Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Nova Scotia - A Great Place for Eating

For the last couple of years I've been invited to attend the Nova Scotia Savour Food & Wine Show which showcases the best restaurants, vineyards, spirit purveyors and more that this province has to offer.  (That's the team from the Delta Barrington in Downtown Halifax, pictured above).  Being part of the Media group is a tough job ( I definitely suffer from lens envy of all those awesome cameras clicking away... my iPhone does capture the many delicious moments, but often through a blur as I move on to the next station).  Well, someone's got to show up, take some photos and eat, eat, eat...not to mention sip, sip, sip! And then write about my experience and make you all jealous and marking next February as the perfect time to spend in Halifax!   For some history about the event, I've written about my earlier experiences HERE, and HERE and HERE too.
This year there was an additional bonus... on top of being part of the media tour and having the opportunity to talk to the chefs, take photos.... not to mention taste all those dishes ... that's one of the brilliant chefs from  White Point Beach Resort plating the Star Anise & Espresso Panne Cotte...before the 730 plus guests arrived for the event.
This year, I also got to be part of a judging panel for a competition sponsored by Select Nova Scotia.  Eight of the Savour Chefs ( 55 exhibitors this year - represented restaurants, vineyards and more from around the province) presented their dishes starring local ingredients without us knowing which dish belonged to whom.

The judges, set up in the board room of Casino Nova Scotia where the event was held this year, were each presented with a plated dish and a score card.  We munched, and savoured and discussed and scored once the plates were practically licked clean and removed.  And then we were given another stunning plate with another score card and we repeated that process for the eight dishes.   The main criteria was to create a dish making the best use local ingredients and, in  addition to that, the scoring was on presentation,  taste and ... well.... the bottom line... they were all delicious, but we unanimously voted for ...
Butter Poached Lobster on a Brioche Crostini  with a heavenly aoili and you can see the drizzle of parsley oil on the side.  It turns out to have come from The Five Fishermen, definitely a place to visit while in Halifax, with one of the best wine cellars anywhere.
Our runner up favorite was a Salt Cod Fish Cake with Tartar Sauce made from local Chow Chow Pickles (a Nova Scotian traditional dish if ever there was one).  This simple dish was created by Chef Michael Howell and the rest of the team from The Tempest in Wolfville, NS

And these two dishes have stood out in my mind over the last few days.  They illustrate, in an instant, Nova Scotian cuisine.  The cod cake represents  quintessential  down home cooking that has been around for as long as Nova Scotia has been settled.  It is the essence of using local ingredients to make tasty, nutritious meals... pickling and preserving the bounty farmed and caught in the summer months for economical, dishes that waste nothing.   It is a combination of all that makes me smile whenever I drive down rural highways and see cars and trucks parked at the side of the road, with signs for smoked mackerel, salt cod, homemade pies and preserves.  It may be the farmers and fishermen who bring the bounty home, but it is the housewives who make them last through the long hard Nova Scotian winters.

But that is not all there is to Nova Scotia cuisine.  Although I do remember when my older daughter first attended Dalhousie University back in the early to mid '90's and my being a Toronto and Montreal food snob.  There really weren't very many fine dining restaurants that matched the service and creativity of those metropolitan cities.   That is definitely no longer the case.  The sophistication and elegance of fine dining menus is  presented by master chefs who have trained around the globe and found their homes in every corner of the province.   And while some fishing or farming family in rural Nova Scotia may not know about lobster risotto like the one presented by Clearwater
or  Tandoori Quail with Quail eggs served over fried vermicelli created by The Taj Mahal chefs, you can rest assured there is food for every palate and every pocketbook.
Did I mention desserts?   Check out the White Chocolate & Grand Marnier Creme Brulee (actually topped with a plump raspberry by the time the guests arrived).
and the Chocolate Hazelnut Phyllo Tarts both from Gabrieau's Bistro in Antigonish.

I suppose I could share more of my images with you, but most are blurry. I just wanted to put down my camera and use both hands for the feasting.    My one regret.... I didn't get a chance to eat everything I wanted to.
like mini lobster rolls from Murphy's The Cable Wharf
or savory (mushroom duxelles) and sweet (chocolate drizzled strawberries & custard cream) crepes from Chez Tess.   I guess I'll just have to do better next year.  And I didn't even get to mention any of the fabulous wines I got to sip!

I'd love to know if you have similar foodie events in your neck of the woods.   Oh... and did I mention that our culinary school students have won two gold medals at the Culinary World Cup  in Luxembourg in 2010?

No comments: