Janice Ruddock has seen firsthand how far Nova Scotia’s culinary offerings have advanced in the last few years. She’s the executive director of Taste
of Nova Scotia, a member-based organization that champions food and drink from the province. “Nova Scotia has developed into a really authentic culinary destination,” she says. “It’s happened in a natural way, building on our
heritage and local ingredients.”
And 2015 might be the year the rest of the world takes notice. At the annual Nova Scotia Tourism Summit in November, provincial marketers announced plans to push the province as a food-and-drink destination. “As a culinary destination, we’ve been very modest,” Ruddock says. “We need to get the word out that we really offer something special here… We all want the same thing. We support the province, we support the Restaurant Association, and we’re all working together to grow the business.”
For the organizations involved in developing and promoting tourism and dining in the province, that means building on existing events and attractions, making them bigger and drawing more people to them. One of the biggest of those events comes up on January 29, as the Savour Food & Wine Festival returns, with its biggest edition yet.
Originally conceived as a February event to get restaurateurs through the mid-winter doldrums, the festival now runs until March 5,
featuring several signature events. “We want to spread the show out further and fill up those slow winter months with events for diners,” says Gordon Stewart, executive director of the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia, which organizes the festival. “We’re doing a few more things each year.”
The festival begins on January 29 with the Decadence: Chocolate, Wine & Cheese show at the World Trade & Convention Centre on Argyle Street. This is a unique opportunity to discover emerging culinary talents, as students from Nova Scotia Community College’s Pastry Arts Program create dishes to pair with artfully chosen wines.
Back at Casino Nova Scotia on February 12, Imbibe: A Cocktail Event offers just what the name promises. Nova Scotia’s top mixologists and bartenders take over the Schooner Showroom at Casino Nova Scotia for an evening of creative cocktails made from premium liquor, paired with hors d’oeuvres and live music.
Following that on February 27 is the Rare & Fine Wine Tasting. This tasting, in the Compass Room at Casino Nova Scotia, is de rigueur for serious wine aficionados. “Every wine you’ll taste really is rare and fine,” says Stewart. “They’re all wines that have scored 90-plus points in reviews and they aren’t normally available locally.” A live jazz performance sets the tone for this intimate event.
The festival wraps up on March 5 with its signature Savour Food & Wine Show at the World Trade & Convention Centre on Argyle Street. With some 75 booths, the show spotlights Nova Scotian restaurants, brewers, wine makers and food producers. All samples are included in the ticket price “It’s show-and-tell time for Nova Scotia’s culinary scene,” says Stewart. “Foodies love the show because they get to learn something new, and the exhibitors love it because it’s a chance to meet their customers and do something new.”
Geir Simensen, head chef with Saege Bistro Scanway Catering, is a long-time booster of the event. “I’ve been part of Savour right from the beginning,” he says. “The people that go are the people who go out to dine, they’re our customers, our guests. At a restaurant, it can be hard to work the room. At Savour, you get to talk with everyone face to face. It’s fun for everyone involved. Diners are better educated now.” He also appreciates the chance to connect with his fellow chefs. “It’s good to see other chefs on that level,” he adds. “I enjoy the camaraderie.”
His 2015 Savour menu isn’t set yet, but Simensen is giving it lots of thought. “It depends on the weather, what’s growing, what’s available,” he says. “All of our ingredients are local, so there are a lot more variables. I’m thinking maybe something braised, something with beer. I’ll talk with my farmer and my butcher when the date gets closer. There are a lot more variables when you’re relying on local ingredients. You have to be prepared to work with what’s available. On the dessert side with Scanway, we’re having a lot of fun with doughnuts and ice cream lately.”
And participating in past Savours has been a good learning experience. “You learn right away what doesn’t work,” he laughs. “One year we got too adventurous with goat-cheese ice cream. It seemed like a good idea to me, but it didn’t go so well.”
Running concurrently throughout the festival, the Dine Around program offers a great chance to explore, as restaurants around the province offer special three-course prix fixe menus (for $25, $35 or $45). “Lots of restaurants have signed up for that,” Stewart says. “It’s a great chance for diners to be adventurous, which is what Savour is all about.” For more details, surf to www.edining.ca.
Savour Food & Wine Festival signature events
•Decadence: Chocolate, Wine & Cheese Show
January 29 World Trade & Convention Centre
•Imbibe: A Cocktail Event
February 12 Schooner Room, Casino Nova Scotia
•Rare & Fine Wine Tasting
February 27 Compass Room, Casino Nova Scotia
•Savour Food & Wine Show
March 5 World Trade & Convention Centre