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Taste of Winterlude: Ottawa/Gatineau

NCC Press Event
NCC Press Event

This past Monday, the National Capital Commission (NCC) held a press event to announce this year’s Taste of Winterlude, a festival I once  dubbed Ottawa’s response to Toronto’s Winterlicious.

We arrived late. The press event was wrapping up. The speakers, members of the NCC’s Media Relations team including Guy Laflamme, were a quarter way through their highlights of 2011’s Taste of Winterlude “Dining Experiences.” There was a video camera in the room and several reporters from the CBC on hand (each with handheld recording devices).

My companion Claire (@gadgetgirl_ca), a wine blogger, and I would find seats near fellow Ottawa food blogger and friend, Shari (@whisk_food_blog) of Whisk: A Food Blog. We would also sit with the founder of the food blog aggregator, Marc-André Plouffe. I waved at Ottawa Citizen‘s food editor Ron Eade and former food columnist Gay Cook who were standing nearby.

The next day, Eade and the Food editor of the Ottawa Magazine, Shawna Wagman, would release blog posts, both highlighting the impending visit of Montreal’s vaunted chef/owner of Au Pied de Cochon. Chef Martin Picard will “recreate his famous gourmet sugar shack” during February 4, 2011’s “Dining Experience Event” at the Museum of Civilization. This event will mark the opening of Winterlude, the National Capital Region’s winter festival that runs for 3 weeks every February. Dinner will culminate in a fireworks display.

Chef Picard goes by “The Wild Chef” on Food Network Canada. He is often referred to as a culinary hedonist. For Anthony Bourdain fans, it was at Chef Picard’s restaurant the Travel channel’s No Reservations host was brought to his knees by savoury excess. An older episode, Chef Picard’s multi-course omakase-style meal showcased dishes he is now famous for: foie poutine, duck-in-a-can (canard en conserve), and an incredibly rich take on one of the fattiest dishes in French cuisine, cassoulet.

Eade and Wagman’s posts would develop some buzz around Chef Picard’s upcoming visit. Both also mentioned how the format of the Taste of Winterlude has changed. Instead of having prixe fixe menus that encourage Ottawans to try new restaurants during what is typically a slower period of the year, the NCC has organized a series of culinary events. The events, according to the media release, are “exclusive culinary happenings” that “celebrate the creativity and talent of some of Canada’s top chefs, sommeliers, and winemakers.”

Between Claire and I, we saw some standout events.

While there is more of a range of events organized that include restaurants across Ottawa, in Chelsea and in Gatineau, I am left to wonder about the lack of prixe fixe menus. Many of the events cost more than $100/person, topping out in a $300/person package at the Cordon Bleu. Going the culinary event route will likely not attract the same attention as last year, especially from locals. It may even evoke some consternation as fellow Ottawa food blogger Jodi (@simplyfresh) of Simply Fresh Ottawa blogs. She raises some valid points. Are these events meant to attract culinary tourism? Well, some of us travel to Toronto to try new restaurants because of the prix-fixe menus offered during Winterlicious and Summerlicious.

I understand prixe-fixe menus stress kitchen staff because of the repetitive nature of the paired down and value-consious dishes served and the high intensity of increased table turnover, but did last year’s Taste of Winterlude not translate into exposure or new relationships with local patrons?

That said, and Chef Picard’s visit aside, the National Capital Region’s culinary scene has a lot to offer. The organized events demonstrate such. Many are well worth the ticket price.

Tickets/reservations went on sale to the general public yesterday. Click here for more information.

The press event, being held at the Cordon Bleu @ Signatures, tasked Chef Armando Biasis, a master carver, with carving a Santa statue during the press event from a new block of ice.

Chef Armando Biasis and Guy Laflamme
Chef Armando Biasis and Guy Laflamme

Light refreshments and coffee were served.

Le Cordon Bleu Bistro @ Signatures
453 Laurier Avenue East
(613) 236-2433