It takes your senses a moment to adjust when you walk into the Savour Food & Wine Show. Music, talking, and laughter fill your ears while your eyes process the sheer number of people in the room. Everyone around you is cooking, eating, or drinking. Food smells beckon from all sides.
Don’t worry, there’s no need to choose; you can try it all.
The Savour Food & Wine Festival, climaxing in the eponymous show, celebrates Nova Scotia’s food and beverage industries. It includes five events, plus a month-long opportunity to try specially created dishes at restaurants across the province.
The Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia started the festival 16 years ago with just one event. It’s grown every year, becoming the region’s largest indoor food and beverage show. Organizers conceived of the event as a way of lessoning the doldrums most restaurants face in cold and wet February.
Gordon Stewart is RANS’s executive director. “[It’s impressive] to see the high expectations of people at the show being topped by the various food items,” he says. “Even though some of these people are foodies, they haven’t seen all of the picture yet. For a small province, Nova Scotia has a big culinary landscape.”
After all these years, Stewart says the event still finds ways to change and grow. Last year Savour partnered with Discover Halifax, the municipality’s tourism-marketing organization, to bring more visitors to the festival. This year, the partnership adds a dine-and-stay component to Dine Around to encourage turning a meal into a night in the city.
The multi-restaurant Dine Around event kicks off the festival on
Feb. 1. and runs until the end of the month. Similar to Toronto’s Winterlude, participating restaurants create three-course prix-fixe menus costing $25–$45 to encourage diners to try a new spot or dish. Stewart says it’s easy to fall into old patterns and visit the same three or four favourite restaurants time after time, even for the festival’s committee members. Dine Around offers locals a chance to break out of routine. Last year, some 30 restaurants across the province participated.
For those who are looking to taste the bounty of Nova Scotia in a big way, the festival offers four other events awash in food and beverage.
On Feb. 7, Imbibe invites Nova Scotia’s best mixologists to take over the Lord Nelson Hotel and create sample-size signature cocktails. You’ll see some familiar faces from your favourite Halifax bars, and mixologists compete for the audience’s best cocktail vote.
Next up is Rare and Fine on Feb. 15. Casino Nova Scotia’s Compass Room becomes an exclusive wine bar with the added ambience of a live jazz band. In partnership with the festival, private liquor store Bishop’s Cellar spends the entire year curating the list of 25–30 rare wines costing over $50 bottle and ranked 90+ points by major wine publications.
“Part of the allure for the guests is that they will be tasting wines that have been curated and haven’t been available before,” says Jenny Gammon, brand communications and event manager at Bishop’s Cellar, who like most of the store’s staff is a certified sommelier. Bishop’s Cellar staff pour at the event and answer questions about the wines.
The wines at this event are usually impossible to buy locally, but Bishop’s Cellar will have bottles for sale. Show attendees have first crack at buying bottles through the store’s website at the show. NSLC licencing rules say the wine must be picked up at the store or delivered after the show.
“You’ll often have people tasting throughout the night and coming over to place multiple orders throughout the evening because they want to make sure they get their piece of the 12, 24, or 36 bottles that are for sale,” Gammon says. Remaining bottles are sold through the store, but most are snapped up that night.
The tone shifts for the Craft Beer Cottage Party on Feb. 16. Organizers transform the Seaport Farmers’ Market into the province’s biggest cottage get-together. Breweries decorate their booths to fit the cottage vibe; attendees vote on who has the best display (Meander River Farm & Brewery from Ashdale, N.S. is the reigning champ two years in a row). Plaid is encouraged.
“Beer is fun and relaxed,” says Jeff Green, director of sales at Garrison Brewing Co. and a member of the Cottage Party organizing committee. “In the dead of winter, when spirits and sunlight are a record low, we wanted to create a bit of a spark and have some fun.”
Green says this year’s event will host 30-some breweries and cideries, with a focus on Nova Scotian products, in keeping with the rest of the festival. While attendees move from booth-to-booth sampling, a live band plays campfire classics and vendors serve up snacks for an additional fee.
“For me, [the event] means seeing the brewers in a different light,” says Green. He says most beer festivals offer little chance for meaningful connection. “Usually there’s a table at the front of the booth between the brewers and the people, but here that wall is gone. It’s less branded and more Nova Scotian. More relaxed and informal.”
The festival’s signature event, the Savour Food and Wine Show, happens at the new Halifax Convention Centre on Argyle Street on Feb. 28. Over 80 restaurants, wineries, breweries, and other producers present bite-sized delicacies and sample-sized beverages to ticket holders. Last year the event sold out at 1,500 tickets, which Stewart says is limited only by the legal fire limit.
Liz Ingram-Chambers, owner of Le Bistro By Liz on South Park Street, has been a part of the show since day one. She re-creates the vibe of Le Bistro by Liz in her booth with her signature red and white checked table cloths and red patio umbrella. Over the past few years she added a lit-up miniature Eiffel Tower that’s become a magnet for those seeking selfies.
“Every year we change up the treats that we offer people,” she says. “Last year we did pan-seared Nova Scotia scallop on a sweet pea purée topped with a bacon jam. When you have people coming by [the booth] a second and third time, you know it’s good,” she laughs.
Ingram-Chambers doesn’t leave it to chance that attendees will remember Le Bistro the next day. She hands out cards good for a complementary dessert, salad, or soup on attendees’ next visit. “I’m sure by the end of the night it’s all a blur,” she says. “They’ll find that in their purse the next day and remember me.”
On March 7, Decadence highlights how wine pairings can enhance food. Savour partners with Nova Scotia Community College’s Pastry Arts and Culinary Arts programs to produce the food for the event. Students and chef instructors are on hand to discuss ingredients and techniques, enriching attendees’ appreciation each bite. RANS created the event as a way to bring Nova Scotia’s next generation of chefs into the fold, says Stewart.
With some much food and drink to taste at Savour, it’s key to remember that these events are a marathon, not a sprint. Stewart calls it the “full meal deal.”
Ingram-Chambers agrees. “You couldn’t go out for dinner for the cost of a ticket and get that much fabulous food and drink. And you couldn’t eat and drink any more than what you can at that festival.”
The Craft Beer Cottage Party is an opportunity for Halifax craft-beer lovers to try breweries they may have missed. Watch for these three.
Upstreet Craft Brewing
Known across P.E.I., this young brand added a Burnside brewery and restaurant late last year. Watch for Neon Friday, a small-batch beer that changes weekly. These energetic beers are big on hops, testing the limits of aroma and flavour.
Saltbox Brewing Company
Mahone Bay, N.S.
This brewery’s beer names pay tribute to local people and history. Make and Break Double IPA remembers the small gas engines produced in Lunenburg and Bridgewater that changed the fishing industry in the 1900s. It’s hop-forward and hearty at 7.5% ABV.
Lunn’s Mill Beer Co.
Not to be confused with our local Lawrencetown, this brewery hails from the Annapolis Valley. Taste its Anvil Porter, an American-style porter with moderate bitterness and hints of chocolate and dark fruit.