Hello October! I have no idea where September went but I am decidedly unprepared for fall in nearly all aspects of my life, except for the eating. When I think of fall, it’s all about the start of the academic school year and that slow build up to the holiday (eating) season, so it’s quite appropriate that one of the events I attended last month was Feastival of Fine Chefs. Feastival is an event put on by the Alberta Food Processors Association that supports second year apprentice chefs in Alberta via the Stan Ballard Apprenticeship Fund.
I attended Feastival last year and it was an overwhelming experience, so this time I was ready for everything the event could throw at me! This year, I was invited by the Alberta Food Processors Association and Feastival to attend as part of their food blogger contingent and I did not hesitate to say yes. I was seated with some amazing food bloggers – Andrea, Brittney, Laureen, Lillian, Linda, Margaret, and Michelle (who invited us all) were wonderful dining companions and Chef Chris Short was our informative host for the evening.
Feastival had 21 participating establishments and the format for the evening is really interesting and fun. What happens is you arrive at the Shaw Conference Centre and choose a pad with one of 21 numbers on it. On the pad, you have four sheets with your number and the four courses (appetizer, soup, main and dessert) being offered. Each restaurant has a corresponding number and you have to hunt for the one that matches your number for each course. The first course is always easy to find since you have a lot of time to wander around the room and scope out where the restaurant is in relation to your table. The next three courses are a bit of a scramble since the restaurants all change their numbers in a random order, so you have to be on the ball for when they flip to the next number. Of course, this method of dining means you get to have dishes from four different restaurants, but if you grab a different number from all your table mates, you get to sample 36 different dishes (as long as everyone is open to sharing tastes from their plates!).
Upon arrival, there is a lot of time to sample some wine and wander around the room checking out the beautiful tablescapes the restaurants have put together. For example, the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald have some gorgeous craved fruit – I can’t imagine having to carve out such intricate details. I also liked the aboriginal tablescape from Sage Restaurant, which I thought really reflected their location in Enoch, Alberta and Chef Shane Chartrand’s cuisine.
I am not going to lie – this next little bit is going to be photo heavy, which is a rarity here on the blog… but I think that there is no reason to “review” food at an event of this scale. This is a difficult to replicate experience and when the Chefs receive their ingredients black box style a week prior to the event, it says a lot for their creativity and skill that they can put together 65 or so dishes per course on such tight timelines. Of course there will be a few misses, but that is to be expected if they are using chafing dishes, warming boxes etc. Overall though, I definitely found more hits than misses and the atmosphere more than made up for a few culinary quibbles. So… here are a few food notes before a string of food photos:
My appetizer from L2 Grill was fantastic and probably my favorite dish from the four courses I had. Any time there are chanterelle mushrooms involved, I am a happy camper. I learned that restaurants were supposed to be using products local to Alberta, which is great for my shrimp allergy ( I don’t know of any local Alberta shrimp – and I am not sure if I ever want to know of any), although there were a few soup dishes that snuck some seafood in. The proteins in the mains were all relatively well done, although some did end up a little dry – probably due to sitting in warming boxes until the third course, but let me tell you – the onion ash crusted potatoes from Sage Restaurant’s main were so good – I tried to scrape as much off the plate as possible. Also, the portions were incredibly generous – see the giant lamb shank from Royal Glenora Club… I have to admit – I missed out on a bunch of desserts (my favorite course!) since I was busy chatting with several old friends and co-workers, but my dessert from the Westin was really great. The garam masala shortbread had a strong flavor but not so overpowering that it drowned out the other flavors – the whole dish had great balance and was not overly sweet, which was nice.
After that delicious meal, the coolest thing takes place, which is a parade of the chefs, led by bagpipes no less. I love that all the restaurants and chefs are acknowledged for all their hard work and the standing ovation from the crowd certainly signals what a success Feastival is. I can’t believe that it took until Feastival 26 and 27 for me to learn about this great event, but I am glad it’s no longer a secret (for me… and you now)!
So What Would Argenplath Pay?
Tickets to this year’s event were $125/person, which I think is ridiculously reasonable for what you get. A 4 course meal with wine at many restaurants will cost that much or more, so I think it’s definitely worth thinking about. It can feel very “industry” but that’s not to say that you can’t buy tickets and make friends with your table mates. Truly food friends are the best kind of friends in my opinion!