It could be that Bon Appetit has endured as one of Ottawa’s premier foodie events because it’s not too fussy or pretentious. There’s no competition, just a celebration of food and community.
This was the event’s second time at the Ernst & Young Centre (formerly known as the Capital Exhibition Centre), which provided enough space to really spread out. All that elbow room and ceiling height creates an easy, casual experience where visitors can focus on the tastes instead of traffic jams.
Everyone seemed to be in high spirits, which lent to the comfortable atmosphere. A music ensemble played a few sets, as did local songster Tyler Kealey. The overall vibe in the room was laid-back and positive.
If the buzz was any indication, Bon Appetit Ottawa shows no signs of slowing down as a favourite fundraising event.
I got the chance to speak the day after to Candace Power, Food & Beverage Chair on this year’s board of (voluntary) directors.
How many people attended, I asked.
“We had about 1,600 people come through this year; our capacity is about 1,800.” When I suggested the venue’s location could be a factor, Candace agreed: “Our [current] location is not as central as it’s been in the past. In previous years we’ve been fully maxed with every ticket sold out. But we like holding it at a venue that has the space and modern facilities – things guests really appreciate.”
I’ll admit to being pleasantly surprised at the diversity of ages I saw there. Candace agrees: “The spectrum of people is all over the place! You have 19 year olds and 85 year olds. That’s what we’re after. We want the show to be appealing for everyone.”
According to Candace, this “show” has always been a favourite among people genuinely interested in Ottawa’s restaurant and bar scene: “The vendors take the time to speak with guests, tell you what their establishment is all about. It encourages people to check things out and to really get out there and socialize around Ottawa.”
The breakdown of food & beverage participants this year went like this: 47 food + 25 beverage = 75 (full list)
Some hip food trends were well represented at this year’s installation. I wondered if that was by coincidence or design. Past vendors are given first right-of-refusal, but after that, Candace says it’s a matter of recruiting new involvement. So she worked her networks (she’s been involved in the industry for several years, including with Santé Restaurant, a past event vendor) and targeted many of O-Town’s newest establishments.
“We try to encourage potential participants to not only see the value of getting involved from a publicity standpoint, but also – and equally important – giving back to the community by raising a great deal of money for really deserving people.”
Okay, so the biggest culinary trend these days is arguably street food. Lo and behold, Stone Soup Foodworks – one of Ottawa’s first gourmet food trucks – was there ladling some of its namesake specialty: a chilled roasted red pepper gazpacho. And one of 613’s newest kids on the food truck block, Lunch, made its splashy first public appearance with porchetta on crostini.
What surprised me was what a meat lover’s paradise the event was, especially with veganism also trending lately. Fans of barbeque – an enduring food trend represented deliciously that night – found nirvana. An event-within-an-event could very well have erupted: a pulled pork off featuring The SmoQue Shack, Fat Boys Smokehouse, Real Sports Bar & Grill, and Meatings.
Higher-end icons like Lago, Social, le café at the NAC, and Les Fougères balanced well with mainstays like Mamma Grazzi’s, Maxwell’s, Fresco Bistro; a number of pubs (Mill Street, Woody’s, Hooley’s); artisanal producers (Michaelsdolce, True Loaf Bakery, Unrefined Olive); and caterers like Scratch Kitchen and Culinary Conspiracy.
Guests enjoyed loads of farm-to-table offerings, fashionable desserts, celebrated regional wines, and those craft beverages this town cherishes, including Ottawa’s latest rock star soda company:
“As soon as I heard about Harvey & Vern’s [Olde Fashioned Soda], I knew we had to have them!” said Candace.
As for sweeter offerings … well, wow. Let’s just say that young outfits like Carolina’s Box of Goodness and It’s a Matter of Cake made quite an impression, as did The Flour Shoppe and those blended-sur-place milkshakes by The Works. Ottawa Magazine’s Shawna Wagman gave the peanut butter crunch cake from It’s a Matter of Cake a bronze and thinks Matthew Somer “might be Ottawa’s next great cake baker”.
Twenty-five local charities (listed here) – from women’s support to children’s programs to health-related projects – will share the impressive $139,000 raised at this year’s event. I overheard a representative of one beneficiary telling an attendee how much harder it is lately to maintain even the most basic of budgets, and that fundraisers such as Bon Appetit Ottawa can mean the difference between keeping the doors open or closed.
“Because we are such an Ottawa-centric event, we try to give to charities that are the most local and can really use the most support,” Candace said.
The 18th annual Bon Appetit Ottawa will take place on Tuesday, May 6, 2014.