It’s still a month away, but now’s the time to jump on tickets for the EAT! Vancouver Food + Cooking Festival. That’s because the 13th annual festival consists of much more than cooking demos and product samples at B.C. Place Stadium.
It’s getting a major shakeup, and if the opportunity to enjoy a meal cooked by Susur Lee or Mark McEwan excites you, you’ll want to go against the typical Vancouver urge to leave your options open until the last minute. If you don’t lock down your plans, somebody from Calgary just might eat your dinner.
That’s right: according to Alan Fogel, a partner with Fulcrum Events Inc., which owns the EAT! festival, people from across Canada are already buying tickets to events that are part of the festival, which runs April 26 to May 3. Fogel’s company bought EAT! three years ago with the intention of turning it into a “world-class destination festival” along the lines of those held in Portland, Oregon, and South Beach, Florida. The new format includes over 35 culinary events.
Most notably, there will be five days of interactive experiences leading up to the three-day B.C. Place floor show and continuing over that weekend. These include collaborative dinners at Vancouver restaurants, such as one on May 1 that pairs Toronto celebrity chef Lee with Hidekazu Tojo at Tojo’s, and another on May 3 that matches Food Network’s McEwan with Pino Posteraro at Cioppino’s.
There will also be intimate, hands-on educational workshops with local chefs and food producers such as Oyama Sausage Co.’s John van der Lieck, who’ll be sharing bacon-curing techniques, and Bella Gelateria’s James Coleridge, who’ll take participants behind the scenes at his gelato shop to make “gelatinis”. Add in a hospitality symposium, panel discussions, and a gala dinner highlighting Naramata Bench spring-release wines, and you’ve got over a week of food-focused events.
Reached by phone in Toronto, Fogel said that Vancouver is the right place to develop a destination food festival because the city has “the most dynamic food culture in Canada by far”. He noted that Vancouver stages more food and beverage events on a regular basis than anywhere else in the country. “I just see things going on in Vancouver that quite frankly aren’t being done in Toronto,” he explained.
Significantly, he said, Vancouver chefs tend to be collaborative. They like to work together on special events and are well connected with their colleagues across the country, many of whom trained or were mentored here. Those chefs are eager to return to Vancouver.
The EAT! events are special, Fogel said, because they match local chefs with those from afar. For example, the 11 collaborative dinners include one at Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie on April 28 that has chef Joël Watanabe working with Michael Caballo and Tobey Nemeth from Toronto’s Edulis restaurant. Also on April 28 at Burdock & Co., chef Andrea Carlson will cook with Calgary’s Connie DeSousa of Charcut Roast House and Jessica Pelland, executive chef of DeSousa’s Charbar, opening in Calgary this spring.
Most of the visiting chefs will participate in the Canadian Flavours Gala, which takes place on April 30 at the Terminal City Club. They’ll be showcasing dishes from their regions and pairing them with wines from the Naramata Bench.
While the dinners can accommodate 40 to 80 people per restaurant, the 13 workshops are all limited to small groups—four to 25 people each—and some have already sold out (although more tickets may be released). These offer a chance to learn specific skills from local culinary personalities. For example, on April 27, Café Medina’s Jonathan Chovancek will lead a class on fermentation, and on April 28, Sebastian & Co. butcher Sebastian Cortez will break down a side of beef.
Every event ticket—from the workshops to the gala dinner—includes a pass to the show at B.C. Place Stadium, which takes place from May 1 to 3. (Regular adult admission is $17, or $15 online.) Expect changes to the B.C. Place show as well compared to previous years. A new Craft Beer Alley, sponsored by the B.C. Craft Brewers Guild, will highlight local craft beer. There will also be a new Talk & Taste stage (for an extra $7 admission ticket) at which up to 48 people can watch chefs such as Wildebeest’s Wesley Young and Fable’s Trevor Bird do a cooking demo and then taste the dish with an alcoholic-beverage sample.
Familiar faces such as Rob Feenie and Anna Olson will be returning to the celebrity-chef stage, along with first-timers like Lee and McEwan. If you really want to get up-close-and-personal with Lee, McEwan, or Olson, VIP experience passes are available for $75 to $95; they include general admission, VIP seating, tasting tickets, and priority access for photos and autographs.
For more info, see eat-vancouver.com/.