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:

Pop-up chef series finale at Front & Central

Fourth course - piggy (sous vide pork tenderloin)  in a mushroom blanket, roasted shallots, bread pudding and parsley sauce.

Fourth course – piggy (sous vide pork tenderloin) in a mushroom blanket, roasted shallots, bread pudding and parsley sauce.

What better way to avoid a Nova Scotia winter rut (food and morale) than design a series of delicious tasting menus with your friends?

Tasting menus are the way I like to eat. I enjoy running the restaurant that way,” says Dave Smart, chef and owner of Front & Central in Wolfville. “This was the second year for the series. I start them in January when the dust settles from New Year’s.”

The “pop-up chef series” for 2014 ended on April 25, and I was lucky enough to be invited, as Dave’s guest (his treat), to cover the last of the event via social media. The guest chef on this particular date was Peter Dewar – and man, do these guys’ styles work together well (not to mention Peter is a member of Culinary Team Canada). They presented a five-course tasting menu at an unbelievable price of $50 per person, along with an optional wine pairing at only an additional $25. Tickets were sold in advance.

Of course I brought Geir along (nothing like chefs cooking for other chefs) and we made a night out of it in Wolfville, taking advantage of the special rate for this event at Victoria’s Historic Inn. To make it even more convenient, the inn is within walking distance from Front & Central.

Second course (my favourite) - "bread and butter", which was chive hollandaise and rye bread pudding.

Second course (my favourite) – “bread and butter”, which was chive hollandaise and rye bread pudding.

From the pop-up series Dave says he’s “had lots of great feedback from guests, and many repeat diners.” It’s no wonder. The service is fantastic — it’s easy to tell the staff genuinely enjoy the tasting menu format — and the restaurant is beautiful. The food absolutely went beyond our expectation in creativity, taste and plating.

A highlight for me was second course, called “bread and butter”. This was chive hollandaise paired with a rye bread pudding, meant to be eaten together… each spoonful was better than the last. Check out our dinner, starting with some fantastic gin cocktails, course-by-course in the gallery below.

Pop-up chef series finale at Front & Central

Dessert course - White, milk and dark.

Dessert course – White, milk and dark.

What better way to avoid a Nova Scotia winter rut (food and morale) than design a series of delicious tasting menus with your friends?

“Tasting menus are the way I like to eat. I enjoy running the restaurant that way,” says Dave Smart, chef and owner of Front & Central in Wolfville. “This was the second year for the series. I start them in January when the dust settles from New Year’s.”

The “pop-up chef series” for 2014 ended on April 25, and I was lucky enough to be invited, as Dave’s guest (his treat), to cover the last of the event via social media. The guest chef on this particular date was Peter Dewar – and man, do these guys’ styles work together well (not to mention Peter is a member of Culinary Team Canada). They presented a five-course tasting menu at an unbelievable price of $50 per person, along with an optional wine pairing at only an additional $25. Tickets were sold in advance.

Of course I brought Geir along (nothing like chefs cooking for other chefs) and we made a night out of it in Wolfville, taking advantage of the special rate for this event at Victoria’s Historic Inn. To make it even more convenient, the inn is within walking distance from Front & Central.

Second course (my favourite) - "bread and butter", which was chive hollandaise and rye bread pudding.

Second course (my favourite) – “bread and butter”, which was chive hollandaise and rye bread pudding.

From the pop-up series Dave says he’s “had lots of great feedback from guests, and many repeat diners.” It’s no wonder. The service is fantastic — it’s easy to tell the staff genuinely enjoy the tasting menu format — and the restaurant is beautiful. The food absolutely went beyond our expectation in creativity, taste and plating.

A highlight for me was second course, called “bread and butter”. This was chive hollandaise paired with a rye bread pudding, meant to be eaten together… each spoonful was better than the last. Check out our dinner, starting with some fantastic gin cocktails, course-by-course in the gallery below.

Brunch need not be complicated

Smoked salmon bagel at Sully's.

Smoked salmon bagel at Sully’s.

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you may have noticed, I eat a lot of brunch. Like, a lot. I never miss a weekend brunch. And while I do appreciate creativity on a brunch menu, I’ve found time and time again, you don’t really need to stray far from the classic flavour combinations to create a satisfying brunch experience, especially if they’re done well and with a little love.

BLT + fried egg at the Tin Pan.

BLT + fried egg at the Tin Pan.

For example, we spent a night in Grand Pre during ice wine festival last month, and on the recommendation of our amazing server at Le Caveau the night before, ended up at local institution The Tin Pan in Port Williams. Now, The Tin Pan, in reality, is someone’s home and their dining area is what was once a living room, and in many ways still feels like it. They don’t even have commercial kitchen equipment. We ordered a couple B.L.T.’s (served on homemade bread) plus a fried egg, and pan-potatoes. Amazing. Cash only.

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Smoked salmon croissant at Tess.

Another example was our recent visit to Tess. Aside from having unbelievably reasonable prices, this is another small, quaint neighbourhood go-to that serves consistent, simple brunch items (and of course their famous crepes). My dish was a combination of smoked salmon, cream cheese, maple syrup and capers inside a buttery croissant. The sweetness of the maple really balanced out the smokiness and acidity of the other ingredients. The rich buttery goodness of the croissant made this an outstanding take on one of my favourite things to eat for brunch, ever.

Just today, we visited Sully’s Roast Beef & Smoked Meat, now open on Agricola, where I indulged in a similar combination once again. This time it was Willy Krauch smoked salmon featured on a Montreal style bagel with cream cheese and a generous sprinkling of chopped red onion. (Side note: They just reopened a couple weeks ago at this new location, and so while it was a little rough around the edges, we enjoyed the food and they smoke the meat in-house.)

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The breakfast sandwich at Morris East, Bedford South location.

Morris East has expanded their brunch offering in the past few months and now serve up this little beauty, a classic breakfast sandwich. Local bacon and cheese, a fried egg, lettuce and tomato on the exceptionally soft buns baked by Boulangerie La Vendeenne. Add some kind of potato on the side, in this case a rosti, and you’ve got brunch. Plus they have a deadly caesar featuring their house-made clamato mix.

Where’s your favourite joint for a simple, sometimes greasy, brunch fix?