The Taste of Edmonton festival continued its evolution this year. In 2012, with the addition of trendy food trucks and community-engaging cooking competitions, it was clear Taste not only wanted to capture some of the excitement surrounding well-made street food, but also wanted to take advantage of a growing number of people who were interested in participatory opportunities beyond just eating.
Taste of Edmonton
Along with the debut of a new logo and a much-improved website, the 29th annual Taste of Edmonton also introduced Sip ‘n Savour, which combined elements of culinary lessons, pop-up dinners and specialty markets all under one roof. It was a bold move, one that the organizers should be commended for, as it was far from their status quo. To me, it spoke to the festival’s desire to connect with the rising number of people who appreciate knowing both the producers and chefs behind the food on their plates.
Sip ‘n Savour tent
With events ranging from cooking demonstrations, hands-on workshops, tastings and dinners, there really did seem to be something for everyone seeking refuge from the crowded aisles and beer garden outside. Though I wasn’t able to partake in any of the activities (save for one competition below), I heard from a variety of people that the sessions were perhaps not as well-attended as they could have been. Some of this, no doubt, had to relate to scheduling; afternoon workshops would be difficult for those with standard work hours. But some of the attendance issues might relate to the fact that Taste of Edmonton is still primarily associated with serving up al fresco nibbles and beer. Still, with time, it’s possible that Edmontonians will embrace these additions to the festival – it will be interesting to see what is kept and modified for 2014.
I was fortunate enough to be asked to participate on the judging panel of the Mystery Box Cooking Competition on July 21, 2013. Three teams of three were presented with a basket of ingredients that they then had to incorporate into a dish in an hour’s time. The dish would be judged on taste, wow factor, use of ingredients, originality, temperature and timing.
My fellow judges included food blogger Phil Wilson, Mercer Catering Chef Lindsay Porter and Lia Kurylo of ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen. I had to give huge props to those who stepped up to participate, as I am not an improvisational cook to say the least. I couldn’t live without meal planning, so the idea of having to create something on the fly, under the spotlight glare, terrifies me more than a little bit.
With fellow judges Phil, Lia and Lindsay
The mystery ingredients ended up being yak, gojuchang paste, eggs, duck fat and kale. It was great to see the teams take the time to discuss their approach before jumping in and develop a plan of attack!
Plan for Team E-lemon-ators
Breakfast Television hosts Bridget Ryan and Courtney Theriault kept things lively and upbeat, checking in with contestants and judges throughout the cooking time. It really was a shame that the competition didn’t take place on the Taste main stage as it did in 2012. Tucked away in the Sip ‘n Savour tent meant that most of the spectators sought it out. Without the opportunity to pique the interest of casual passerby, the organizers lost an opportunity to grow the audience even further this year.
Phil chats with Team Perfect
In addition, this venue wasn’t ideal for the competition. It appeared the stage was a bit of an afterthought in itself, with only one row of chairs and a few awkwardly place cocktail tables in front, it was almost as if organizers didn’t plan for a crowd at all. Mack, who was in the audience for some time commented that many people wandered listlessly in front of the competitors as they made their way to the outdoor patio seating. As well, the tent also contained an odd potpourri mix of art and a few vendors including Real Deal Meats, Knifewear and a prepared Indian food product. I had to wonder if they were successful; I would imagine most come to Taste ready to eat, not to buy groceries and tools.
View from the judging table
Back to the competition, at the end of the hour, I took my seat alongside my fellow judges to sample the finished product.
Team Bird was up first. They presented a deep-fried wonton containing gojuchang-marinated yak accompanied by a gojuchang and feta dipping sauce, duck fat potatoes and an egg, fennel and dill salad. Having tenderized the meat, Team Bird was most successful in ensuring the tough meat would still cook up somewhat tender within the allotted time. The rest of the judges were also impressed with the flavour of the dipping sauce.
Team Bird entry
Team Perfect presented a compartmentalized plate, with yak that had been seared in bacon fat, a kale and egg salad, potatoes and bell peppers and onions. The plate was colourful, and made great use of seasonal ingredients, but the meat was still quite tough.
Team Perfect entry
Team E-lemon-ators had by far the most composed dish, a deconstructed yak poutine. Duck fat potatoes were layered with kale, gojuchang-marinated yak, and a fried egg. It was easily the most restaurant-ready plate, but the meat was unfortunately chewy.
Team E-lemon-ators entry
Scoring was not easy! We knew how tough the mystery box element was, and how hard the teams worked! The teams were ultimately separated by just a handful of points.
In the end, Team Bird took home the prize with their creative yak-filled wontons. Congratulations to all of the competitors for taking on the challenge! Check out Andrea’s write-up about her experience in the competition.
Team Bird wins!
After the competition, Mack and I bought $20 worth of tickets for lunch. Perhaps the most noticeable change for festival goers was the addition of smaller portion sizes, and thus, the ability to try more samples for less. Although neither of us were full after eating, we felt satisfied with the variety we had tried for the amount of money we spent, something that hasn’t been true in past years.
The always crowded aisles (probably something that will never change)
It was great to see some of the eye-catching booths (Naanolicious should have been recognized for their display), and vendors like The Lingnan hawking their product to the passing crowd, livening up the atmosphere even further.
Bulgogi meatballs from Molly’s Eats
Pig ball from Smokehouse BBQ
The Alberta bison cannelloni from Bistecca was delicious (though perhaps on that white hot day, not the ideal plate), while Mack knew he couldn’t go wrong with the 2012 fan favourite Tandoori samosa from Guru.
Bison cannelloni from Bistecca
Tandoori samosa from Guru
S’more fritters from Mercer Tavern
This year, Taste of Edmonton saw even higher numbers than 2012. Organizers credit this with the revamped portion sizes and the Sip ‘n Savour tent. With its 30th incarnation next year, it will be interesting to see how Taste of Edmonton pulls out all the stops to celebrate that milestone.