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Cornucopia 2022, culinary stage

I was back at Cornucopia this year, here to celebrate BC’s food and drink scene in its ski town of Whistler. The annual affair boasts a series of different food and drink fueled events from tastings to seminars, workshops to restaurants dinners.

I was lucky enough to attend two culinary stage presentations where you were invited to watch chefs prepare a 4-course tasting menu, as they offered the best tips and practices on how to recreate each for yourself at home.

Guests are seated at a formal clothed table with cutlery made available for each course to come. And as you witness what the chefs are preparing for you live, you are served the exact same dish, so you can try what it should taste like. And each course was paired with a unique wine coupling.

Each dish is accompanied by a paired beverage, making for a very interactive cooking show and one of the events I enjoyed the most at Cornucopia this year.

I attended two such sessions, both very different. The recap of the experience is as follows. The first was Culinary Stage: A Maas of Asian Flavours: Chef Alana Maas of NWCAV. Hosted by Chopped Canada winner, Chef Alana Maas. The session had her teaching the audience her best tips and tricks on preparing popular Asians dishes, as she told stories garnered from her vast kitchen experience.

This included where to source for ingredients and how to prep and then store them for easy set and future meal planning.

Being Asian myself, I was very familiar with the cuisine and truly enjoyed everything we had, but for those with less experience in the cuisine type, this was a great introduction. Every dish was made approachable with a mix of familiar and unique ingredients.

Our first course was Chilled Tofu served with ponzu, pickled daikon, marinated shiitake, gomasio, scallions, and crispy shallots. Like a savoury panna cotta with crunchy deep fried scallion sprinkles to balance off the silken tofu, and tangy pickles for pops of flavour. It was best when you got each of the well curated elements together in a bite.

Here, we addressed what umami was and how to identify this 6th taste sense. “Umami” is the flavour of anything fermented: meat and mushrooms are common sources. And in this dish, that included the ponzu foam as well. Therefore, apple cider was chosen as its drink pairing. To have its umami flavour run parallel with all the others in the dish. Lower than Angels cider co-fermented with Chardonnay.

The second course was a Kimchi Gyoza with a pork and kimchi filling, saam jang aioli, and chili spiced cucumbers. A lovely presentation both on the stage and on the plate. We learned how to fold our dumplings using two different methods and that it is okay to lean on the pre-made wrappers from the store if we don’t want to make from scratch.

We would cook them up in the same pan by browning them first for that golden colouring, then adding water and covering the pan to allow the dumplings to steam. The dumplings should be fully cooked once all the water has evaporated. And the browning of the bottoms continued after, for a perfect crispy bottom.

The sweeter kewpie mayo tamed the heat in the Korean spice, offering a wonderful dip for the otherwise dry dumpling. And the pickles on the side added some needed freshness.

For its pairing we had an Austrian white wine that was recommended when trying to balance out harder to pair foods. Laurenz V Singing Gruner Veltliner. This was a magical pairing I was sure to take note of.

Next, the class addressed the poké trend with this elevated Tuna Tataki “Poke Bowl”. Made with edamame puree, shiso umeboshi corn, seasoned sushi rice, and a sesame yuzu mayonnaise.

This began with the importance of rice and how to properly prepare it. The take away for me is that rice should be used right away, but should also be allowed to rest for 15-30 minutes. So that all the moisture either evaporates or gets reabsorbed back into the rice. And the trick to having both is knowing that rice holds heat long after and will still be warm by the time you get to it.

Next it was the easy salting and searing of the tuna tataki, where once the pan is hot it is a quick sear on each side for 30 seconds, listening out for the sizzle. The finished product should still be raw at the centre.

Everything in the dish came together well. Everyone cleaned their plates. This was a nice, westernized take with the sweet corn salad.

For this they served a Pinot Noir as a lighter red. Ca’ Momi Heartcraft from the Napa Valley. Despite it being lighter, it still had tannins so we found that the red cut through the fish well, offering a good synergy to the dish with its fruit component.

And for the last course we had a Matcha “Tiramisu” made with ume plum wine, roasted peach chutney, and a matcha mascarpone. I am typically not a fan of tiramisu for its mushy texture, but this take made using Asian inspired ingredients won me over.

Instead of sugar it used sweetened condensed milk, and the stewed mango gave the cream-filled dessert some texture. And in order to make it a tiramisu it needed alcohol, so plum wine was used. A very creative take made easy to prepare with a piping bag and mason jar.

And for its drink pairing the same plum wine that was featured in the desert was served in glass. Gekkeikan flavoured plum wine made with real plums. It was an excellent note to end on.

This was a wonderfully ran and organized event, the food and drinks came out timely and the hosts were engaging and the room felt fun, even for me who dined alone, alongside a table with a group of women who were all friends.

Though sadly, my second culinary stage experience was less remarkable. I liked the premise of the event and the values of the restauranteurs, but if it were not for our engaging table mates, the session would have been a lot of excess waiting. It felt more like a dinner service than class, as the chefs fell behind and struggled to keep up and within the allot time. So towards the end of the session opted for short cuts and focusing more on the cooking than presenting to the crowd.

Culinary stage: Cordelia’s Locket Midday Morsels

Cordelia’s Locket is a restaurant in Squamish ran by two friends that found success in running their own beverage company so expanded into the restaurant business, during the pandemic.

Their journey has seen them transition from front of house managers to back of house and kitchen operations, having had difficulties finding and retaining a head chef. And as they were empowered to undertake this journey, they too wanted to empower women in the hospitality industry, an industry that tends to favour men in the kitchen.

We meet them now on the cusp of a new direction for Cordelia’s Locket. As they have begun the process of sponsoring women and their immediate families from Iran to work within their kitchen. Chefs and bakers who will immigrate to learn and create a new life in Canada. Hearing all this gave them my full support immediately.

The menu was diverse, each modern take on a familiar classic paired with a complementary cocktail. They described their food has “bougie comfort”, and served in small plates tapas style, much like at their actual restaurant. Given the execution and presentation I found it more homespun, and that everything tasted a lot better and was more professional than it looked.

Seeing as the class started earlier on a Saturday morning, the menu was brunch inspired. Our first course was a Cinnamon Oat Scone with house made Clotted cream and a Cherry Cardamon Preserve. The scones were prepared in the convention centre’s facility downstairs and the demonstration was the plating of it. Fresh out of the oven it ate like a cookie. Not much to look at, but elevated with the butteriness of the thick cream and the sweetness of the berry jam.

This was paired with a Mezcal Mule. Instead of the classic vodka and ginger beer in a copper mug, it was smoky mezcal and ginger beer in a glass with lime. What made for a refreshing digestive, didn’t necessarily match the high tea feel of the harder scones on plate.

Next course was Red Pepper Egg with Chimichurri. With oven malfunctions and the need to lay slices of peppers on to a pan and crack fresh eggs into each, this was a time-consuming large batch recipe that had our chef duo racing the clock; while trying their best to engage with the audience, who were already distracted, chatting amongst themselves.

What looked like a simple recipe proved delicious with fresh sweet peppers and quality eggs. Their own take on this was the use of mint and basil for a sweeter chimichurri sauce, as appose to the traditional cilantro and oregano.

With this we enjoyed a spicy and zesty Gin Caesar, although having used the Walter’s vegan Caesar mix meant there was no clam juice present in the cocktail, and this would be considered more of a Bloody Mary instead.

The third course was the most time-consuming. They saw the technique on TikTok and decided to try it for themselves, for the first time, here today. You make pancake dough, but instead of cooking them flat in a pan, you use a squeeze bottle to squirt out the batter in lines, so that they firm up to resemble spaghetti. So, this is their Pancake Pasta with Berry Maple Syrup. To make enough for the entire room proved labour intensive, but the result was whimsical and the flavour tasty with sweet blueberry.

Our cocktail pairing for this was the Classic Champagne Cocktail, which I have never heard of, let alone tried. Sugar cube, lemon juice, angostura bitters, and bubbles. It was no doubt on the sweetener side with the sugar, which was more so if you failed to stir it up.

Our final course was not made before the audience, but quickly bulked assembled and toasted in the kitchen downstairs. This was intended to be a Croque Madame, but with time constraints the usual sunny side up egg topping the iconic sandwich, was scrambled instead for easier preparation and a quicker service.

I did like the Bloody Mary pairing as the very tomatoey cocktail acted like a chilled tomato soup for this ham and grilled cheese sandwich. The latter being well toasted with a buttery char.

In summary, I highly recommend checking out any of Cornucopia’s culinary stage sessions as a great way to learn more about what goes into your food, for tips on how to prepare restaurant quality meals within your own home, and to have a more intimate meal with the chefs that prepare them.

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