Hot Chefs Cool bEATS food festival,
Shaw Conference Centre, April 21, 2012
Food: 4 of 5
Ambience: 4 of 5
Service: 4 of 5

Much like that re-invented Alberta Progressive Conservative Party, our culinary world evolves.

Previous fundraisers for Culinary Team Canada — an Edmonton tradition thanks to long-time organizers Shaw Conference Centre Executive Chef Simon Smotkowicz and NAIT’s Vinod Varshney — were swish, gala events with fancy dresses, business attire and starched linen.

Suddenly, it’s not about old-school elegance any longer.

It’s about having fun, bringing out the kid in us.

It’s about dropping the price tag, as fewer and fewer companies and individuals are willing to shell out for those $300-plus charity event tickets.

Hats off to Hot Chefs Cool bEATS co-chairs Simon and Vinomania’s Gurvinder Bhatia.

Like Premier Alison Redford’s campaign managers, they figured out where trends are going, and got there first.

On Saturday evening, Hot Chefs Cool bEATS was one big, informal, fun street party — and all the better for the surprises within its three-course evening, from the opening “Street Festival” in Hall D’s giant foyer, to the “International Block Party” in the hall itself complete with a wooden bridge to a mini-Granville Island seafood park. Finally, capping the evening, curtains opened to sit-down dessert café, the venue for the live auction.

Hot Chefs Cool bEATS was neither an orchestrated dinner nor a dress rehearsal for the Culinary Olympics event this fall in Germany.

It was pot luck, some 300 guests free to walk around, eating and drinking as much as they wished.

The foyer had a Fringe-like festive feel with food stations and entertainment by the likes of the United Ine Dance Crew.

We nibbled from two food truck booths, Filistix offering lechon (roast pig) morsels in a classic Filipino sauce (garlic, ginger, soy and a touch of chili) and Drift with a mini jerk-chicken sandwich topped with pineapple.

Themes were not exactly rigourous, but that was fine. In a Hong Kong Street Food booth was the Bistecca Italian Steakhouse, chef Sonny Sung himself making beef tartar mini cones with mini-mushrooms, and Wild Tangerine, using convention centre and NAIT staff to produce vegetarian noodles.

The downtown/South Side coffee house/semi–bistro Transcend, specializing in Latin-American street snacks, offered barbecued duck on a Latin-American arepa pancake/bread.

The hit on the food side was the offering from Culinary Team Canada chef Serge Belair, coming all the way from Gatineau, Quebec. Guests lined up for his duck fat fries poutine.

Around 8 p.m. the doors to the great hall opened for Hot Chefs Cool bEATS Part II, the International Block Party.

On tap: Kathi rolls (spicy food wraps made in India long before arriving in America) from Guru; a “brasserie” selection of French street foods – mussels and fries, pate, croquet monsieur; sushi from the Shaw Conference Centre and the hit of the Great Hall portion of the evening, the “mini-Granville Island” by Team Canada chefs — fried oyster sliders, Atlantic cod fish ‘n’ chips with a potato dill sauce and salmon tacones (taco cones). Nate Box’s Elm Café and the already-famous Duchess Bake Shop were handing out gouda cheese sandwiches and macaroons respectively.

Conflicting appointments meant I couldn’t stay for the desserts, but Rob Christie of Capital FM reports the Shaw Conference Centre’s tiramisu and chocolate mousse were superlative.

There you have it. A light-hearted potpourri of food fun with carnival entertainment, just as much food as at a sit-down gala, but in the form of high-end finger foods rather than entrees.

The guests were happy with a $150 ticket, knowing any portion over the evening’s costs would go to Culinary Team Canada and Edmonton’s High School Culinary Challenge.

Methinks this is the harbinger of many events to come. Little hard on the feet from all the standing, but definitely fun.

P.S. Art of Conversation LXVIII happens Wednesday, April 25, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Suede Lounge, 11806 Jasper Avenue, the price of admission being an enjoyment of a good conversation.