This year marked the triumphant return of one of the most highly anticipated food and drink events in Vancouver. This is the Science of Cocktails, held at Science World, with the purpose of raising funds to support them and all their programs.
The evening invites celebrated chefs and mixologists to set up shop within the dome. And ticket holders make their way around the entire open space sipping and nibbling, while enjoying all the regular exhibits of Science World.
However, this year would be a variation of all years past for me. This year I was invited to be one of the three judges, tasked with trying all of the food offerings and critiquing each based on taste, presentation, originality, and their use of science in its preparation. Taste is scored out of 20 points, presentation out of 10, originality out of 10, and a bonus 2 for science.
Like the food component, there was also judging for the drinks, where those judges tried all the cocktails prepared to order on stage and declared one bartender the winner of the all. This was based on their creation and inspiration taken from the theme of “air”. Although as a food judge, my duties kept me away from centre stage and the ability to take in this showcase.
And as a judge I took my duties seriously, with-staining from finishing any cocktail sample that I tried, and taking in no more than baby bird sips, and laps like a dog. Therefore, this post will be written as a review of the Science of Cocktails as a culinary event, and not just the drinking extravaganza I have treated it to be in the past, and have succumb to all the previous years I have attended.
Admittedly this gave me a different perspective, being able to observe all those who drank indiscriminately and swallowed in full.
The following are all the food stations, in the order that we visited them as a trio of judges.
Notch 8 Restaurant & Bar had a Tomato sorbet prepared using spherification and foam. This was a chilled savoury dish with albacore tuna, and citrus pearls. Just looking at it it doesn’t seem like much. But once you dig up and get some tuna on the spoon along with the tomato, you can tell this is something special. I would be happy with a plate of this cold and tangy treat.
Truffles Fine Food Catering had a Citrus marinated scallop and beetroot where the science behind it was the pickling of the vegetables. It was a pretty standard offering of lightly seasoned scallop and gentled pickled vegetables. A one bite that was not as memorable as everything else to come.
Ono Vancouver had two different food offerings. The first was a kimchi and pickled egg shrimp crisp that the trio of judges adored for its spicy flavour and tactile crunch.
But the dish we were judging was their Ono surplus vegetable garden. The purpose was to highlight all the waste in our food system and the ways to curb it through fermentation, preserving, and canning. Simple and clean seasoned vegetables served on a bed squid ink “soil” made from a black eye pea purée. I loved the mix of textures and was surprised to get so much taste from just vegetable.
This was not the most elaborate dish but the entire double table set up was an impressive assembly. Enough to earn them the honourable mention win of best presentation.
Last year’s grand winner Peake of Catering was back to defend their title with their vegan and gluten free Lemon Meringue Pie prepared using the spherification method. A one bite of tart citrus and buttery crust. Lemon curd, a lemon syrup sphere, marshmallow, and a smoke graham cracker crumb. Refreshing and fun this served well as a palate cleanser, and it was not surprising that it won people’s choice for the favourite food dish.
Vancouver Private Dining had incredibly accurate looking Edible rocks, prepared using spherification and powder. Each jagged morsel looked like slate speckled in shades of grey and white, topped with caramelized white chocolate and raspberry powder. It was a sweet dessert that you couldn’t have more than a couple of, that would serve well as a gift in a chocolate box.
Hapa Izakaya prepared a Miso albacore oshi sushi that was torched and topped to order. Their scientific element was the torching of glutamic acids in the miso to release an umami flavour, which in turn enhances the dish. Torched miso albacore oshi sushi with cream cheese, a cuttlefish ink crisp, and jalapeño soy ikura. It practically melted in your mouth, but was not the only sushi game in town. However only Hapa Izakaya was available to everyone, whereas their competition exclusively for VIPs and they were not putting forth their torched aburi oshi for competition.
I was enamoured by Savoury Chef’s mushroom forest display curated by Garden Party Flowers. A generous display of greenery, foliage, and edible fungi to call attention to their mushroom and Brie tart. They would have won for best presentation had they curated the handsome display themselves like Ono did.
Here they were offering a vanilla tart shell filled with a truffle mushroom purée, Canadian brie, and candied walnuts. As tasty as it was, it did lose points for not including a scientific element in its creation.
Emelle’s Catering had a vegan and gluten free Crispy tofu poke spoons. And instead of drizzling the spoon with the intended sweet and spicy dressing, they had it spherified into large caviar-like pearls. Upon biting down the intention was to have the pearls pop and the sauce flood your mouth, however there was not enough spheres for my taste and as a result the spoon felt bland.
The Lazy Gourmet won for the most creative dish with their Ice-cream cone – breakfast style. Sous vide egg emulsion, served with powdered bacon, crispy potato and chives, all stuffed into a sesame crusted waffle cone. This was a fun idea, where got all the flavours of breakfast in one bite. I just wished the bottom of the cone didn’t get stuck to the wrapper and you could simply pop the whole of it into your mouth with ease.
North West Culinary Academy was the big winner of the night, declared the winner over all and the champion with the best tasting dish. They took all the best elements of Filipino cuisine and gathering them all in one morsel.
Sous-vide liempo pork belly, with compressed atchara, mango gel, crispy taro, and a puffed garlic rice crumble. They sous vided the pork and torched it to a char before placing it on the crispy taro chip and topping it with the sweet and salty flavours listed above. This was definitely one of the most memorable bites of the night.
Freehouse Collective showed up, but offered no science to their Rare seared albacore tuna, which I also found basic. This was a shame as dining in with their pubs/bars recently I can contest that their food is much better than this.
Bomberito Tacqueria had a Tinga de pollo tostada made canapé ready on a corn tortilla chip. It was a pub ready snack of braised chicken, smoked pepper, and pickled jalapeño, but had no scientific method to it.
And our last bite was from Hello Nori, exclusively available to the VIPs. VIPs paid more for their ticket which included an hour earlier entry and access to this lounge space with its own seating, live music, and bar serving highballs in actual coupes, flutes, and glasses. The latter of which became a bad idea towards the end of the night when many of the VIPs had their fair share of the all you can drink cocktails and said glasses began to break.
Hello Nori had a handsome display of fresh sashimi by the VIP lounge entrance. This was kept cool by the block of carved ice in their logo.
They also had an aburi and sushi roll station with the likes of a tamago roll, a California roll topped with salmon sashimi and ikura, a tempura battered deep fried dynamite roll, and tuna belly maki with green onion.
The most popular was definitely their charcoal torched aburi oshi in salmon with jalapeño and tuna with creamy mayo. You loaded your plate and accompanied it with self severed soy, wasabi, and pickled ginger.
As for the Science of Cocktail food competition, we were here to try and judge their hand rolls, which also happens to be their restaurant’s claim to fame. Each is rolled to order with a gathering of rice into a sheet of Nori and then scooping the desired filling between cucumber, spicy shrimp, crab, and truffle lobster. Given how much each roll sells for at their restaurant, being able to have unlimited servings of this was worth the cost of the VIP ticket alone.
Crispy Nori, warm rice, and sustainable seafood rolled to order. They don’t look like much, but the joy of eating comes from the dipping and biting of it like a burrito. And the fact that each was simple and clean with a warmth that filled the belly.
We would only be judging the truffle lobster hand roll. I liked the flavour of the sweet crustacean, but didn’t get much truffle. And when compared to the crab roll, it was only a narrow difference. Delicious and worth the novelty and brand, but it lacked in presentation, originality, and did not have a scientific element too. Therefore it did not win big for the competition. Nonetheless I ate 5!
The judges would then tally our votes in the closed off back room area for some privacy and standing room. It was here we discovered Hello Nori’s secret menu item. A back room Beef tartar tartlet with chimichurri and crème fraîche. A heavier bite that was rich and lush in comparison to their regular sushi offering. We had a couple given the special treatment.
From here my sobriety continued as I was expected to be present and cognizant to help present the judges decision and declare our winners. We were given a time of 10pm, only for it to be pushed to 1045pm and thus missing last call for all the alcohol.
Thankfully we were tired and sough seats in front of the centre stage to rest our weary feet. There, we caught the final cocktail competitor and took in a drag lip sync from our host that had everyone in the crowd singing along in their inebriated state.
Naturally I missed out on a lot of the cocktails due to my responsibility and circumstance, luckily during our earlier access we did our best to try as much as we could. And they are as follows.
Tempo gin had their Gin Cosmopolitan cocktail premixed and shooting in a fountain stream for easy serving.
Beefeater gin had a freezer martini. Another premixed cocktail whose chilled temperature gave the martini a silky viscous texture.
On the Rocks came as they are, as a ready to serve and drink, premixed Old Fashion in a bottle. Made using Knob Creek Kentucky straight bourbon whisky.
In the VIP lounge we had the Nutrl Vodka Painted Mule featuring smeared on cocktail paint for a classic Moscow Mule redone with ginger beer, lime, and sugar.
Maker’s Mark added beeswax to their bottles of Kentucky straight bourbon whisky to show ticket holders how the addition of local honey can affect this simple cocktail of Beeswax infused Maker’s Mark, honey, and lemon.
Freehouse Collective makes another appearance with their Beautiful You cocktail, ever churning in a vortex tornado. Aperol, tequila, passionfruit, pineapple, orgeat, lemon, and lustre dust powder for a lovely shimmer.
Coincidentally, situated beside our greens and mushroom display mentioned earlier, the Botanist gin had an Umami Sour. They infused their classic dry gin with cremini mushroom and to it mixed lemon juice, simple syrup, and velvet falernum. Not for everyone, but one of my favourite cocktails and the most memorable given its unique flavour and unmistakeable mushroom aroma.
Sadly at the St. Remy’s Signature table their fountain display was malfunctioning and they were forced to serve their Raspberry Champagne Cocktail from a table side beer dispenser. It did the trick.
Campari doubled down on Negroni with a classic Campari, gin, sweet vermouth negroni and finished it off with a negroni flavored gummy bear that tasted exactly like the cocktail.
At the Lavish Liquid booth they had a Kingston Negorni with Appleton Estate signature blend rum, Campari, Cinzano sweet vermouth, and pineapple. A tropical cocktail that was best chased with the tart and tangy pineapple slice.
One of the most eye catching cocktails was the Maestro Dobel Tequila sea salt margarita. A classic margarita at its base with Dobel Diamanté tequila, citric acid solution, agave syrup, and Scrappy’s lime bitters. It was finished off with a foam sea salt cloud.
It was quite the visual seeing the foam rise from its tube and our bartenders cutting it down to size, catching it and topping the cup with it.
All the aforementioned cocktails I tried was only a smidge of all that was served. And it does not include a whole section of drinks I did not get to explore. There was just so much to see and try, and so many attractions to play with. Therefore the Science of Cocktails continues to be one of the best premium food and drink events of Vancouver, and one that I consistently look forward to and refuse to miss out on. If you have never attended one, I suggest you visit the link below and get on it for next year, as tickets always sell out!