What I ate at Dine by Design East Gala

Two weeks ago today, a day of crazy rain showers gave way to a wonderful evening of food, drink and design at the third annual Dine by Design East gala event.  This fundraiser for the NSCAD Amber Harkins Memorial Scholarship is part of the overarching Dine by Design East, a four-day long affair of fashion, design and fantastic food, presented by East Coast Living Magazine. Read more about the event and it’s backstory.  I also attended a cooking demo by Diandra Phipps, vegan chef and owner of Envie: A Vegan Kitchen, on the Saturday afternoon following the gala.

Entering the Olympic Community Centre, this year I was again struck by it’s transformation. Talented and imaginative local designers and architects completely (from scratch) built their spaces (a 10×10 booth), making the hall completely unrecognizable. Each designer or design team is paired with a local chef — I was lucky enough to be on the media tour, so we had early access to the food and drink. Strolling through with East Coast Living’s editor Janice Hudson, and a food-writing colleague of mine Lia Rinaldo, we had the luxury of sipping on the delicious welcome cocktail, chatting with the chefs and getting descriptions of what we were eating. Along with a bubbles bar, a cash bar featuring cocktails made byJeffrey Van Horne of Lot Six (plus local beer and nice wine), music, an upstairs art gallery and silent auction — the Dine by Design East Gala really nailed the atmosphere and offering. Plus the crowd was well-dressed, enthusiastic and really into the food. My kind of people! Here are a few food highlights:

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King oyster”scallops” with charred pepper clay, hana nori, presented on oyster half-shells. By Diandra Phipps with Envie.

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Soy confit duck with curry crumb, five spice BBQ, kimchi foam and fresh cilantro. By chef Luis Clavel.

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Brown sugar-cured salmon, pickled cherries, creme fraiche. By Field Guide. Their food had a theme of Rolling Stones songs.

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Beef brisket with deep-fried gnocchi, curds. By Kitchen Door Catering.

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Dennis Johnstone serving from a chunk of ice. His theme was “no waste”.

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Mascarpone filled local cherry tomatoes with crispy basil, balsamic drizzle. Scanway Catering & Stubborn Goat Gastropub.

Check out the full photo gallery below:

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.

Devour! Opening Gala Food (and Anthony Bourdain)

The largest food film festival in the world, Devour! The Food Film Fest has, seemingly in the stab of a fork, come and gone. Luckily I made to Wolfville to kick things off Wednesday evening at the sold-out opening gala reception and movie screening. Not coincidentally, this was the much-talked about celebrity chef studded event, featuring the one and only  Anthony Bourdain. Also spotted in the crowd at the gala were recognizable faces like Chuck Hughes (The Food Network), Connie DeSousa (Charcut, Top Chef Canada Season 1), Jesse Vergen (Saint John Ale House, Top Chef Canada Season 2), Todd Perrin (Mallard Cottage, Top Chef Canada Season 1) and Halifax’s own Lauren Marshall (Envie, Top Chef Canada Season 2).

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Bourdain speaking to the crowd before the screening of Eat Drink Man Woman.

Bourdain did not disappoint. Hearing him speak was like reading his books: engaging, raw, genuine and funny as hell. Same voice. A real pleasure.

But enough name dropping. Here’s what I ATE.

I’ll go through a few highlights. If I can just point out that all the food at the gala was incredibly well-done, and that the Nova Scotia chefs pulled out all the stops to impress Bourdain create a wonderful event. There wasn’t one thing there not to be proud of.

Let’s start with the duck liver-venison pate with maple cranberry chutney by Mark Gabrieau of Gabrieau’s Bistro (Antigonish). This humble-looking bite absolutely blew me away. An hors d’oeuvre like this proves how not too much is needed to create the perfect taste balance. Three harmonious textural elements, and the sweet-tart chutney matched with rich, fatty yet gamey pâté. I could have eaten these all night.

Mark Gabrieau - Venison pate with maple cranberry chutney - SO DELICIOUS!

Mark Gabrieau – Duck liver-venison pate with maple cranberry chutney – SO DELICIOUS!

My first time eating sea urchin. This breezy little number was light and airy with an unmistakable taste of the salty ocean. The sea urchin was presented with cold-smoked scallop, citrus emulsion and pickled sea asparagus, by Frederic Tandy of Ratinaud French Cuisine. Everything about this bite felt elegant, delicate and well-done. I loved how representative of the sea it was in both look and taste. (Earlier in the night they were served on sea urchin shells.)

Sea urchin

Sea urchin

When you hear the description of Mark Gray’s dish, you’ll understand why there was no possible way it couldn’t be ridiculously delicious. Mark (of Brooklyn Warehouse) gave us “Rabbit in a Pig Blanket”, that is, confit leg of rabbit, braised livers and foie gras wrapped in prosciutto, with spiced carrot jam, celeriac and squash, mustard greens and rabbit bone vinaigrette. Yeah. You can see mine has shoots though and not mustard greens. This was a sweet, rich, indulgent bite of tender meat, prepared with a lot of skill. And a gorgeous plate.

Mark Gray - Rabbit in a pig blanket: confit leg, braised livers and foie gras wrapped in prosciutto, spiced carrot jam, celeriac and squash, mustard greens, rabbit bone vinaigrette

Congratulations to the organizers of Devour! on an impressive and well-executed festival!

Full gallery below:

The best food at Dine by Design East Gala

Overwhelming to the senses. In the best way. That’s my interpretation of the Dine by Design East gala this past Thursday night. My first experience of the event, at its second annual edition, served as a full body experience. What I would describe as a mishmash of food, drink, design and art, the gala is really just a whole lot of fun.

Stepping through the doors of the Olympic Community Centre to see it completely transformed into a gallery of beautiful spaces is impressive enough. With a large cash bar near the entrance, a champagne bar in the back, dimmed lighting and the DJ spinning ambient music, it had the vibe of “upscale night club turned art gallery”. While I was lucky enough to make a round on the media tour, before it got too crowded, the general admission to the event has a lot to offer. On top of being a fundraiser for the Amber Harkins Scholarship Memorial Fund at NSCAD (a cause to feel good about), the evening goes something like this:  stroll through the venue while tasting hors d’oeuvres dreamt up by some of Halifax’s most talented chefs, chat with local designers and architects who are excited to explain the inspirations behind their spaces, and sip on local beer and wine samples, all while surrounded by extremely well-dressed people.

There is so much to report on for an event like this, but I’m going to stick to what I do (and what I know): the food. Here are the best three things I tasted at Dine by Design East gala. For photos of almost all the food at the event, peruse the gallery at the bottom of the post.

My top three:

#3 – From Chef Luis Clavel, Atlantica Hotel Halifax: Ash organic chicken, smoked olive oil powder, tiny basil. Served on a stick (who doesn’t love that), topped with the thinnest piece of crostini, drizzled with truffle oil; the juicy, tender texture of this chicken (done sous vide) was mind-blowing.  Luis isn’t known for doing simple food, but this is an example of how he changes your relationship with simple flavours: chicken, olive oil, basil, bread… elevated to the next level.

Ash organic chicken, smoked olive oil powder, tiny basil.

Ash organic chicken, smoked olive oil powder, tiny basil.

 

#2 – Pictou Lodge Beach Resort’s chef Thomas Carey handed me this: cured smoked Atlantic salmon belly, lemon emulsion, buttermilk gel, radish, pickled sea asparagus on stone fruit cracker. The rich, smoky, melt in your mouth salmon belly sang when combined with tangy flavours like lemon, radish and pickled sea asparagus. Put it all on a crunchy, hearty cracker, and this is my kind of eating.

Pictou Lodge: Cured smoked Atlantic salmon belly with lemon emulsion, buttermilk gel, radish, pickled sea asparagus on stone fruit cracker. ***In my top three!

Pictou Lodge: Cured smoked Atlantic salmon belly with lemon emulsion, buttermilk gel, radish, pickled sea asparagus on stone fruit cracker.

 

#1 – Robert Reynolds of EDNA never seems to disappoint. His Garden Party inspired menu was spot-on, and my favourite taste of the night was his marinated shrimp cocktail, tequila, citrus, shallots and avocado mousse. I’m a huge shellfish lover to start, but it was really the usage of harmonious flavours like tequila, citrus and avocado that made every well-balanced bite of this adorable little shrimp cocktail work.

By EDNA chef Robert Reynolds: marinated shrimp cocktail, tequila, citrus, shallots and avocado mousse.

By EDNA chef Robert Reynolds: marinated shrimp cocktail, tequila, citrus, shallots and avocado mousse.

 

Get Ready for the Second Annual Dine by Design East

“We’re a city that creates things,” said Jonathan Legate to the crowd at Tuesday night’s Dine by Design East media launch event. Legate is a co-founder of the event and a prominent member of the design community in Halifax. It was invigorating to hear him speak briefly at NSCAD seaport campus about the inspiration behind helping create this particular event, for our city, which is gearing up for its second edition later this month.

Presented by East Coast Living magazine, Dine by Design East is an affair where the art of design is paired with the art of food. Dubbed a “lifestyle event” by organizers, this year it has expanded into a four-day experience, integrating fashion and workshops, alongside design and culinary expression.  Suzanne Saul of Attica Furnishings, the other co-founder of the event, will be working alongside Atlantica Hotel Halifax chef Luis Clavel on an Avant Garde Cuisine seminar, happening on November 1.

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For the gala event on October 30 at Olympic Gardens, 10 local chefs are paired up with 10 Nova Scotia designers for a stunning sensory experience. At each booth, guests will sample three or four hors d’oeuvres that were created by the chef, and inspired by the design partner’s space. Other elements to the gala evening include drink sampling by Garrison Brewing, Ironworks Distillery, Picaroons Traditional Ales, and Petite Rivière Vineyards,  a “bubble bar” designed by Heather Waugh Pitts, and a silent auction.

All the funds raised from this event support NSCAD’s design program, through the Amber Harkins Memorial Scholarship Fund. Harkins, a long-time editor of East Coast Living, passed away from cancer in 2012. Last year the first edition of Dine by Design East raised $20,000 for the scholarship fund.

Event co-founder Jonathan Legate, speaking to the crowd.

Event co-founder Jonathan Legate, speaking to the crowd.

Events like this “bring artists here, and keep artists here,” said Legate on Tuesday. They also help grow local artists, with the first scholarship being awarded to a Nova Scotia design student this winter. For full event and ticket details visit Dine by Design East’s website.

Check out more photos from the media event in the gallery below! (Including tacos by Habaneros!)