What do foodies do when they aren’t eating, photographing or writing about food? They learn more about it, of course.
While being excited to hear from some very knowledgeable industry professionals, I was also eager to revisit the restaurant and sample what Chef Simon McNeil was preparing for the event. Word on the street was that he was preparing more than event organizer, Richard Wolak, had expected, which made the anticipation grow as the days counted down.
Chef Simon did not disappoint. With beautiful cheese, crackers, and candied nuts spilling off an elegantly laid out table, and sweet and savoury tapas coming from every angle, guests were satisfied if not stuffed by the time the speeches started.
This event, like past Food Talks, focused on a variety of sectors in the food industry with a panel of inspiring individuals.
From the trials and tribulations of bringing something new to Vancouver, to individuals striving for that number one position and trying to do it all, this Food Talks related to many (if not all) of the individuals sitting in the audience.
After an introduction by Richard, James Coleridge, Founder and Maestro of Bella Gelateria, was the first to take the stage.
James opened shop in June 2010, the same year that he won the Gelato Pioneer’s “The Father” in Carpigiani, Italy. He has since been the recipient of many awards, including top gelato master in the world.
With an open book attitude, he believes that nothing should be held secret for nothing can ever be duplicated exactly. Once a man who believed he could and should do it all he has now developed the ability to relinquish (some) control to others and mentor them just as he was. That said, while others are sleeping, he’s most likely still working, racking up 19+ hours making his gelato with fresh, local ingredients.
His speech was heavy on personal accomplishments and awards, but the main takeaway was that without passion you’ll never be the best — do what you love, use your time wisely, develop your skills and expand your reach.
“Take 20% of your time to play! Make mistakes, experiment, have fun. Find your passion.”
Marcus Von Albrecht, Chef & President of Mava Foods and Von Albrecht & Associates
Marcus exudes a laissez-fair attitude and a charm that could get him in to any party. “I don’t work” he explained as he listed all of the pots he has his hands in. He is an owner of Mava Foods, the Principal behind XFour Handcrafted Vodka, the past President of the BC Chefs’ Association, chair of the New Food Products Panel for the Canadian Council of Grocers and Vice President of North America – AREGALA.
Marcus focused less on his achievements as he did on the importance of supporting local artisans and producers. Practising what he preaches his X4 spirits are made from local ingredients.
A Bremner’s blueberry juice-enhanced vodka will be the newest product to hit the shelves in the near future.
“I sat down and made Vodka, it was the best year of my life”
Mark Simpson, Winemaker and Brewmaster at Artisan Food and Beverage Group Inc.
Mark is one of the few certified Cicerones in Canada and enjoys the growing beer culture in Vancouver. He has decades of experience in brewing and winemaking working with national brands and international brands, from Granville Island Brewing to Lowenbrau. He has now found his place at Dockside where he is currently the Brewmaster, in addition to producing his own line of premium BC wines – Siren’s Call.
He had one of his wine bottles at the event that had an unusually unique and modern label – on it were tweets from some of his close friends. Chatting with him about it he mentioned that maybe I could be on the next one!
In addition to a bit of chatter on beer pairing, making wine and his transition from the corporate world, Mark expressed his desire to eat, drink and be local. This was a common point put forward by the speakers with all of them strong supporters of local goods.
And speaking of local goods…..
Julia Smith, Founder and Farmer for Urban Digs Farm
Julia from Urban Digs Farm went from a 3000 square foot house in Vancouver’s West Side to 214 square feet in Burnaby in order to “live off the land” and be self-sufficient. She followed her calling and took the initially hard route to follow her passion to farm.
Her farming business has grown over the years expanding in to South Burnaby, Richmond and Delta. They distribute weekly harvest boxes, participate in farmers markets, supply a number of local restaurants and will be opening for farm gate sales at their Burnaby location in the spring.
“The only thing growing in agriculture in Canada is the number of women in it.”
And last but not least…the young pups.
Chef Themis, PURA Sweet Agave Syrups
Themis is the resident chef and co-founder at Pura Foods. He has 16 years experience in food production during which time he’s had his fair share of success and failure.
Shahab Samimi, PURA Sweet Agave Syrups
Shahab, co-founder at Pura Foods, has a background in the distribution industry which enables him to recognize the market niche for agave syrup.
Pura agave syrup is a natural substitute for sugar and artificial sweeteners. It is 25% sweeter than sugar and has a low glycemic index so it’s perfect for those with a sweet tooth trying to lower their carbohydrate intake.
With a wide variety of flavors, Pura can turn your regular cup of joe in to a caramel sweetened coffee, be the peach sweetener in your iced tea or create the coconut taste in your pina colada. They will also soon be launching sugar-free dark hot chocolate, chili chocolate, & lemonade mixes.
Despite having a delicious looking product (I haven’t tasted it yet), it’s not the agave syrup that is eye-catching to me but the passion and tenacity of the men behind it. After a bad first run, they persevered, revamping their approach and finding a system that works. They treat their producers with the utmost respect and good pay, and in return they receive exceptional ingredients and efficiency.
“We pay them more than everyone else, so when we are in a tough time and need help they work for us on Saturdays – they never work on Saturdays for no one.”
After the speakers, the event opened up to a Q&A session where guests asked both business related questions and just-for-curiousity questions such as, “what sort of gelato would you make and/or what’s your favorite?”
During the event each guest also received two tasting glasses of Dockside Brewing beer, two shots of X4 specialty vodka (one chocolate) and a special event only dark lager gelato from the creative collaboration of James and Mark.
Sophie Tupper was at the event representing Growing Chefs, the designated charity for the event that received $3 from each ticket purchased. The organization educates children on the food community in the public schools.
For more photos from the event check out my Food Talks Dockside set on Flickr.
Missed this Food Talks? Check out the next one on April 2nd.