Thanks to a local food photo competition put on by gastropostvan, I was able to have an incredibly cool experience at the Eat! Vancouver festival and share this with my friend Jen! This is Canada’s largest food and cooking festival that features hundreds of exhibits, lots of food and beverage samples, demonstrations by celebrity chefs and even some hands-on cooking classes!
My grand prize was valued at $500 and included early access to the festival to attend with media, a VIP wine & cheese reception to meet and mingle with celebrity chefs, a private session with Anna Olson, food tickets and then a Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts chocolate class!
All that sounded pretty awesome and having read the program and seen that chefs from some of my favourite establishments were attending, I was pretty sure I knew what to expect. I knew it would fun to meet Anna in person and get to ask her some cooking and baking questions (and it was!).
However, the biggest highlight was the chocolate class!
Because… THIS CAKE!
With a chocolate class, I anticipated that we would learn a bit about chocolate and create something relatively easy – like a chocolate truffle. Both Jen and I were surprised to see cakes at the stations, and then learn tips and techniques for making a beautiful and professional looking piece of art! I’ll get into that later.
First! We met up on a gorgeous Vancouver afternoon and lined up with other media where the event organizers gave us “Media” badges. We made our way into the gigantic BC Place stadium and went on a small group tour to different stations around the venue. This included a large cheese pavilion and then a booth sponsored by a local hotel in North Vancouver. We were the first to try some samples! I was scoping out people’s name tags to see if I might recognize anyone that I follow on Instagram, and sure enough, there was Dennis of Pangcouver! There are so many people out there who have invited us into their lives through their photos, and it was fun to meet some in real life.
During this initial tour, we were also given a puzzle to complete by finding hidden letters at each station. We stopped by Vitamix (I’m such a fan!), a produce station and finally a wine counter. After the wine, we were taken to a smaller, private room where there was more wine – this time paired with award-winning cheeses!
Many of the chefs were already in the room along with different media representatives. Photos with some of my favourites:
The first cooking demonstration was about to start shortly, so Jen and I headed out to watch Anna Olson make some white chocolate and pepper scones! She shared with us her technique of “sheeting” which was flattening and folding the dough with butter using only her hands to create lots of delicious layers. I should try and do this with my scone recipe.
Why do croissants taste better in France? (See my food in France post here)
It’s because you’re in France! Well, atmosphere definitely plays a large role in how we enjoy our food! But there is actually a scientific reason – it’s because European butter is fuller-fat! 84% vs 80%!
After making the scones, Anna also showed us how to make our own butter at home using full fat cream 🙂 She blended it in a food processor and suggested using this to make flavoured butters to serve with scones.
Following the demonstration that was open to all of the public, the people that had purchased VIP passes (or won, in our case!) were whisked back to the former VIP room to get ready for our one-on-one session with Anna. I got a better appreciation of how much time goes into cooking shows – it’s a whole day of filming and she does three takes of everything. When it came to Q&A, I asked for a quick and easy dessert for my dinner parties that would still look and taste impressive (and that people will *think* I spent a lot of time ;). Stay tuned for that update!
Jen and I had ample time to scope out exhibits on the floor before our Let’s Ganache About Chocolate!
Some of these exhibitors were incredibly talented in salesmanship! I have absolutely no need for more knives, but after stopping to look at these cute vegetable creatures, I was really sold at all the benefits of a ceramic knife! In the end, I didn’t purchase any. And my bank account thanks me for the $250+ I saved!
At the back of the stadium was a special 19+ section for exhibitors to serve alcoholic beverages and we got to try a gelatini. (I wrote about gelatinis and other fun Vancouver afternoon treats in this post).
We walked by this vodka station where the display of diamonds and their diamond filtration premise seemed gimmicky, but actually, the final product did taste really clean!
After some beverages, it was time for the Chocolate Class! By the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts
I am so impressed at everything this class included and would highly recommend to people that they sign up for classes next year. The value is incredible! We had a short amount of time and quickly covered an introduction to different stages of chocolate from its most natural raw form, to adding sugar, and finally to chocolate decorations.
We made our own chocolate ganache which is a beautiful way to finish a cake – a glossy and rich chocolate sheen that is a delight for the eyes and stomach.
When we finished mixing hot cream and chocolate, we returned to the demo station and watched our instructor temper chocolate – this is the process by which you heat chocolate, cool it, and then raise the heat again to change the molecular structure and allow you to work with it most effectively.
Properly tempered chocolate looks shiny and has a snap. Chocolate that has been mishandled ends up lumpy and grainy and won’t set properly (Guess I really lucked out with my chocolate covered strawberries! And NOW I know why I’ve screwed up the seemingly simple act of melting chocolate!! )
I found this site to have a great summary on tempering chocolate using several methods including sous-vide! (More of my homemade sous vide creations here)
Next we created some chocolate truffles using the tempered chocolate and garnished with nuts and praline. We also painted chocolate leaves and learned to use chocolate transfers.
This all came together in a final masterpiece – a layered chocolate cake! Wow! It really wasn’t that difficult to make but looks like something one would see in an expensive patisserie 🙂
I took this home and invited friends over for an impromptu chocolate cake party the next day!
Jen and I had already accomplished a lot in our day, but we still hadn’t used the food coupons we were gifted, plus, we needed to head over to our VIP seats for the celebrity chef throw down!
Head Judge – Rob Feenie – Canada’s first Iron Chef and Executive Chef Cactus Club
Each contestant had 20 minutes to whip up a dish that would utilize the mystery ingredient. Rob Feenie came up on stage and revealed goat cheese as the surprise item! 20 minutes is already a huge factor in this challenge, but the other kicker was the use of only one burner per chef! So – you couldn’t boil vegetables while searing something else at the same time.
The simple fact that each chef even created something is impressive. I will reflect upon this moment when I’m stuck for dinner ideas.
Jackie made a goat cheese salad, while Jonathan and Anna made halibut dishes. Jonathan’s variation involved a goat cheese risotto that was poured onto the halibut, while Anna sliced up vegetables including rhubarb to add some fresh spring flavour to her halibut which was then topped with a cheese sauce.
The winner? Anna Olson!
By the time all this was over, Jen and I had already been here for 8 hours! The place was about to shut down so we quickly used up our food tickets by supporting the Aussie Pie stand- “The Pie Company“! Not to be confused with the food truck – Aussie Pie guy.
They were part of a “Bites from around the world” section of the venue which had vendors serving up various cuisines: Jamaican, Lebanese, Canadian and Italian.
This is making me nostalgic for the days my group of friends from work and I would have our international food series called “culture nights”! Michka would make delicious Persian Food, Rosine had us over for garlicy Lebanese cuisine, Irene’s mom made amazing Vietnamese spring rolls, Tina made her German surprise and Sarah’s mom cooked up some Malaysian specialties.
Yes, food is a huge part of my life. I love creating and eating.. and taking photos. A new friend poked fun at my snapping some shots this past weekend, but hey, when it helps me create a lasting memory, informs others of food ideas, and wins me prizes like this?? (And this – my other food photography prize) Well, I’m not stopping with food photos anytime soon 🙂