Wednesday, November 1, 2017

It takes a small town to raise a festival - Devour!

Picture this, Wolfville Nova Scotia October 217. It’s a sunny Saturday morning at the Farmer’s Market. It’s also day four of the Devour food and film festival. I am standing outside the main door next to a tent where the Grills, Culinary School Takedown event is about to begin. It's a challenge to the students from the Nova Scotia Community College, George Brown College Chef School and the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts and they are taking turns grilling on Big Green Eggs. I'm standing in the lineup of people waiting to try “Cornairs” a strange but addictive twist on a Maritime favourite. DELISH! As I walk around inside with a cup of locally roasted coffee in one hand and a fresh peach and cheese Danish in the other I am mesmerized by the diversity of food stalls, how friendly everyone is and the amount of festival goers doing the same as me; simply taking a little time to truly enjoy the Farmer’s Market experience. Wolfville only has a population of 4200 people but during the festival close to 16,000 individuals are staying, eating and shopping, yet it still feels comfortable if you know what I mean. It's not overcrowded, people are super pleasant and the locals are truly happy to see us all here. 

I had a chance to sit and chat with Chef John Higgins who was attending his second Devour Festival. He is currently the Director of the George Brown Chef School in Toronto Ontario. He feels festivals like Devour are the grass roots of what cooking is all about. “We need to get back to teaching our children basic kitchen skills – how to sharpen and use a knife properly, use local ingredients to create simple but flavourful meals and how to cook using staples.” As he walks around the farmer’s market, fans stop him to take photos or tell him how much they enjoy watching him on Chopped Canada.  He has fallen in love with the people of Wolfville, their generosity and how dedicated they are to the success of the festival. “The greatness of this festival rests on the shoulders of all the volunteers that make it happen year after year. It’s because of the local merchants, the venues and the size of this town that Devour has this winning combination. I can’t even imagine trying to have something like this in Toronto, I just don’t think it would possess the same charm or magic as it does here in Wolfville. Interesting factoids about chef Higgins: He's from Glasgow, cooked for the Queen at Buckingham Palace when he was 19 and his comfort food is Indian cuisine. (No wonder I loved meeting this guy! :)

Another chef I had the opportunity to chat with is the owner of the Gannet Restaurant in Glasgow - Chef Peter McKenna (Are you noticing a trend here? I do love their accents, hehe). This was his first Devour appearance and it was an honour for him to be chosen as one of the celebrity chefs preparing the five course dinner to commemorate Jacques Pépin’s film, The Art of Craft. “I was quite taken aback with the friendliness and positivity of the people of Wolfville. I instantly felt at home and truly welcomed into the community. A festival like Devour is extremely important as it brings so many people together may it be culinary students just starting their own adventure (I remember how difficult that can be), festival attendants, volunteers or people from different industries which, for me is an opportunity to share my own personal experiences with people, because we all have something in common: A love for food and drink”. 

After Graham and I are done presenting sold out workshop: "Old Scotland to New Scotland in 6 glasses", we are off to the local pub called the Library. A couple of pints, a few laughs and a hearty meal for very affordable prices. 

Matt Jones was at the festival again this year and we attended his "It's 5 o'clock somewhere cocktail class. I'm not usually a fan of cocktails but Matt has changed the way I feel about those. Two in particular were made with a new to NS gin - Sipsmith London Dry Gin which I really like a LOT, so much so, a bottle came home with me! 

It’s now late Saturday night or early Sunday morning as we close down the Festival Lounge Gala. We walk back to our car parked on Elm Street when we notice some of the festival organizers and volunteers carrying boxes into the Farmer’s Market. “Preparing as much as we can for the luncheon tomorrow, hope to see you all there.”, one of them tells us with an enthusiastic grin. It’s 1:45am!? These people are truly devoted to the success of this festival and it shows.

I’m not sure if Michael Howell and Lia Rinaldo, Executive and Managing Directors, knew what they were actually creating seven years ago but what I do know for sure is that foodies and cinefiles from around the world are certainly grateful they had the vision to conceive a place where the two intertwine and creates one of the best places in the world where you can watch a great documentary, learn how to make homemade pasta then enjoy a star lit pop up cocktail party at a winery all in the same day. As another year of Devour comes to a close, we can only hope the organizers and town of Wolfville continue to raise the festival to new heights. 

Devour was the Michael and Lia's brainchild back in 2010. They chose Wolfville due to its proximity to Halifax but also because of its stunning backdrop, venues and historic theatres. Devour is now the leading international festival that not only showcases some of the best documentaries, short films or dramas the world has to offer but also the opportunity to experience hands on sessions through cooking demos, interesting food panels or delicious dinners with some of the best of the culinary world.  

This was my first Devour food and film festival and I really loved it. Don't get me wrong, going to whisky festivals is always exciting to me but having been to this type of festival opened my eyes just a little broader to the depth of people that are open to different and unique workshops. Wolfville and all it had to offer over the course of the 5 days was simply a cool place to be for 5. It had a little bit of everything with my passion peppered in there which is probably why I really did enjoy it so much. With several pop-ups taking place in the next few months, keep your eyes open all over the globe for Devour. 

I think Chef Higgins summed it up best when he said: “Respect tradition but embrace the future” so I can't wait to see what Michael and Lia have in store for next year.


A more well rounded and appreciative Lassie

Friday, August 11, 2017

Into the light once more.... Lassie writes about Wiser's Dissertation

A little bit of honesty here: With every passing day as I stared at the screen that stated I hadn't blogged since March 3rd 2017 I grew more and more indifferent about ever doing it again. Day after day - spending time flipping through twitter then deleting the mindless amounts of PR emails that I receive about NEW and INNOVATIVE spirits coming to market. I attempted at times to read other blogs or websites but many simply seem to regurgitate the PR emails I deleted the day before.
Another round of: "Meh... Why do I bother, nobody reads these anymore anyway... or worse - I've really got nothing to say or add to the #whiskyfabric anymore. That last one likely hit me the hardest. Do people even care about stories, real reviews or crazy whisky adventures?" The following week I would read twitter, delete more emails, read a blog, sigh and then walk away from the computer yet once more.  Meh... Meh... Meh... Repeat... Meh...

Over the last five months I've travelled, done lots of sailing, had some fabulous and mind blowing adventures, drank some great whiskies, spent time with friends and family. These filled most of the nooks and crannies of my life. Writing, however, was an itch that wasn't getting scratched at all. Something needed to kick start my ass again but I wasn't sure what that was. In late May I received a package while I was at work. Graham, my wonderful partner in most of my crimes, sent me a message on his lunch hour about it so I casually said open it and let me know what it is. He wrote back: "Holy shit Jo!" Ok, so now he has my attention. I stare at my phone waiting for another message. Nothing...  "Errr, yes?" I write quickly. Nothing...  "Hello?" I type, now with a bit of impatience and annoyance. Nothing like getting click bait messages from your husband :) Then the photo comes in: A copy of Don Livermore's dissertation: "Quantification of oak wood extractives via gas chromatography - mass spectrometry and subsequent calibration of near infrared reflectance to predict the Canadian whisky aging process". Now, if you are a regular reader to this blog (poor attempt lately my apologies) or a new one who doesn't know who or what that means to me - Dr. Don Livermore is the brilliant and creative master blender at the Hiram Walker & Sons distillery in Windsor Ontario Canada. 

I know the adrenaline shot through my entire body when my brain registered what I was looking at and unless you are a full out whisky or chemistry geek like myself you may simply giggle at the thought of someone getting an adrenaline headache, her heart skipping a few beats and maybe suffering from a bit of hyperventilation as a result of seeing a photo of a paper about infrared sensors, barrel charring levels and whisky. Let me elaborate just a little (indulge me here...) = This is a PhD paper that demonstrates how the quality of a barrel can be determined by using infrared technology.

The other great thing that came of his dissertation was 114 barrels of whisky. A bi-product of the research and experiment really but also thankfully product that might be quite interesting to release on the market so Don chose 78 of them, blended the whisky which ended up creating Wiser's Dissertation. Released to the LCBO in Ontario as an exclusive bottling, 10,000 bottles hit the stores right before Father's Day. Cost $64.95.

I've really become a fan of Don's and many (MANY) of the whiskies he has created since taking the helm of Master Blender in 2012. I had a copy of the dissertation now I had to try the whisky. May 30th I stepped on a plane, hopped the Go train and headed directly to a liquor store in downtown Toronto where I purchased 2 bottles. (It's important to do a lot of trials - spoken like a true chemistry nerd!) I didn't make it back home to Saint John until June 21st but a few days later I quietly popped the cork while sitting on the boat. It was nice to simply enjoy it, no note book, no pictures for social media. Just me, the sunset and the whisky. It was glorious. I loved everything about it as many of you know I often say sometimes the whisky is simply the backdrop to the memory that is created. Over the course of the next 5-6 weeks anytime I opened my copy of the Dissertation, I also poured one (always made me smile when I did this!). I can't even begin to explain the satisfaction I had knowing that I was reading about Don's work and sipping the whisky that allowed him to successfully acquire his PhD.

Monday August 7th, my daughter Erica's birthday. She turned 27. I can't get a hold of her as she's off having an adventure (apple doesn't fall too far from this tree) but a great reason to pour myself a dram! Except this time, I'm drawn to my notebook. I open the page and the last notes taken on March 4th stare back at me. Halifax, whisky show - Bowmore Vault 1st Edition. Scribbles, my friend Celinda's name with a big happy face - Nice, salted with butterscotch sweet notes. I flip back a few pages, many more descriptors - most almost looking foreign to me now. Scented potpourri soaked cedar shavings (Won't mention the name of that whisky but good God it was horrible!) Yeah, I miss doing this. Maybe I needed the time off or away from writing so that I could appreciate how much I do love whisky?

Here goes, let's see how rusted my olfactory memory and taste buds really are? I have to say I was almost a bit nervous and scared to do this whisky a disfavour but like every other muscle that has memory, the nose did not fail me. Bicycle-schmicycle!?

Wiser's Dissertation Blended Canadian Whisky, 46.1% ABV

Nose: Explosive rye profile. Spicy, rich, lots of early fall night orchard smells like apples still fresh on the tree, grass that was hot all day but cooling in the autumn air, wild flowers like purple clover and evening primrose. The nose is big and beautiful.

Palate: Just a hint of fresh oak, pink grapefruit cheesecake with a caramel sauce (not kidding). Super creamy but mildly sweet in nature. Quite complex.
Finish: Smooth, not overly hot more like spicy like cinnamon heart candies. Nice but a bit short especially compared to most of the other whiskies I love from Corby's.

Overall I think Don hit it out of the park yet again with this one. I put it directly behind Last Barrels which I loved immensely in 2016. Review written, blog done = Lassie happy. With only about 25% of the stock left, when this one is gone, it's gone for good so if you are in Ontario or know someone who lives there, I recommend you get a bottle or maybe two.

Just three little things to add:

a. 46.1% is what Dr. Don decided to bottle this at, which also (not by coincidence) is the molecular weight of ethanol (CH3CH2OH) -> Squeals with geeky excitement.

b.  Maybe you noticed that I stated Dr. Livermore used 78 of his PhD research barrels to make Dissertation a reality. I hope that leaves you wondering, just like me - what will happen to the remaining 36? Can't wait to see what creative idea he comes up with for those.

and c... BIG thanks to fellow Canadian whisky judge, chosen brother and very good friend André Girard, for being the kick in the pants I needed to finish this one and reminding me about the one thing that brings friends, happiness, adventures and great memories into my life: Whisky.

It was quite refreshing writing a blog for the fun of it. It's nice to be back and I'll do my best to keep writing about what this Lassie does, thinks and experiences after all why should I keep all the crazy and weird things that I get to do locked up in my head ;)

Cheers from Saint John Canada wherever you may be.