Savour Food and Wine, the annual shindig featuring local restaurant food and wines is evolving. What it will eventually look like is really up to the industry, specifically the members of the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. This year slightly fewer restaurants participated but gaps were filled by food purveyors like Newfoundland Seasonings and Jonathan Richler’s Flavour Culture Jewish Deli. Another new participant was the Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association represented by the chef (and my “One Chef One Critic” co-host) Steve Watson who cooked up pots of steaming fresh mussels on the shell.
To the surprise of some (possibly even consternation), this year there was as much activity in the Delta’s crush lobby as in the main ballroom. Many of the lobby tables seemed out of place but I suspect organizers have been thinking outside the box in an effort to create a more interesting event, not to mention a new revenue stream. Let’s face it, these events are expensive to produce and if a realtor, spa, travel agency, museum, or artisanal soap maker wants to pay for lobby space, why not? I’ve experienced plenty of food festivals where non-food items were sold.
Mostly I was interested in the food being presented inside the room and it was very much a mixed bag. Fried or deep-fried items were in abundance. Apart from Ches’s “famous” fish and chips there were cod cakes by Newfoundland Seasonings and Jewish Deli topped with the perfect red sauce, spiced with ras el hanout, a North African spice mixture.
Abundant arancini to copious crab cakes
Tavola did arancini with smoked mozzarella topped with balsamic reduction and marinara. Chef Mark McCrowe of Aqua and the Club offered a different idea, a potato croquette flecked with moose meat. He told me he may put it on the Club’s appetizers menu. Coffee Matters Chef Reha made crab cakes dressed with Texas caviar or black bean salsa (yellow corn kernels, black beans, red pepper) on homemade chips. It was hard to miss the avuncular pork specialist, Chef Shaun Hussey, in his trademark stocking cap handing out (no surprise here) a pork titbit called a crispy pork carnitas taco. The pork tasted braised, breaded and fried. Across the room a smiling Chef Ed Farrell of Portobello’s and Granite restaurants was sautéing large, juicy scallops. Portobello’s was also serving a fine pork hors d’oeuvre, simply seared tenderloin on a blini with peppercorn cream cheese finished with a piquant balsamic reduction.
One of the more unusual (but no less delicious) servings was by Chefs Ken Pittman and Chris Riche of One 11 Chophouse. It was savoury steel cut oats porridge with Point Leamington cured ham. Think ham risotto with a grainier texture and you’ll get the idea. I’m an avid fan of steel cut oats. Mainly because of the firmer texture.
Some other items that caught my attention came from Savour regulars like Five Brothers Cheese. They created a kind of poutine using crinkle cut fries, smoky pulled pork and Five Brothers queso fresco cheese. Oliver’s manager and chef, Stephen MacDonald, was doing lots of business with his roasted garlic and organic basil crostini with local salt cod mousse topped with roasted tomatoes, capers, olives, feta and organic pea sprout.
So much for savories. Now for a few sweet things. The Gypsy Tea Room through the auspices of its sister restaurant, One 11 Chophouse, offered delectably rich cream puffs, large enough to appreciate but not so big as to interfere with a desire for more delights. Delights such as Spirit of Newfoundland’s excellent light Screech cake and Coffee Matters espresso inspired dessert featuring chocolate espresso cake, white chocolate mousse, raspberry compote and white chocolate shavings.
Speaking of white chocolate, Manna Bakery had a vat of melted white chocolate on a table next to a great wooden boxful of hundreds of fresh ground cherries. A Manna employee was carefully peeling them (ground cherries grow inside a papery pouch) and then dipping them into the white chocolate before serving. I had one, and wanted a hundred more.
An advantage to having so many restaurateurs in one room is that a food writer like me can, by asking the right questions, find out all kinds of news about local eateries. In a conversation with entrepreneur, Bob Hallett, I learned that his restaurant, Tavola, is undergoing renovations and will re-open early in May with a brand new menu. Tavola will focus on an expanded small plate menu, interesting cocktails and affordable wine. Look for new furniture as well.
Peter Halley and Kathie Hicks are excited about upcoming plans for Spirit of Newfoundland. A new chef will be hired to lead the kitchen team, their Screech Room Restaurant and catering operations. Fresh cod will be the star item on the Screech Room’s menu. Another interesting bit of food news is about Spirit’s food truck. The Happy Camper, will be street-side at Mile One and appearing at various festivals this summer.
Scott Hillier of Coffee Matters was excited to tell me about his new concept café opening in the former Jumbo Video location in Mount Pearl. It will have a modern new kitchen where Chef Reha will prepare the usual Coffee Matters lunchtime items as well as an evening dinner menu (for the Mount Pearl location only) of small plate choices.Sensational sweets
One 11 Chophouse manager, Grant Fowler, told me that a new menu is launching at the Murray Premises restaurant which he thinks people will be excited about. He’s also pleased with the response from customers about the in-house desserts created daily by Gypsy Tea Room’s and One 11’s wonderful pastry chef, Nadia Kyutukchieva.
I spotted well-known dairy industry executive, Dave Collins, at the Five Brothers Cheese table. He surprised me when he let it be known that he is now officially part-owner of the artisanal cheese business begun by Adam Blanchard. Blanchard, Collins and the Five Brothers team have big plans now that they have their new Goulds plant up and running. Expect more of the same cheese we’ve gotten used to plus a gradual introduction of new products. Collins is happy with how marketing has been going. Five Brothers cheese is now available in many local grocery stores.
And so the curtain has dropped on another Savour Food and Wine event. I expect next year’s show will be different again. It should do well, however, if it keeps the fun loving tone of this year’s event. The restaurant and food service industry is tribal. This year the tribe was upbeat and positive. Maybe that’s where the real value of Savour is to be found, in the goodwill it generates within and about the industry.
Karl Wells is an accredited personal chef, author of “Cooking with One Chef One Critic” and recipient of awards from the national body of the Canadian Culinary Federation and the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. Contact him through his website, www.karlwells.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @karl_wells.