequed duck with hoisin mayonnaise

In addition to the plated hors d’oeuvres, three varieties of cheese will also be served (oka, brie and old white cheddar). As well, expect to see another classic wine supplement at the event – chocolate truffles.

Truffles

Dark chocolate espresso with biscotti crumbs, ginger milk chocolate, banana with toasted coconut, and salted caramel truffles

These weren’t the heavy, unyielding mounds I am used to – instead, each bite revealed a thin chocolate shell that encompassed a velvety filling. The standout flavour for me was definitely the salted caramel – there is no doubt I’d be eating my weight in these truffles at the Fair.

Thanks to Pam and Sydney for inviting me to be a part of a fun afternoon!

Tickets for the March 8, 2011 California Wine Fair can be purchased online.

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.

Supporting Aspiring Chefs: Chefs in the City 2010

With the public’s current fascination with reality television and competition-style shows, the High School Culinary Challenge fits right in, and capitalizes on that interest and thirst for fast-paced, cutthroat battles.

The High School Culinary Challenge began in 2009, an initiative of Shaw Conference Centre Executive Chef and Canadian Culinary Federation Edmonton President Simon Smotkowicz as a means of promoting the field of culinary arts as a viable career for high school students to consider. In February of this year, 39 students in teams of 3 each competed for two scholarships for post-secondary tuition, uniforms, books and knives. The two winners received the invaluable opportunity to mentor with chefs that work in some of the best kitchens in the city over the course of three years, including Red Ox Inn, Sage at River Cree Casino and Resort, and L2. For a field that relies on teaching and learning on the job, the chance to study with award-winning local chefs will provide a remarkable start to a young person’s career.

To fundraise (and promote) High School Culinary Challenge, Chef Smotkowicz has organized Chefs in the City, taking place on April 30, 2010 at the Shaw Conference Centre. Half the funds raised will go towards scholarships for next year’s challenge (the other half will go towards Culinary Team Canada). As expected, it will be a sumptuous evening of food and wine. The five-course paired meal will be as follows:

Reception: Sautéed Alpaca Loin Medallions, Warm Caramelized Fennel, Onion Compote, Toasted Pine Nuts.

Reception: Maple Wood Grilled Whole Lamb Loin with Pemberton BC Gold Pommes Maxim, Natural Jus and Honey Roasted Yam Foam

First Course: Lobster-herb Press, Seared Scallops, Pea Ravioli with Sautéed carrots, Irvings Farm Bacon and Vanilla Froth

Second Course: Pan Roasted Duck Breast and Venison Tourtiere with Confit Rhubarb Salad, Asparagus, Sauce Soubise and Duck Jus

Third Course: Local Saskatoon Berry Sorbet and Wild Cherry Chip

In addition to the dinner, guests will also have the opportunity to watch and chat up local chefs in action at six different stations, preparing dishes using the best produce and proteins area farmers have to offer (of course, the food ogling is a given).

Station #1: Shane Chartrand of L2 Grill

Galangal Spring Creek Ranch Beef Tenderloin

Sour Orange Sauce with “Moo Shu Style” Short Ribs, Salsify Crème and Crispy Leeks

Station #2 Sonny Sung of Sorrentino’s

Poached Bison Short Ribs with Porcini Mushroom And Truffle Emulsion

Slow Roasted Smoked Nature’s Green Acres Nouveau Beef Tenderloin, Foie Gras, Amarone Foam

Confit Ginger, Wild Fennel and Parmigiano-Reggiano Pate À Choux

Station #3 Paul Campbell of Cafe de Ville

North American Style Bison Short Rib with a Petit Waygu Striploin, Torchon, Alberta Wild Rice and Morel Risotto, Vegetable Medley. Balsamic Glaze

Station #4 Paul Shufelt of Hundred Bar & Kitchen

“Steak n’ Eggs” Grilled Pine Terra Farms Striploin, Soft Poached Egg, Braised Kickin’ Ash Buffalo Short Rib & Riverbend Gardens Potato Hash, Irving’s Farm Fresh Smoked Bacon & Ancho Pepper Hollandaise

Station #5 David O’Connor of the Sutton Place Hotel

Chocolate and Ancho Chili Crusted Spring Creek Ranch Filet Mignonette with Confit of Bison Short Rib, Shiraz Poached Potatoes with Roasted Root Vegetables

Station #6 Michael Brown of The Westin

Classic Wagyu Beef Tenderloin “Wellington” and Buffalo Short Ribs

Fine Morel Jus, Sautéed Root Vegetables, Creamed Potatoes and Wild Alberta Blueberry Yogurt Tart

The farmers supplying the products will be on hand to talk to the guests as well, making Chefs in the City seem like a grander version of Madison’s Grill’s Farmers’ Market Dinner.

I am fortunate enough to have been invited to this event, but there are still some tickets available if you’re interested in supporting aspiring chefs. It should be a great night!

Chefs in the City 2010
Shaw Conference Centre
Tickets $175 +GST
Reception @ 6:30pm, Dinner @ 7:30pm