Alpine Food Festival 3

A week ago – was it that long ago? – three of us made our way up to Mt Washington’s beautiful Raven Lodge for the Alpine Food Festival‘s Gala Dinner. I’ve been a little too busy lately to pay attention to all of the many amazing food events that place in the Comox Valley region. I wasn’t going to miss this one!

Lucky for me our table was next to that of some of the event’s sponsors, including Beyond the Kitchen Door‘s Theresa Mooney and Sue Smith. Sue filled me on some of this year’s peak experiences and had my mouth watering. Labour Day weekend has always got lots on; next year I’m going to have to squeeze in more of this event.

But back to this year’s AFF3 Gala. I’d arrived with my fellow foodie pal Anh and her man Jeremy. We came into Raven Lodge, a stunning post and beam building downslope from the mountain’s larger but less interesting downhill facilities, with amazing views to the west. But for Anh and I, the most important views are those that stare up from the plate: we’re members of that growing club, the Folks Who Foto What We Eat. We had our cameras (and our palates) ready.

It was a good thing too: the Gala was a wine-pairing event with eight courses. That’s close to eight (who’s counting after five or was it six?) glasses of BC. Lots of opportunity for our foodie foto fun.

But it wasn’t just about the visuals. This year’s Gala Dinner was a kind-of off-site Atlas Café affair with Chef Jonathan Frazier and a couple of his Atlas hands augmented by mostly Mt. Washington staff. I was here for AFF1 and it was fun and big. I missed year 2 (did I say it’s a busy time for me?). Year 3 – more consistency, and even better flavours. Which is what I’ve come to expect from Atlas (it’s no secret that I’m an Atlas booster). I got pretty much the same feedback from Sue and Theresa: this year’s kitchen nailed it.

I won’t go through all 8 courses, all of which had good things going on. Instead I’m going to focus on what really stood out. So, what did they nail?

The amuse bouche. The cracker was still crunchy, the scallop ceviche… What can I say? I’m a ceviche freak: I drove 90km on a gravel road to Zeballos for what I was told was the best ceviche on the Island. It was. But Chef Jon’s version was very, very good. I wanted much, much more than this little taste tease (and I’m hoping it makes it to the Atlas menu as a bona fide starter).

The “peasant” tomato soup. Maybe it counts as peasant because, back in the day… the seven heirloom varieties of tomato used in the recipe would’ve everyday summer blessings. Today, they’re premium product with premium flavour. Or should I say, premium flavours, plural. Lots going on in this deceptively simple dish.

I’m a fan of what Sarah Walsh does at Prontissima Pasta. I heard the enchanting story behind Prontissima at an Alpine Food Fest 1 workshop. For this year’s Gala, Chef Jon and crew dressed Sarah’s linguine in a delicate clam sauce, topped it with a small slab of smoked salmon, and presented it on a scallop shell. Kind of a gourmand’s Venus on the half-shell.

Jason Hyde was on hand to give us a walk through of all the various vintages paired with the tasty plates. All of them BC, some quite local. The most intriguing was the Pink Elephant bubbly, an apple wine finished with cassis (black currant) and prepared in the Champagne manner in the Okanagan at Elephant Island winery. I’m a fan of pink bubbly. Very amusing accompaniment to the amuse bouche.

The Comox Valley is rich in foodie delights, and has a number of strong local food advocates. Beyond the Kitchen Door and Atlas CafŽé have done so much, between their two establishments, to raise the expectations and experiences of those of us who love to savour our food. Kudos to them, to all the Alpine Food Festival partners and collaborators, and particularly to Mt. Washington for hosting. I’ll be returning for AFF4 in 2011, and I’ll be bringing up a much larger contingent this next time.

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