Savour fest kicks it up a notch

Karl Wells
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During the first 30 minutes of the Savour Food and Wine event this year, with approximately 450 guests tasting food from over 40 local restaurants, the power went dead — dead as the proverbial doornail.

A nanosecond after we were cloaked in gloomy darkness, a great unified moan arose from the Delta ballroom.

I knew what everyone was thinking: after the January madness how can this be happening again?

Thankfully, five minutes later the power came back and cheering filled the air. (Let the revels begin.) Turns out a power maintenance crew was working in the neighbourhood and a supervisor thought nobody would mind if the largest hotel in the city went black just as 450 people were about to start an evening of entertainment for which they’d all paid a not-insubstantial sum. Once Delta managers pointed this out to the power-cutter, the situation was quickly rectified.

As usual, things kicked off this year with a few words of welcome from Michelle LeBlanc, president of the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (RANL). LeBlanc, her board and RANL executive director Nancy Brace all did a splendid job of organizing this year’s Savour.

Food Day Canada’s Anita Stewart was there, as well, to present Sheraton Chef Roary MacPherson with a Good Food Innovation Award for his unstinting support of Food Day Canada and like initiatives.

Raison d’être

Savour began as an event to promote local eateries by giving the dining public an opportunity to get to know what restaurants are operating here and to taste something prepared by their chefs. The show includes beverage representatives as well, mostly of the wine and beer subdivision. Happily the crush lobby, usually reserved for registration tables, was spruced up this year by the addition of a beautiful display of kitchenware and kitchen utensils by the folk at Home on Water. I was most impressed by their range of Japanese-made chef’s knives.

Unfortunately, although I wanted to taste the food of every participating restaurant, it was not to be.

Who gets to visit every booth at the Regatta? You want to but it’s an elusive goal.

Besides, at lakeside, once you’ve come up empty on the games of chance a dozen times, not managed to dunk Doc O’Keefe or Paddy Daly in the dunk tank, the cotton candy loses its gossamer quality, and your mouth feels all waxy inside from deep fryer fat, you want to gracefully withdraw.

What follows is a summary of the highlights of my personal tour of the aisles at Savour (a decidedly more upscale event) before your humble reviewer thought it prudent to decamp.

Savour always attracts several restaurants from beyond the overpass. I was pleased to see that Fogo Island Inn participated. Extra marks for travelling by sea and land to get here. Sous Chef Timothy Charles (no relation to Jeremy of Raymonds) served a fire-roasted leggy (salt fish) with hard tack crouton, juvenile spruce cone gel and blueberry molasses jam.

This was served on a small square of birch bark. I was instructed to put bark and all up to my mouth and eat directly from the bark, so as to enjoy the birch scent intermingling with the aroma and flavours of everything else. The basic tastes of salt and sweet were so intense that my lick of bark and the spruce gel were slightly outclassed. It was an interesting concoction and fun to try.

I like the fact that Savour attracts a wide variety of chefs, among whom a few always offer something avant-garde or perhaps quirky.

Bacalao’s executive chef, Ivan Kyutukchiev, a Gold Medal Plates St. John’s champion, created a delicious olive oil poached house salted cod with crispy confit pork belly, cheered up with smoky mango coffee sauce and smoked potato mousse.

Equally enjoyable was Gypsy Tea Room’s ultra-tender sous vide hanger steak with vadouvan (mixed spices) crust, ginger cumin sweet potato, browned onions, black pepper yogurt sauce and crisp radish. It was a supreme example of sous vide cookery used most effectively.

Chef Ken Pittman of One 11 Chophouse handed me a slice of his rustic terrine made from wood oven braised beef shank. I smeared it well with grainy Newfoundland honey mustard and found the treat to be wondrously good.

The cold kitchen also yielded up The Club’s Scotch egg with Five Brothers smoked cheddar sauce by Mark McCrowe. I’ve tasted McCrowe’s interpretation several times before and it never disappoints.

The Doctor’s House Inn and Spa of Green’s Harbour was represented by its new executive chef, Chris Chafe. As usual, Chafe kept to his classical bent with a Spanish-Newfoundland cod and salt beef croqueta, accompanied by romesco sauce and pickles. Once broken, the crisp exterior rendered velvety contents with a distinct taste of cod and salt meat. Sauce and pickles gave balance and added intensity.

Chef Brian Piercey of Celtic Hearth prepared Guinness-braised short ribs with old cheddar grits. As they say in the land of grits, this was mighty good eatin’. The beef was suitably luscious and the grits made an excellent partner. Such a nice change from potato.

Manna Bakery is taking its operation to a new and exciting level after hiring Chef Sebastian Stroia (formerly of Hungry Heart Café). Stroia is now doing dine-in lunch and early evening dinner service in Manna’s café. At Savour, he was serving slices of his pork terrine and ravioli from a chaffing dish filled with pasta and shiny red tomato sauce. The pasta was handmade and formed giant-sized ravioli amply stuffed with meat and spices.

Speaking of Manna Bakery, an alumnus is now baking up a storm at Sugar Mama’s in Mount Pearl. Dublin born and raised Kevin Massey was serving sweets in the form of chocolate ganache and caramel cupcakes, as well as a strawberry version. I allowed myself a bite. They were, as you might expect from a formidable baker, excellent.

The most masterfully made macaroons I’ve had the pleasure of tasting were served at Savour by Rocket Bakery. The meringue and fillings were exquisite. Tiered servers featuring Rocket Bakery’s most desirable macaroons and Sugar Mama’s popular cupcakes provided lots of festive and (yay) edible colour.

Finally, two confections worthy of mention came from two very different eateries.

First there were India Gate’s marvelous gulab jamun dumplings. These syrup-soaked wonders are irresistible, and nobody makes them better than the cooks at India Gate.

India Gate offered a wide selection of savoury items but it was the gulab jamun on which I was fixated. This doesn’t do the experience justice, but think of a tiny ball-shaped piece of cake soaked through and through with floral and spice syrup. If that turns your crank, then gulab jamun is for you.   

Chef Coish

I was pleased to learn that Chef Stacey Coish is back behind the stove and raising the bar at Uptown Gourmet Grill (home of Yuk Yuk’s). If you were not aware, Uptown is very much a restaurant and only features comedy for a few days during the week. Mind you, the food is still available on comedy days and the pairing may suit those in the mood for a meal out and a few laughs.

Coish, in addition to savoury items, served one highly memorable ambrosial item. It was The Uptown, a.k.a. Best Chocolate Mousse Ever. I won’t argue with the description. Served on a silver tray, no less, and piped into edible cups of dark and white chocolate was silky smooth chocolate mousse topped with fresh cream, pieces of hardened chocolate, nuts and mint. It made for a remarkable ending to a remarkable Savour event.

Karl Wells is an accredited personal chef, author of  

“Cooking with One Chef One Critic” and recipient of awards from 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.

Organizations: Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, Fogo Island Inn, Guinness Canadian Culinary Federation

Geographic location: Canada, India Gate, Newfoundland Manna Mount Pearl Dublin

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