JASPER, ALTA – Devour! Food Film Fest is aptly named--a hunger-satisfying melange of culinary creations with likewise thought-provoking and entertaining films (from Canada and beyond). And while the east-coast based festival created by chef Michael Howell and Lia Rinaldo is celebrating over 10 years of food and film, several satellite festivals around the world offer a sampling of what can be found at the annual 'big kahuna' Nova Scotia event too. Lucky us, Jasper is one of those sites.
Together with the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge (JPL) the Devour! Food Film Fest (Canadian Rockies edition) brings local chefs and Alberta-inspired dishes to the glam event, plus festival founder Howell's fish and seafood-focused offerings--seared mahi mahi, anyone? And it's all wrapped in a weekend of short films, a wine and beer tasting here and there, and a glorious mountain location as backdrop.
Howell says he comes to his love of cooking and the arts honestly, studying theatre and performing for years in Toronto--The Shaw Festival included. Eventually training as a chef in Chicago and bringing his expertise and an artist's eye back home to Nova Scotia, Howell is now considered a 'leading light' in the culinary movement in Canada, with 30 years in the hospitality industry.
"The cabin crawl, chili competition, tastings: these events and beautiful mountain locale create a great mood for the festival, but the gala dinner is the main event--showing movies and their impactful relationship to food (and wines). It's a unique way to do a food/film festival. And yes, I tend to bring Nova Scotia with me to the festivals," laughed Howell, who's heading to the food/film festival in Sonoma next, oysters in hand.
Alberta is always well represented at the JPL's Rocky Mountain edition of Devour!, (now in its fourth year) with chefs including Calgary's Cam Dobranski (who wowed with a fan-favourite sirloin chili) and--at the gala-- his take on eggs-for-dinner to pair with the film 'Eggs'. Imagine watching a fun short film while enjoying egg yolk and ricotta ravioli carbonara over a pancetta cream sauce. Film watchers and tasters likely looked at an egg a little differently afterwards.
Edmonton chef Paul Shufelt, saying he loved his second time participating at Devour!, matched the Irish film 'Bacon & Greens' with a braised lamb dish featuring creamed kale and bacon, potato gnocchi and pickled sour cherries. One could feel a bit of the Irish countryside with every bite.
The sensory-heavy film 'The Cocktail Party' was further enhanced by JPL chef Harris Sakalis' spicy chicken satay and Asian BBQ pork belly steamed bun. Invited to put in ear plugs to enjoy the dish and drive home the point, guests could focus just on the bold, spicy notes of the dish--no other distractions: but one of the festival's clever ways of combining food and art in unique, tasty ways.
Remember being a kid, and catching snowflakes on your tongue or practically eating the snow that smashed into your face during a snowball fight? At the Devour! gala, Duchess Bake Shop's Tricia Sullivan brought the idea to life through a dessert of walnut crumb, poached rhubarb, birch cream cheese mousse and a rosemary meringue that paired beautifully with the silly and funny short film, Gustav The Snow Chef.
Howell says some 400 films are submitted to the festival each year, with about 100 making a final cut. The dramas, documentaries and comedies are meant to inspire not only the chefs but the guests, who find plenty of fodder for interesting dinner conversation as the films, courses and evening progress. "No one has seen a festival like this before," he said. "And matched with this beautiful mountain location, it keeps people coming back, year after year."
Attending one of the JPL signature events is a no-brainer for Peter Keith, co-owner of Meuwly's in Edmonton. The deli, which focuses on cured meats from local producers, was showcased at the festival's beer tasting event, (with Alberta Beer Festivals) a chance for Keith to talk shop and show guests how to create a charcuterie board.
"We're a niche business and Devour! is a different audience we can share our story with," said Keith, adding he loves the chance to spend a weekend with industry colleagues too. "We shine a spotlight on Alberta producers, and take away the pretense that can surround food. We want people to enjoy the foods they like, pair it with whatever beer or wine they like--it's about being honest and authentic."
Jasper is just a few hours' drive from Edmonton or Calgary, making Devour! the perfect weekend getaway for foodies, film buffs and anyone looking for a special weekend in Alberta's mountain parks. See devourfest.com and fairmont.com/jasper for how to be part of next year's event.