Devour! Dinner & a Movie… Cinema Paradiso

It sure is tough being a food blogger sometimes. Last night I was treated to a complimentary ticket (thanks Lia!) for Devour! Dinner & A Movie Series, inspired by Cinema Paradiso. Which meant a five-course Sicilian feast, paired with fantastic Italian wines. Yeah, it was a hard night’s work.

Executive director of Devour!, and chef, Michael Howell teamed up with chef Scott Colwell of Certainly Cinnamon to serve up flavourful Sicilian dishes, while screening the Italian film Cinema Paradiso. Lia Rinaldo, managing director of Devour!, explained to us before we sat down to dinner not to feel obliged to quietly watch the film, it’s about having fun and feeling relaxed. I’m not sure anyone at our table even glanced at the film, but it created a fantastic atmosphere to have it playing in the background while we enjoyed great food, wine and company.

The venue!

The venue!

The venue was Certainly Cinnamon’s new catering kitchen on the north side of Barrington Street, what was formerly a car wash. It has high ceilings and real industrial vibe, but felt cozy with the strung lights and added touches by the Devour! team.

While all the courses were delicious (I love Italian food), the boneless lamb osso bucco (pictured at the top) deserves to be singled out. This dish was amazing. Having been slow-braised, the lamb absolutely fell apart and melted in your mouth, the Primitivo-enriched demi brought out deep and complex flavour; the polenta was soft and supple, and the gremolata atop the lamb was just perfect, offering fresh acidity and bright parsley. I ate every bite. Including my helping of the family-style side dishes: perfectly cooked, lemony asparagus and roasted spring vegetables with fresh mint and eggplant caponata. The shrimp alla diavolo seared in saffron brodo, our first course, also stuck out for me; the sauce had a real kick (as it should), and really danced with the fresh parsley.

Sicilian shrimp alla diabolo with lemon couscous

Sicilian shrimp alla diabolo with lemon couscous

The Dinner & A Movie series is a great idea, this was the first one I’d been to. There’s a real social, relaxed vibe, even with the service. It felt like a big dinner party with friends… and once again proved there’s something so comforting and satisfying about eating from-scratch Italian food. I have to give a shout-out to Jenny Gammon with Bishop’s Cellar, who nailed her pairings and did a great job explaining the wines before each course. Salute!

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: