NS Chefs Pop-up Series with Ray Bear

The Nova Scotia Chefs Pop-up Series made an impressive start just over two weeks ago, with chef Ray Bear inviting guest chef Dave Smart to help take over the kitchen space at the Scanway Bakery and Café on Grafton Street. About 18 lucky food enthusiasts, including myself, were just able to squeeze into the space and enjoy an exclusive meal from two of the most creative and artful Nova Scotia chefs around. It proved to be an intimate and, understandably, very social pop-up venue. Each chef, demonstrating his distinct style, created one dish per course, transforming your typical three-course meal into a six-course feast.  And yes, that means there were two desserts. Impeccable wine pairings were provided by Jenny at Bishop’s Cellar.

Dave's first course: confit squash, mushrooms, roasted pearl onions, brown butter, toasted hazelnuts, sage croutons, lemon-ginger.

Dave’s first course: confit squash, mushrooms, roasted pearl onions, brown butter, toasted hazelnuts, sage croutons, lemon-ginger.

First course was brought to you by Dave: A salad of confit squash, mushrooms, roasted pearl onions, brown butter dust (which melted in your mouth and became brown butter), toasted hazelnuts, colourful sage croutons, and tangy lemon-ginger gel.  Presented in classic Dave style, a gorgeous asymmetrical plate with styled pops of colour and a plethora of textures. But don’t worry — it wasn’t just pretty; everything about this salad came together in a nicely balanced way, a great first course.

Ray's first course: fresh ramen, vegetable infused pork broth, crispy bits salad, kimchi aioli, herbs

Ray’s first course: fresh ramen, vegetable infused pork broth, crispy bits salad, kimchi aioli, herbs

Second course (second first course, actually) was from Ray; I really enjoy when he uses Asian inspiration. This dish had fresh, house-made ramen noodles in a vegetable-infused pork broth. The broth was infused using a vacuum coffee maker, shortly before the course was served. I thought it was just so flavourful. Also in the broth was crispy bits salad (pork with crispy bits), fresh herbs, enoki mushrooms and, rimming the bowl, a kimchi aioli. Umami deliciousness.

On to Dave’s main course, cured and cold smoked scallop, cauliflower pureé, green apple, pickled raisins, and curried granola. Dave explained that the scallop was seared on one side only, bringing two temperatures to the plate and some colour to the top. The pickled raisins were perfect, a great way to offset the sweet-rich scallop and velvety cauliflower pureé. The crunch of the granola was fantastic, I was a huge fan of this plate.

Ray's second course: NS spring lamb, calamari, olive, fingerlings, almond romesco, saffron-vanilla pudding

Ray’s second course: NS spring lamb, calamari, olive, fingerlings, almond romesco, saffron-vanilla pudding

Ray’s main course had so much fun stuff going on, a Spanish-inspired lamb dish that showed off a lamb sausage stuffed purple shallot, calamari, olives, fingerlings, almond romesco sauce, and saffron-vanilla pudding. Showcasing both the calamari tube and tentacles gave this plate such a great visual aspect, and I loved the two different preparations of the lamb, both delicious. That heavenly well of jus inside the pudding was unbelievable. It was a beautiful main course.

On to dessert, which I typically skip. Dave’s dessert was perfect for me… it was savoury and involved cheese. An Urban Blue cheese cheesecake schmear, black currant, pistachio crumb, and beet sorbet. The earthy flavour of the beet really came through here, and again, all the flavours and textures were superbly balanced, it was, for me, the perfect level of sweetness (not much).

Ray's dessert: Butterflies & Drops of Jupiter

Ray’s dessert: Butterflies & Drops of Jupiter

Ray’s trippy-looking dessert, described on the menu as only “Butterflies & Drops of Jupiter” was a big wow for the crowd. Pete Luckett jokingly referred to it as the dessert Ray must have thought up on LSD.  In reality it was an amazing dessert with many intricately designed and placed elements. The main part (the green thing) was passionfruit around a white chocolate-lime Bavarian. The raspberry ball had rose water, elder flower juice and yuzu. The butterfly looked as though it would just be fondant or something similar but was a delicious paper thin biscuit. The other “drops” of foam on the plate were blueberry and blackberry. It tasted even better than it looked.

Keep an eye out for the next edition of the Nova Scotia Chefs Pop-up Series; I’m sure there are many more impressive meals like this one in the works.

Zuppa Theatre: Pop-up Love Party at Lion & Bright

On opening night for Zuppa Theatre‘s Pop-up Love Party we snuck in just a few minutes before the scheduled start time, grabbing two seats at the bar in a packed Lion & Bright. The vibe was energetic and exciting; luckily we had enough time to order a couple fantastic negronis and settle in before the show began.

Pop-up Love Party is an interactive theatre and food event. Inspired by Plato’s Symposium, the show consists of three actors (Ben Stone, Stewart Legere and and Susan Leblanc) giving monologues about love. A paired seven-course snack menu, designed by executive chef Daniel Burns yet executed by local chef Dennis Johnston, accompanies the production. The menu claims to “heighten moments of the production,” with its flavours and textures. 

E.T. sandwich

E.T. sandwich

We’re not regular theatre folk, so I’m not going to review the performance in that way, but let’s just say we really enjoyed ourselves; there was comedy, music, aerobics… and just lots of fun. The snack menu was thought-provoking, at times delicious, and at time perplexing. I’d like to think I caught on to the performance-paired moments of the menu, for example, while Stone gave a rather heart-wrenching speech about how everyone we love will eventually die, the ginger sorbet with lemon we were served had so much zing… it was just, well, a little hard to swallow.

The wine was flowing and the venue was full of enthralled people, enjoying every moment of the show. In the end, the food left you with a lot to contemplate, just like the performance. Congratulations to Zuppa on the sold out run (they wrapped up on March 29), and thank-you to their marketing gal Jennifer for the complimentary tickets!