3 Comments Karen HamiltonSeptember 22, 2009
I love chili. It doesn’t even have to be that good. As a child, I would have trouble sleeping the night before a planned excursion to Victoria, with visions of BC Ferry chili and New England clam chowder dancing in my head. Now, grown up and often (rightly) accused of being a food snob, I still have a soft spot for the spicy, meaty stuff and would never pass up an opportunity to indulge in chili.
It was therefore with much anticipation and carnivorous craving that I headed to the 2009 Gastown Blues and Chili Festival, a first-year block party on Abbott between Cordova and Water. I was joined by friends Lawrence and Hayley, who graced this blog once before with their participation in Operation Operation. Here is our collective story.
We arrived an hour into the festivities, where the cordoned area was already jam-packed with musicians, music lovers, cooks, judges, chili, and eager taste testers. At the front of it all was the beer garden and the sound stage, kept constantly occupied with live blues performances or the emcee stylings of BT’s Dawn Chubai.
Neighbouring the doors of the Revel Room was the ticket booth for the chili cook-off tastings. One could buy a $15 bracelet for 2oz samples of all the entries, or be more selective with $1/$3 tickets for 2oz/8oz quantities. Our threesome opted for the bracelets and proceeded directly to the white tents scattered throughout the block, the scent of red meat, spices, and peppers already getting our appetites in gear.
As we quickly discovered, the 2oz samples were more than enough to appraise each contender. In fact, 2 ounces proved far too generous; we were absolutely stuffed after only 10 booths, and had to ask for half portions even after the first three. The 1-hour breather we decided to take at the nearby Gastown Farmers Market was essential for some culinary contrast, chair time, and iced tea.
When we returned at 3 o’clock, we were dismayed to see the remaining tents devoid of food and cookery. Left on those tables were the red checkered tablecloths and apologetic “sold out” signage. Had we known that taking a chili break would result in a shut-out, I think we would have forged ahead after our 10 samples. It was disappointing, yes, but being quite satiated from our earlier tastings and the bounty of the farmers market, we were more saddened that festival visitors arriving in the last 4 hours of the event would be denied such tasty dining.
There were still eating options available to latecomers, and plenty of blues stylings, of course. Restaurant staff returned to their home bases to welcome the converted for dinner. On Abbott Street, the ticket booth now sold watermelon slices for a buck. The beer garden by the Revel Room was still in full swing, and there was still even a few scoops of chili available from some of the original competitors by the time we left at 4pm.
Suggestions for next time
It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that the chili ran out because of those $15 bracelets and the $3 portions of 8 whopping ounces. With the crowds, it would have been too easy for bracelet wearers to return for seconds to their favourite booths before their servers got suspicious. And the value was certainly there to take advantage of; I would have personally paid up to $5 each for an 8oz portion of the top 3 entries. Paying $15 for 18×2 = 36 theoretical ounces of chili goodness seemed a crime!
Next time around, we’d like to suggest stamp cards in lieu of bracelets to control portions. It may work better to ensure that all festival visitors get exactly one shot to try a particular booth’s chili (fair to the booth, fair to the rest of the crowd, methinks). If a restaurant excels in its chili concoction, I daresay they merit extra payment for additional portions, no?
For festival goers, here are our tips for the next Gastown Blues and Chili Festival (which I truly hope is something that happens next year):
- Bring your own (tea)spoon and save a little plastic, pretty please.
- Bring a bottle of your favourite coolant. The lineup for bottled water was the same as the one for ticket sales, and you don’t want to be caught unprepared with fire in your mouth.
- Don’t wear white. Hayley and I did and were too worried about our clothes to be fully relaxed. Lawrence wisely chose a white shirt striped with red and orange, which he claims could have camouflaged any spills. Sure, buddy.
- Arrive early and hungry. The later you get there, the less likely you’ll get a shot to have chili with your blues.
- If you’re coming with a partner and the festival still offers a $15 bracelet option with 2oz samples…share it. It was a hell of a lot of chili, even for Lawrence, who once scarfed down at greasy spoons with the best of them. We were done after 10 ounces!
Chili tasting notes
Although we didn’t get to try all the chili that was on hand for the cook-off, all three of us felt like we got our money’s worth sampling the 10 that we did get to taste. We share our thoughts below.
Our first chili try of the day incorporated three different types of shredded bison meat. Nice heat in the back of the throat with a gamey finish that didn’t fully manifest until our 2oz sample was completely inhaled. It appealed to me overall but I suspected that it could be forgotten as the tastings wore on. Lawrence found the flavour to be a little thin.
Black Frog’s entry was a chili verde made with diced pork, tomatillo, corn, and other greenstuffs. Clean and refreshing, making it an unforgettable sample amongst the more unusual offerings had that day. This was my and Hayley’s favourite out of the ones we tried and Lawrence’s runner-up choice. Points were docked for a lack of true smoky or BBQ essence and its watery first impression.
A memorable concoction containing bratwurst, chipotle, porter, bourbon, and dark chocolate. The chocolate was the standout ingredient, combining with the liquors to produce molasses and hickory notes. All three of us agreed that this was easily our favourite of the “looks like a chili, tastes like a chili” contenders.
Chili-cum-gumbo of pork rib, chicken, Mexican chorizo, and what Hayley guesses are Roman beans. With its pale complexion and lack of heat, it resembled stew much more than it did anything else. With the high expectations we had for Boneta, this entry did disappoint. Perhaps it was a deliberate ploy to garner greater attention for The Diamond, younger sister to Boneta. Who really knows for sure…
What a bland, soggy mess. This chili seeped through our double-paper-cup containers before we were even halfway through our tasting. I didn’t even think to take a photo, so unimpressed was I.
Lawrence said it best: “This must have been made with the pigs that didn’t make it onto Noah’s Ark.”
We didn’t fare much better at La Casita. Bonus points for the shredded cheese that topped our samples, providing a delightful ooziness in the mouth. But those same points get docked for the blatent cheese-for-your-vote exchange and the overall impression of “cafeteria-style chili” that this entry imparted.
It’s easy to see why the Chill Winstons booth won the popular vote. It was colourful, friendly, aesthetically pleasing in an Earls’ Girls kind of way, and was the only booth in our experience to announce that their secret ingredient was love.
Besides the love, we found rum, Red Stripe beer, and shredded pork in the mix. Lawrence thought it needed corn, kick, and a bit more ingredient breadth to win him over as a good chili, but we all thought that as a filling, it’d make for a terrific pulled pork sandwich.
Block party host Revel naturally entered into this chili cook-off. Their take was sweet and smoky, likely a product of the woodchip-smoked meat, Makers’ Mark bourbon, Agave nectar, and coffee bean rub. A bit of crunch and contrast provided by the slivers of celery root. If it weren’t so wet that it soaked through our paper containers, this would be higher up in our rankings.
I was a little perplexed by the “3 odd balls and a ladle” sign next to the pot of chili at the Wild Rice booth, but I suppose it makes sense for an entry that contained mini meatballs of lamb, bison, and pork mince. Kudos for the East-meets-Deep-South concept…but the three of us were still seeking glimmers of Texan or Mexican flair that didn’t seem to be present in the more exotic entries.
So.cial at Le Magasin
Hayley loved this chili. She particularly enjoyed the extra-strong hit of (organic) tomato; I shared her enthusiasm for the squares of bison meat that marbled away in our mouths as we chewed. Lawrence’s sample was devoid of bison so he had to ask us whether this entry was vegetarian. He was not a fan; I was leaning towards a favourable impression despite the ketchup-red colouring and Prego-like consistency.
Results of the Gastown Blues & Chili cook-off
Our verdict wouldn’t be complete given our partial sampling. Instead, give these pieces a read for takes from the official festival judges and event promoters:
- Gastown Indeed! 16 Bowls of Chili & Blues Shut Down Abbott St. (Scout Magazine on Sept 21, 2009)
- Gastown Blues and Chili Fest (Gastown Blog on Sept 21, 2009)
Your take on the 2009 Gastown Blues & Chili Festival
2 Comments Degan BeleyJuly 25, 2009
I was looking forward to exactly 3 things this summer: getting my hair coloured, the Pourhouse opening and The Diamond opening. The Pourhouse is still coming up, but so far me and my new hair have been very happy hanging out at what is surely one of Vancouver’s best new bars.
Like their name, they are all class. Sought-out antiques and chandeliers provide a contrast to the sparkly diamond napkin-weight and custom diamond wallpaper. The bright windows and dark wood are another happy contrast, but the biggest surprise is how well the asian-inspired kitchen pairs with the pub-style front of house.
I’ve had the rock cod sub spiked with Togarashi, and the duck noodles – both delicious, but the jewel of this kitchen is the Sloping Hills pork gyoza. Soy, mirin and pork pinched with love and piled into a bowl. I hesitated on ordering it (plus a sub) on my first visit and now I’ve had them every time I’ve been. They’re necessary.
Opened by Mark Brand, Josh Pape & Sophie Taverner, this is as good a crew as you can get in this town and they will make sure you’re well taken care of.
3 Comments Karen HamiltonMarch 25, 2009
Wednesday is my breather from the frenzy of the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival. I’ll be back in the scene in some way, shape, or form on Thursday and Friday. Till then, please enjoy this collection of Wine Fest recaps from the official and alternative presses, which I will continue to update as new stuff comes in.
From the wire
Reports from TV, radio, mags, and rags:
- Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival is just around the corner (Anthony Gismondi, The Vancouver Sun)
- BC wines face homecoming test (Alexandra Gill, The Globe and Mail)
- Good Eats: B.C. wines take centre stage at Vancouver Playhouse Int. Wine Festival (Bruce Stephen, North Shore Outlook)
- Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival Launches (Anya Levykh, Metro Vancouver)
- Reality Check in Vancouver (Peter Mitham, Wines & Vines)
- Playhouse Wine Fest Cheat Sheet (David Scholefield, Vancouver Magazine)
From the blogosphere
What bloggers and online publications have been saying:
- How to Survive the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival 2009 (The Blog According to Buzz)
- International Wine Fest 2009: live coverage of BC wines at Earls and West (Tiny Bites)
- Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival – Day 1 (Wine Bard)
- Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival Begins! (Full-Bodied)
- Winefest Blog #269: The 1st Day In The Big Shoes Of Sid Cross (Scout Magazine)
- WineFest Blog #628: Dinner At Bishop’s And 17 Again At Boneta (Scout Magazine)
- Wine Festival Kick Off (Urban Diner)
- Joy in a Glass (Urban Diner)
- The 2009 Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival Kicks Off (Vinifico)
- WineFest Blog #270: Heidi Noble As Globe & Mail “Flashpoint” (Scout Magazine)
- International Wine Fest 2009: live coverage of Caymus Vineyards at CinCin (Tiny Bites)
- WineFest Blog #271: Sid Cross Shares His CinCin Tasting Notes (Scout Magazine)
- 2009 Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival – Brunello, Barolo and Beyond… event (Vinifico)
- WineFest Blog #272: 2 Wines And 20 Vintages With Sid Cross (Scout Magazine)
- WineFest Blog #273: The Trade Tasting & Mike Bernardo’s Shoe (Scout Magazine, with a gallery containing my photography)
- CedarCreek Winemaker Dinner at Bishops (City Food Magazine)
- Make Wine She Said: Divas at the Met (City Food Magazine)
- New Wines to Try at the Festival: Pink Elephant Sparkling (City Food Magazine)
- Vancouver WineFest Thursday Trade Tasting Report (Full-Bodied)
- Andrea Vescovi Named Sommelier of the Year (Urban Diner)
- Caymus Wine Dinner At Cincin (Urban Diner)
- 2009 Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival – Beringer Private Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Vertical Tasting (Vinifico)
- 2009 Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival – Wine folks talk about their wines and the value of social media (Vinifico)
- WineFest Blog #274: Spit Bucket Barricades & Fashionistas (Scout Magazine)
- *News Flash* 2010 Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival (Wine Bard)
- WineFest Blog #295: Five Days And Nights & Still Going Strong (Scout Magazine)
- Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival – Summary (Wine Bard)
From the Twitterverse
If you’d like to see the full collection of #vpiwf commentary, you can look it up on Twemes, which has the added benefit of showing you all Flickr photos (like mine) tagged with vpiwf.
Update: Wine Fest personalities on Twitter
Would you like to know which participating wineries to follow after the Wine Fest winds down? Here’s a list to start you off.
- @township7 – Township 7, BC
- @blackcloudwine – Black Cloud Wine, BC
- @dfwinery – Dunham & Froese, BC
- @stoneboat – Stoneboat Vineyards, BC
- @road13vineyards – Road 13 Vineyards, BC
- @prospectwinery – Prospect Winery, BC
- @tinhorncreek – Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, BC
- @sokolblosser – Sokol Blosser Winery, Oregon
I had a heck of a time finding many participants on Twitter from outside of BC, although there are at least 60 wineries on Twitter from around the world. Please help me flag down any wineries that you follow that were represented at this year’s Wine Fest.
Share Wine Fest news with me
Help me add to this Wine Fest round-up by dropping a comment with related articles on the interwebs.
Here is my share of visual documentation of this week’s festivities. Click on a thumbnail and use the Prev and Next buttons to navigate through the rest.