More variety than ever at 18th charity Bon Appetit food + drink extravaganza

More variety than ever at 18th charity Bon Appetit food + drink extravaganza

Always a great deal at $85, with $50 tax receipt given. If only they could lose the gloomy E & Y Centre barn

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MAY 07 14 – 10:15 AM — The good news is, there seemed a more varied selection of great food and drink Tuesday at the 18th annual edition of Bon Appetit, which in almost two decades has raised slightly over $2 million for some two-dozen charities in and around the nation’s capital. At $85 a ticket — all-inclusive, except the ridiculous $7 charge to park in the middle of nowhere — some 1,400 patrons received a $50 charity tax receipt, making the evening all the more attractive.

Sadly, attendance was down for the second year from an estimated 1,500 in 2013 (plus 300 or so staff and volunteers, which pushes the total this time to roughly 1,700). No real idea why, except perhaps the economy is still in the pits and employers can’t close big boxes fast enough, or replace high-priced talent with bargain interns. Alas the winter was insufferably relentless, and perhaps folks aren’t yet into the spring slurp-and-nosh spirit. (Last year the weather was so inviting I celebrated with a bright Hawaiian shirt; this year, it was black turtleneck under a tweed jacket for me.)

This is the third year organizers have hosted the three-plus hour event in the remote (albeit, more spacious) E & Y Centre, best described as a yawning Dreamliner-size hanger with lighting that seems only slightly more cheerful than Madame Tussauds Chamber of Horrors. Recall Bon Appetit had to abandon the historic Aberdeen Pavilion at Lansdowne Park a few years back so developers could have their way with Lansdowne Park, a mauling still in progress. While gridlock-weary folks like me may yearn to return, or at least set up closer to known civilization, Bon Appetit organizer Jantine Van Kregten from Ottawa Tourism says decisions haven’t been made about the venue next year.

bon8Top, brand manager Grayson McDiarmid with Chris Boerger of Harvey & Vern’s Olde Fashioned Soda; bottom, Benjamin Bercier and Martine Gauthier of Cassel Brewery in Casselman.

“We need to talk with Lansdowne people to see whether there’s even a possibility,” Van Kregten says.

IMG_2640“We don’t know the status of the Aberdeen. But I think today’s event is great, to see new participants like the food trucks, MeNa restaurant, Hooch Bourbon House, Brothers Beer Bistro and Lunenburg Pub. And Les Fougères restaurant from Chelsea has long been a favourite.

“What I love is the spaciousness that allows people to move around. People can chat with the chefs, the owners, and the lines are not overwhelming. Even when you’re waiting you are chatting with neighbours in line getting their advice and tips,” Van Kregten says.

For the record, I’d have to agree with her on those points. And, full marks for organizing efficient, competent manned recycling stations, and sufficient places to sit/stand to nosh.

On a more culinary note, I was delighted to see most restaurateurs are finally moving beyond sliders that seemed ubiquitous as recently as last year.

Also mercifully in decline are tacos (I didn’t spot any, but there may have been one lurking somewhere).

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And the been-there, done-than pork belly seems to be losing popularity, although a few restaurants still served them this time around. Of the lot, chef Danny Mongeon’s braised belly at Hooch, (top photo) was the most tender, cubed into manageable portions and balanced with compressed watermelon for freshness, pickled melon rind, questo fresco (fresh cheese), mint honey and jalapeño for a welcome spicy kick. (The belly was cured one week, braised, smoked, then fried in duck fat to crispen the outside.)

Above bottom photo, from Mill Street Brewery clam, mussel. creamy chowder with not too much potato.

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Again, Jennifer and Charles Part from Les Fougères (photos, the ones in green above) served a thoughtful, balanced dish of home pork sausage with lemongrass, coconut, lime leaf and Thai basil on refreshing mango and cucumber salad finished with spicy vinaigrette, roasted peanuts. (I just love they put so much thought into their tastes and textures.)

bon5Top, from newcomer MeNa restaurant on Preston Street, cauliflower panna cotta with fried sunchoke, puffed wild rice and cilantro. Bottom left, Italian deli skewers from Fratelli. Bottom right, scalloped potato with braised Mariposa wild boar belly, carrot slaw and herb vinaigrette from Maxwell’s Bistro.

While I physically couldn’t sample each food booth (SmoQue Shack’s ribs looked enticing and generous, but by then I was stuffed) I appreciated the depth of home-baked beans from Fatboy’s Southern Smokehouse enriched not only with house-made Tennessee barbecue sauce, but brisket drippings and meat.

Ah, so much to sample …

bon6Above clockwise from top, the Courtyard Restaurant attractively presented trio by chef Ian Reed: Sous vide Nagano pork belly, acidulated Asian pear spheres, kinchi purée, wild rice crispies, green onion; flourless chocolate cake, buckthorn curd, caramelized white chocolate ganache, Maltesers crumble; pheasant terrine of liver mousse, toasted sourdough, lingonberry, pickle.

bon4Clockwise from top left: From Raond Kitchen food truck, Korean rice bowl with tofu; Angry Dragonz food truck’s five-spice pulled pork banh mi bites with cucumber, cilantro, pickled carrot, daikon; Major Craig’s sesame baked wontons with Major Craig’s black garlic whisky jam, black garlic whipped cream cheese; Brothers Beer Bistro’s citrus-cured Norwegian salmon with crème fraîche, cracker, cucumber-mint-grapefruit salad.

bon2Top, Fatboys Southern Smokehouse pit chef Rob Plummer; bottom, Fatboys pulled pork sliders with pork jus, smoked beans with brisket and molasses.

bon3Top, owner Timothy Van Dyke and baker Cassie Gibb from Lunch food truck. Bottom left, Timothy’s duck with aged Balderson spring roll with blueberry chutney. Bottom right, Cassie’s profiterole with chocolate cream and (everyone’s favourite) candied bacon.

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