Love for the Locals: Taste of Edmonton 2016

Somehow, the summer has whizzed by! Hopefully some of you have been able to catch the annual Taste of Edmonton!

This year, I was on somewhat of a solo mission. P took an out-of-town friend to the festival on an earlier day, so that they wouldn't miss the whole thing. So, I snagged a full sheet at the "sale price" of $50 for 40 tickets, and split it with a friend instead. P joined me, said friend, and couple others when we decided to go, along with his few remaining tickets.

I tried to be a bit more prepared this year, and brought my own water, while trying to spot restaurants that offered a good ticket to food quantity and quality value. By the end of Sunday, I decided to split my excursion over 2 days, so that I didn't have to worry about packing a lunch on Monday. Working downtown sure has its perks!

Here was my haul from this year:
This year, Farrow Sandwiches made its first appearance! This was their Roast Beef, Horseradish Mayo, Arugula, Pickled Onion, Chips (3 tickets). While its fillings were on point as usual, the bread could have been toasted or something to take it up just a notch.
The Freson Bros. Markets, another newbie offered two types of meat, of which I opted for the Alberta Beef Smoked Brisket w/ Country Hearth Bread & Home Style Pickled Onions (3 tickets). Boy, it was so moist and tender. The pickled onions and dijon mustard complemented it so well, that I didn't even realize until afterwards that the first two plates I tasted consisted of beef and pickled onions.
This was the Spanakopita (Spinach Pie) w/ Tzatziki Dip (3 tickets) from Koutouki It's All Greek To Me. P was looking a little abandoned, and has a strange affinity to spanakopitas, so I took pity on him, threw in one of my tickets, and got one to share. He pointed out that this year's spanakopita was actually better than the one we had a few Taste of Edmontons ago, and he was right! It even changed its shape!
By this time, I was feeling a bit muddled due to how my stomach only had oil, meat, and bread in it, and opted for the Canada Maki (3 tickets) from Kyoto Japanese Cuisine to lighten things up. While P gave me a strange look as I came back with this, it really did hit the spot.
That said, I ended my first day with more meat in the form of Fairmont Hotel Macdonald's Pork Taco w/ Kimchi Slaw & Lemon Thyme Aioli (3 tickets), a reprise from last year, but still pretty good stuff. Now that I think about it, Normand's Bistro, its festival neighbour also had the same offerings as last year. Hmmm...
To start off my lunch the next day, I opted for something my friends got on Sunday night. Pampa served up a mean Garlic Rumpsteak w/ Chimichurri Sauce on Focaccia (4 tickets). It was a pretty decent helping of meat, and flavours were good too!
I had meant to save my last few tickets for La Mar's Shrimp Tostada, but I couldn't find the food truck anywhere, while I still had time to spare. I figured that it just hadn't shown up yet, as other food trucks were still setting up at the time, and ended my lunch break with the Tequila-Lime Chicken Tacos w/ Mexican Rice (3 tickets) from The Three Amigos. Having been there before for dinner, I knew I couldn't go wrong. I admired the choice between mild and hot salsa, which was kind of nice. I got the hot one, of course!
Taste of Edmonton is becoming more costly, and this year's offerings consisted of some repeats, much meat, and many tacos, but it's still a fun way to have a little bit of everything from around the city, while enjoying the sun with some friends. A tip I might have for this year, and potentially for years to come is to maybe bring your own salad.

Go out and grab some grub, but don't forget your sunscreen and/or an umbrella!



Love for the Locals: JACEK Chocolate Couture

Tonight, chocoholics from all walks of life had the opportunity to take a peek behind-the-scenes of JACEK Chocolate Couture at their open house. JACEK's Cocoanista, Jacqueline Jacek opened the doors of the studio location in Sherwood Park this evening for all to witness and taste the bean-to-bar process first hand.

P and I jumped at the chance and headed east. I have to mention that before P introduced me to JACEK about 2 years ago when the shop on the 4th Street Promenade opened, I didn't really like chocolate. Turns out, I just hadn't tasted the real deal yet. Since that fateful day, JACEK has become my go-to chocolate shop, where I purchase chocolate for myself and ship some to my friends across the country. It is clear that Jacqueline pours her heart and soul into the product of combining her two joys; fashion and chocolate.

A few months ago, Jacqueline graced the crowd at Nerd Nite with her presence, where she gave a 20-minute run-down of the process of chocolate making in a talk entitled, Chocolate: Sweet truths, bitter myths, and tantalizing wonders. At the open house, we got to take our sweet time, literally every step of the way.

A storm may have been brewing outside, but another chocolatier storm was brewing inside this fine establishment.
The self-guided tour started with a bottle of water and some hand sanitizer! Don't worry - neither of those go into the chocolate. They just help us prepare for what's to come.
Crack open a cocoa pod, and out pour the cocoa beans!
After the cocoa beans are sorted and roasted, the bitter outer shells are removed to reveal the delectable gems that are cocoa nibs.
Behold! The result of 6 hours in cocoatown.
After 72 hours, the cocoa nibs become this glossy, magical goodness. It's wrapped and rests for about a week, and then it's ready to be transformed into one of the many confections that JACEK offers on the regular.
The tasting continues... samples of chocolate from cocoa beans of varying origins - the 90% and 70% Dominican Republic, 70% Colombia, 70% Peru, and 70% Venezuela (i.e. JACEK's fabric chocolate - the bases for the bean-to-bar products). Alike wine tastings, and apple picking farms, until you taste them one after the other, you don't really get the chance to pay attention to the different notes of fruitiness and richness. By far, the favourite for both P and I was the 90% Dominican Republic! It was very rich and intense in a very, very delicious way. 
Samples of fabric chocolate paired in ingeniously simple ways; the Venezuela with aged Gruyere de Comte cheese, the Dominican Republic whipped into a chocolate mousse topped with chocolate-coated wafer balls, and the Peru melded with scalded cream to make the perfect sipping chocolate.
The fabric line, "accessorized" - the Venezuela with Fleur de Sel, the Peru with Almonds, and the Dominican Republic with Rock Sugar. All 3 were amazing, but the Dominican Republic remained the front runner for P and I.
I came away from this open house, feeling even more knowledgeable about the process and passion that goes into JACEK Chocolate Couture. The moral of this story: if you haven't already, I highly recommend trying any one of JACEK's products. You can start off with JACEK's newest line from this summer, the Picnic Basket Collection
Left to right: Lemonade, Chocolate Dipped Strawberry, Citrus & Basil, Olive Oil & Balsamic, Carrot Caramel, Classic Truffle - 70% Dominican Republic. Photo from JACEK Chocolate Couture shop website.
Just beware... once you start, you might never stop.