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 P├ępin’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