This past Monday was the first – hopefully annual – Canadian Celebrity Chefs event. I spent the entire day at the event – as you can tell from my twitter feed – and have come up with some of my highlights and some areas that I feel could be worked on for next year. Having spent most of my working career in events, non profit ones at that, I can tell you that there is always opportunity to grow and that never does a day go off without a hitch, especially the first time an event is run. It’s just the plain simple truth that problems arise, and often you don’t know they will be until they have happened. It is the mark of a great event that those planning can take a step back, look at the experience and learn from the past. I know that Chef Blackie and his team will do exactly that – they are pros with a vision of having the best of the best food event in Ottawa. I for one think they can achieve that.

My Highlights:

The Food
– It was a day filled with amazing smells and even better flavours. I adored Chef Bowen and Chef Rogalski’s Bison Hash – I knew I would. I was surprised how much I loved Chef Lepine and Chef Cloutier’s dish of Oyster with honey flavor roasted foie gras terrine and marrow bones with chardonnay vinaigrette and bacon foam,  not because they are not amazing Chefs, but more because it was only the second oyster I have ever had. It was just lovely – so fresh, so tasty. Reminds me I need to get myself together and have dinner at Atelier yesterday. Honestly there wasn’t a dish I didn’t love. And the wine pairings were heavenly.

The Chefs – A great mix of our local stars with talented Canadian invitees. I loved comparing and contrasting their styles and enjoyed seeing they dishes and concepts they came up with. I found them entertaining, even if some were a bit nervous to be in front of such a large crowd.

The Content – I learned quite a bit from this event: flavour combinations, how chefs come up with their ideas and just some general techniques. I’m not ashamed to say that the best tip I picked up was from David Rocco. I had always been quite meticulous with my risottos – measuring everything, being afraid of any little mistake. Making the dish more complicated than it really is. He gave the confidence to apply the same sense of food adventure to risotto that I do to all my other cooking. In fact, I made some last night and it was the best I’ve ever made.

The Venue – I love the NAC – it was the perfect venue to host this event. The day time portion was held in a lovely studio with plenty of room and seating for all – not to mention a great view no matter which seats you were in. And the evening’s tasting was perfect in the main foyer. Even though the lines were at times a bit long, there was still room to mingle and move around. There were also a perfect number of tables, I never had trouble finding a place to eat.

The Energy – People were excited for this event. The Chefs, the trades people during the evening portion of the event and the participants. Everyone came together to celebrate food and have a good time. Even at 8:30 in the morning, with it being -40 outside, you could tell that everyone was hoping for a great day. Many of the Chefs had a great night the night before… something that may have affected just how much energy they had, but you could tell that everyone was in good spirits and really enjoying themselves. Something that I found inspired me to enjoy myself even more.

Now for the portion I’m calling:

Needs Tweaking for Next Year

Managing Expectations –

There are some who came to this event expecting something quite different from the day they got – and I think they were a bit let down. To be fair, I’m not sure that the event was quite sure what it wanted to be. Was it a cooking lesson? Was it a live version of Food Network Television, there for entertainment value only. Was it geared towards those who long for in depth culinary knowledge or those who just want a tip or two and to be entertained in general. I was expecting the entertainment with a tip or two, and that’s what I got.

Beyond that I expected to see the chefs acting like themselves. Not G rated, Food Network edited for television versions of themselves. That can mean that sometimes it gets a little crude. Let’s be honest – do you think that Gordon Ramsay is the only Chef with a mouth like a trucker? From what I know of these chefs, this WAS the edited, toned down versions of their personalities. However, that was not the expectation that some had. The NAC hosts a variety of events from ballets and operas to comics and rock concerts. I have to say I’m in the crowd that usually only attends an event at the NAC if it’s going to be a bit cutting edge and raunchy – but that’s not everyone. There are those that expect a level of sophistication from events at the NAC and I feel that they were a little shocked and not too pleased with some behaviour.

Demo Length – It was a LONG day. I had a great time, but by the end of the demos there was no way I could be comfortable any longer. I felt that there seemed to be a lot of time to kill during the demos and think that if we could get a bit of a later start, say around 10:30am or so – and cut the demos to 45 minutes each it would feel much better. I appreciate that they kept to their time line, I just wish the time line itself was shortened a touch.

Food During the Day – I wasn’t even sure there was going to be a lunch at this event. I had hoped, but there was no mention of it anywhere. The lunch that was served was alright – there could have been a bit more selection. I didn’t notice any vegetarian options and the ham sandwich, though tasty, was greasy. It was bare bones to say the least. Next year I would ask that a little more thought be put into the food for the day time participants. It is hard to sit all day smelling and watching gorgeous food be made, only to come out at the morning break to find no snacks. Or to come out at lunch and find it totally picked over only 20 minutes into lunch. They may also like to think about having more than one station, the line ups for coffee and food were large, to say the least.

This event has great bones, a unique and fun idea that Ottawa should embrace. Yes there were bumps in the road but they were minor compared to how many good points there were during the day. I for one am looking forward to next year.

For another great review of the event check out FoodiePrints, The Lemon Kitchen, BeFOODled, Rachelle Eats Food and Whisk: a food blog.

And for a compilation of all the articles written by the ‘All Star’ blogging team on this event check out this great post from FoodiePrints.