FEASTival of Fine Chefs
Show Conference Centre
September 19, 2018
By Graham Hicks
It’s called FEASTival, it’s been around 30 years, and it’s a lot of fun.
On Sept. 19, the Shaw Conference Centre’s main exhibition hall is full. One thousand people have bought tickets or come as guests.
Around the walls are booths representing just about every major hotel restaurant in town, along with a few other dining facilities such as the Royal Glenora Club.
Every booth has a number.
Every guest has a number.
Master of Ceremonies Seanna Collins did a countdown. Three, two, one … GO!
Immediately, every person jumps up to pick up the first of four courses, looking for the booth number that corresponds to the number they hold for the evening.
The chefs at each of the 17 booths have been cooking non-stop. Just 24 hours before, they’d received a “black box” of foodstuffs from the FEASTival organizers. It was quite the food volume – enough to feed four courses to about 60 people.
But until the box was opened, the chefs had no clue what they would be working with. And, once opened, the team had to immediately decide on dishes and recipes.
It was now or never. Each team had to be ready with that first course. The attacking army wanted to be fed! Instantaneous lineups occurred, as the holders of Number 6 lined up at Booth 6 for the first course.
Right after each course, the cooking teams had to be ready with the next. The first course appetizer, then soup, then the main … and finally, of course, dessert.
Here was another fun maker. While the guests held on to the same number all night long – the number on each cooking booth changed for each course.
At the entrance, I chose number 6 for good luck. For 20 years, my daily column in The Edmonton Sun was Hicks on Six.
For all those holding a #6 card, the first course came from the Shaw Conference Centre’s own booth, the second from Nova Hotels, the main from NAIT’s Ernest’s dining room, dessert from the Royal Glenora Club.
As a diner, you had no choice, though numbers could theoretically be traded between diners. But it was more fun trading tastes around the table.
It was luck of the draw, and the #6s got lucky. We had consistently good plates. The Shaw Conference Centre team’s thin-sliced “kalbi” skirt beef starter was thoroughly marinated in Korean flavours to obtain tanginess and tenderness.
Other than the Chateau Lacombe, Nova Hotels are not renowned for their restaurants, but their Cream of Autumn vegetable soup was top-notch, with rich, silky, thoroughly blended squashes, and blue-cheese infused croutons.
My main course came from NAIT, where the pressure was on, given the NAIT Culinary School had trained half the chefs in FEASTival. NAIT came through with a ribeye medallion and smoked jus, dabbed with pockets of crabapple and fig mustards, crowned with a crispy oyster mushroom near as big as the medallion itself.
All at the table sampled and agreed. The rib eye was the best main course present.
From the Royal Glenora came the #6s’ dessert, a most imaginative meringue shell (meringue being as if whipped cream was stiffened into a brittle state) filled with a blood orange cream. Beautiful!
The enduring success of FEASTival, produced by the Alberta Food Processors Association as a fund-raiser for scholarships for apprentice chefs, is because of the fun factor. All kinds of companies and individuals annually arrange tables every year … because it’s fun.
Poor chefs! They work had enough as it is. But for FEASTival, 17 teams jump into a 24-hour roller-coaster of opening their black boxes, coming up with recipes on the spot, and having four courses for 60 ready to go within 24 hours. Still, they have the satisfaction of seeing the guests enjoying their creations.
FEASTival is held every year at this time. With the food, the wine and the camaraderie, it is more than worth its $140 ticket or $1050 for a table of eight.