Thursday, July 22, 2010

Taste: Victoria’s Festival of Food and Wine

Part Two: Food and Spirits

It’s obvious that I love good food and drink. But it’s the people I’ve met over the past few weeks who have made my culinary adventures so exceptional. As with so many professions, it’s not enough to simply provide a good product. You also need to connect with your audience – and it’s that personal connection that really sells your products.

Here are a few more of the people and products that I connected with at The Main Event, the opening event of Taste, Victoria’s second annual Festival of Food and Wine.

Victoria Spirits
Victoria Spirits is a two-year old, family-owned business. I confessed to Peter Hunt, the Master Distiller, that I knew nothing about gin or other hard alcohols, so he patiently showed me their products. I was surprised to discover that the Oaken Gin, which has been aged in new oak does not taste of oak but instead has a slightly-sweet caramel taste and colour.

The gin is handcrafted in small batches in a wood-fired still and infused with ten natural and wild-gathered botanicals: from juniper berries and rose petals to coriander and orange peel. They also make bitters, whiskey and eaus de vie.

I love the humour in the artwork by Mia Hunt, Peter’s sister and the company’s Creative Director – a young Queen Victoria on the gin, a mature Victoria on the Oaken Gin, and a drag queen on the Twisted and Bitter aromatics.

Partnerships for Opportunity – the African Connection
I did some digging on Victoria Spirits website and discovered that when Peter isn’t distilling gin, he’s fundraising for Partnerships for Opportunity, a non-profit organization committed to providing a supportive foundation for community self-development projects in sub-Saharan Africa.

My brother and I were born in East Africa so I was really interested. An email to Peter provided me with further information. Peter and his partner, Natalie Ward, will be returning to Uganda in October 2010 to build a Vocational Secondary School and Community Cultural Centre in Bwera, a severely impoverished rural community in western Uganda.

Take a look at their proposal. They are specifically asking Canadian schools to become involved – something to consider if you’re a teacher. If you live in Victoria, you might like to attend their Art Lottery Gala on October 1, 2010 at the DaVinci Centre. For more information, call 250-516-6509 or email

Paprika Bistro
Paprika Bistro is a small restaurant in Estevan Village, near Willows Beach in Victoria, one of my sister’s favourite haunts. The restaurant describes itself as a “proud supporter of local farms, wineries and ocean-wise fisheries.” They served the most awesome chocolate truffles at The Main Event. And the chef is Anna Hunt of the talented Hunt family who own Victoria Spirits.

Amuse Bistro
I really enjoyed talking to Bradford Boisvert, the chef and proprietor of Amuse Bistro at Shawnigan Lake in the food-rich Cowichan Valley. Bradford says that he specializes in local food with a French influence and is part of the slow food movement. I thought that holidaymakers would be his principal customers, but he corrected me, explaining that “local people of this Island are very interested in where their food comes from.”

Amuse Bistro opened four years ago and will be joined shortly by a gourmet food store and bakery. Judging by the tiny puff pastries filled with chanterelle mushrooms in a cream sauce, the food at the restaurant must be delicious.

Antichi Sapori Italian Food Company
There was quite a crowd at The Main Event, but there seemed to be an unending supply of food. It was amazing to watch Valerie Sovran Mitchell and Stefano Malgari produce plate after plate of delectable bruschetta. One minute all the plates were empty, the next you were feasting on yet another variety.

Antichi Sapori (old world tastes) Italian Food Company offers boutique catering, home Italian cooking lessons, guest chefs and Italian evenings, and specialty Italian products for the kitchen.

Thank You
My thanks again to Kathy McAree for generously giving me tickets so I could participate in this event. I had a great time and learnt a lot about Vancouver Island’s food culture.

My thanks to the chefs and winemakers and distillers for sharing their talents.

And my thanks to Clare for being my designated driver, for directing my attention to interesting businesses and for keeping me organized.

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