Showing posts with label Food event. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Food event. Show all posts

Recap of the Taste Canada Awards Gala

Celebrating its 20th year, the Taste Canada Awards gather food lovers and professionals to present silver and gold awards to Canadian culinary writers (both French and English), primarily in the cook book and recipe realm. Held at the Ritz Carlton Toronto, it was a gorgeous venue with twinkling lights hanging from windows and a rare opportunity to see food celebrities and notable Ontario chefs all in one place.

The evening began with a wine and cheese reception where guests could peruse the nominated books and taste lovely savoury cheeses donated by Monforte Dairy and the Forno Cultura Bakery. Niagara College Teaching Winery also provided enough wine to get everyone in the mood for celebrating (and likely calm the nerves of any nominees).

Before the awards gala, nominees made their way down the red carpet holding their book (in the case of printed writers). While some exhibited the nervous “take a quick picture and get out of here” attitude, many took the opportunity to let loose or showcase their gorgeous outfits.

It couldn’t have been an easy decision choosing the victors: there were 33 judges going through 147 submissions to finally narrow it down to 24 gold and silver winners. I was happy to see food bloggers represented as well; especially Chu On This, a blog by Annie Chu that I personally read. For a full list of winners head to their site.

Hosts Noah Cappe (stars in Carnival Eats) and Claire Tansey (who seems to have dabbled in all things food over 20 years) kept the awards distribution going at good pace, while keeping the audience laughing and engaged. A memorable moment happened after Samuel Joubert, whose cookbook Le Coup de Grace won silver in the general cuisine French category. Perhaps Quebecois slang became little lost in translation, but Noah had to point it out … keep it tight!

Luckily, after hearing so much about food, by 8pm we could actually eat! There were plenty of food stations to choose from, most presenting a generously-sized dish.

The chocolate station by Cacao Barry and Chef Jason Bangerter was the most stunning, using chocolates and other confectionaries to replicate a forest floor as a nod to the “terriors” noir and au lait. Like the chocolates I’ve sampled at Langdon Hall, where Bangerter normally presides, they have this rich depth that makes them special - it’s about the ingredient’s natural tastes, not something merely creamy and sweet.

My favourite dishes include:

1) Chef Dan Craig’s foraged mushroom consommé, the beaker apparatus concentrating the broth’s flavour with other ingredients and emitting such a cozy aroma around the station. Simply adorned with an agnolotti stuffed with ricotta and chanterelle mushroom and a surprising garnish of pickled apple, I could have easily devoured a full bowl of the soup.

2) A lovely elk terrine made by Chef Jaret Flannigan of The Wooly Pub. It was meaty and had just the perfect balance of spice without completely covering the elk’s flavours. Topped with bits of crunchy brown butter crumb, sweet roasted tomato jam, pickled onions, and a donair sauce it would have even worked as a burger. I wish saved Chef Jonathan Gushue’s foraged mushrooms with red kuri squash and sweet corn puree to pair it with. The dishes would have complemented each other well and their booths were situated in the same area.

3) While the beef in Chef Trevor Lui’s tataki was a bit chewy, the sesame chimichurri sauce and crispy root chips were spot on. I love the vibrant flavours; similar to the offerings found at Lui’s from Kanpai Snack Bar.

Chef Robert Mills’s smoked salmon macaron with salmon roe jelly was inventive and my first foray into savoury macarons – really something people should dabble into more. The squid ink macaron was lightly sweetened and contrasted against the salty salmon roe and smoked salmon.

While the Singaporean crab and corn fritters presented by Chef Matt Basile could have used more time in the oil, the line forming in front of the table certainly caused pressure to mount. In fact, this was also a problem that plagued Chef Vanessa Yeung whose steamed pork and shrimp dumplings with Asian chili jam was undercooked so had an odd mushy texture. Note to future chefs: if you need to cook food at the gala, choose something that has a very quick cooking time – something sous vide would work well.

There was also Chef Tawfik Shehata’s shrimp ceviche that incorporated full-sized prawns instead of chopped pieces. The ceviche’s tart coolness was a great balance against the other dishes, just not the easiest to eat standing trying to get the ceviche onto the cassava chips with a fork.

Most guests were excited to sample Chef Trevor Ritchie’s Rougie foie gras piped onto a wild rice brioche. There was a Thanksgiving taste to the bite thanks to the cranberry compote added.

Aside from the chocolate forest display, there was also a decadent macadamia, honey, and citrus chocolate bar from Chef Amede Lamerche and culinary students from Contestoga College … what a large piece of smooth chocolate studded with dried fruits and nuts.


Chef Dufflet Rosenberg also brought full-sized pumpkin, carrot, and chocolate Sammy cookies. Imagine soft pillowy cookies sandwiching that rich buttercream Dufflet pastries habitually use. If only I weren’t so full I would have wanted one of each flavour – the pumpkin was delicious.

All the while, we continue to sip on more wines from the Niagara College Teaching Winery. A group of food lovers, writers, and professionals – gathering to break bread (topped with foie gras of course).

Disclaimer: I attended the event on a complimentary basis. Rest assured, as noted in my mission statement, I will always provide an honest opinion.

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 181 Wellington Street West

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Frolicking at the Big Feastival

This summer marked the first year The Big Feastival, created by Jamie Oliver in the UK, arrived in Canada. Touted as a weekend of music, fun, and food for families, the event transformed Burl’s Creek Event Centre into a sprawling playground for adult and children alike.

Live Music

The main stage was huge with plenty of free space around it so people could set-up chairs, blankets, and even mini tents to keep everyone comfortable. Even without a seat, with the booming speakers, you could hear the acts from various areas of the park. During our Saturday afternoon visit, we were serenaded by cheerful songs from Splash ‘n’ Booths, Fred Penner (I remember watching him crawl through the log entrance and strumming on his guitar), The Beaches, and The Elwins. The songs were catchy and fun; with the bouts of rain, the cheerful tunes helped stave off the cloudy day spirits.

At the bandstand area, the mood was mellower. While sipping on a drink, I was captured by the folksy songs by The Relative. Their tribal swaying dresses making me wish I arrived with a flower crown through my tresses.

Fun and Games

With the moody weather, we didn’t get a chance to play in the field area where a number of lawn games were set-up, but it seemed popular as children continued frolicking despite the wetness. For those that are a bit older, there was a Ferris wheel and MEC’s climbing wall so visitors could check out the festival from high above.

Let’s be honest, my friends and I were there for the food. Being named Feastival you’d expect there’d be lots to indulge in, but there were culinary attractions as well.

The Big Kitchen

Inside the Big Kitchen, Abbey Sharp had a number of notable chefs on hand creating family friendly recipes. I watched Chef Hunter create tagliatelle pasta with a ricotta base using a food processor to speed things up. Viewers also left with some great tips: 

  • The secret to a vibrant sauce is using ripe tomatoes and rapidly boiling the sauce.
  • To flavour pasta sauces, infuse olive oil with aromatics (garlic, chilli, etc.) then purée them separately before adding it to the sauce.
  • Don't rinse pasta. You’ll wash away all the starches that helps make the sauce stick to the pasta.
It was a great idea to give away samples to the audience so they could taste what was being made. However, they were divvyed out haphazardly so not all audience members received a taste. For future years, they should consider giving out sample tickets to the first x number of people who enter the Big Kitchen. Afterwards, ticket holders can go to the area at the front to pick up their sample. This alleviates requiring staff members to distribute the plates and ensures no one expecting a sample leaves empty handed.

The Cheese Cave

Ace Bakery and The Cheese Boutique’s cheese cave was a popular destination giving out various cheese bites to festival goers: a lollipop of white cheddar wrapped in cooled maple syrup; a salad of parmesan chunks combined with Ontario strawberries and balsamic vinegar; and the grilled cheese s’more, a genius concoction combining Nutella and brie, gooey and melted in a toasted bun.

The grilled cheese s’more required some patience given they were made hot and fresh. Luckily, a lamb spedducci from Spedducci ($2.50) was on hand to tie me over.

Food Vendors

The Big Feastival featured a number of vendors in food trucks and tents, but they were scattered around the park so it was difficult to decide what to eat without circling the entire park. Personally, I would have liked if the program had a quick reference list separating the eateries (instead of being scattered amongst all the merchants selling take-home type products) or locate them all in a central area.

Heirloom’s truck was busy, so we joined the line for a 20-minute wait to tuck our teeth into one of their monstrous sandwiches. I opted for the fried chicken ($12), which had plenty of creamy Woolwich Dairy’s goat cheese over top. The chicken was sufficiently crispy, but over cooked so the middle was a tad dry. Luckily, the pickled cabbage slaw and aioli sauce helped add moisture.

The fried Szechuan chicken version ($12) would have been a better choice as the chicken gets a dunk in their homemade Szechuan sauce. It would have been what I'd order if only I wasn’t wearing white and afraid I’d have to walk around the park all day with a stain on my shirt. I did sneak a bite of my friend’s pork belly sandwich ($12) and it was delicious: sticky, juicy, and indulgent.

In hindsight, we should have shared a couple sandwiches as they were huge and left us full. Even so, I still snuck in samples from the various merchants across the park. It wasn’t difficult, as soon as I smelled the aroma of cooking bacon and sausages from DuBreton, I had to have a taste. Their sausages were speckled with herbs and tasted of quality meat.

I had more than my fill of nuts from Jewels Under the Kilt as they had such interesting flavours ... I had to try them all! In the end, it was the maple mojito jalapeno pecans and maple chipotle pecans that won me over, buying bags to bring home ($10 each).

Thanks to Mike & Mike’s organic, I received a sizeable chocolate covered almond that was that bite of sweet I was craving.

Of course, this was before seeing all of Tori's Bakeshop goods … the heart shaped doughnuts definitely drew a crowd. Instead, I purchased the kale and garlic scape scones ($4 each) that made for a delicious breakfast the next morning, so filled with taste that I didn’t even need butter.

Lundberg Family Farm and Jif Peanut Butter also gave samples of crispy chips and chocolate/peanut butter spreads to take home to snack on.


Something about being outdoors makes me want a cold beer. So, my first order of business, before partaking in any other activities, was to satisfy this desire. As promised, Belgian Moon’s beer was light and refreshing ($9.95), the orange wedge adding a light fruity sweetness.  

The most photographed drink has got to be Jacob’s Creek’s frosé ($6) made from their sweet pink bubbly moscato. Their comfy chairs and rose covered wall were a central attraction as well.

Given The Big Feastival is a family friendly event, there were a large number of non-alcoholic vendors including Green Machine Smoothies and Pure Leaf iced tea (thanks for the delicious complimentary drinks). For the adults who required an extra boost of caffeine to keep up with the children, Grounded Coffee Company, Kicking Horse Coffee, Station Cold Brew, and Teavana were all on hand.

VIP Access

For an extra $100, tickets could be upgraded for VIP access. With the rainy day, we were so thankful we could access the VIP tent, which was spacious with tons of seating areas for people to relax and get out of the rain.

Moreover, they had their own private bar, serving a selection of beer, wine, juices, and water – so you could still stay hydrated without stepping out of the tent. The first drink is included with the access (about a $10 value) and I loved being able to sit in their comfortable lounge chairs, watching the bands play on the Main Stage that's located right beside the lounge.

After a bit too much hydration, their premium toilets are great. Set-up like a “real” bathroom, it’s so much easier to navigate, especially if you need to accompany younger children (good luck fitting in a small pot-a-potty).   

Despite the weather, my friends and I had a great time. Being my first visit to Burl’s Creek Event Centre, I appreciate the ample parking and spaciousness. For a person who hates crowds and waiting endlessly in lines, The Big Feastival had enough attractions to keep everyone spread out across the park. Aside from the periods of rain, when people crowded under tents (once again thanks for the VIP access!), it didn’t feel packed and chaotic, so I could actually relax and have fun.

It lived up to its promise providing family-friendly music, food, and fun. Hopefully, it will come back to Canada in 2018, maybe this time Mother Nature will cooperate.  

Disclaimer: I received complimentary tickets to the festival. Rest assured, as noted in my mission statement, I will always provide an honest opinion.

How To Find Them
 Location: Oro-Medonte, Canada
 Address: Burl's Creek Event Centre

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