Blind Tastings – Sushi Master Makes the Ancient Art Approachable for Everyone

Sushi is my ultimate comfort food. There is nothing on earth that makes me feel better and happier. So I was delighted to dedicate my eighth #NaBloPoMo post to my favourite food!

The event – “Anyone Can Make Sushi”, a free sushi-making class held at the beautiful Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre. Sponsored by Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to promote the preparation of authentic Japanese meals, the two 90-minute sessions featured Chef Takayuki Omi of the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel.

Chef Taka began each class with a brief over view of washoku – the traditional method of Japanese cooking and its emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients. He used the phrase “One Soup, Three Sides” to highlight the Japanese way of preparing and eating meals. Aside from soup, sides could include rice, pickles, and seafood. Sushi is often central to a Japanese meal.

The class was actually treated to Chef Taka’s own version of clear seafood soup before the sushi-making exercise began. The nori-based broth was fortified with dried kelp.

Photo by Cathy Browne

Photo by Cathy Browne

Photo by Cathy Browne

Then Chef Taka demonstrated how to assemble the hand-rolled sushi, and everyone added their own twist to their creations. Note the Minnie Mouse fan cooling off the sushi rice.

Photo by Cathy BrownePhoto by Cathy Browne Photo by Cathy BrownePhoto by Cathy BrownePhoto by Cathy BrownePhoto by Cathy BrownePhoto by Cathy BrowneFor me, one of the highlights was seeing so many kids at the sessions with their parents. It was a privilege to meet Chef Taka, who gave so generously of his talent and time. And I discobvered a hidden gem in the Nikkei Centre, which I’ll be exploring in more detail.

Not to mention the fact that Chef Taka made me nigiri, since I don’t eat seaweed!

Photo by Cathy BrowneThank you Chef!

Photo by Cathy Browne

Blind Tastings – Jockeying for Cocktail Supremecy at The Deighton Cup

Attending The Deighton Cup was an awesome experience – and not just for the fashion and the horses. There was also bourbon!


I dropped by the Jockey Lounge on the roof of Hastings Racecourse to check out the 2nd Annual Cocktail Jockey Mixology Competition, presented by Bulleit Bourbon, and was shaken and stirred by the creativity and talent of some of the best mixologists in Vancouver as they created their own versions of an Old Fashioned.

Here are just a few of the cocktail jockeys in action, and their drinks.

First up, last year’s winner Sean McGuigan of The Clough Club and his Deighton’s Landing – marrying Bulleit Bourbon with Douglas Fir liquer and essence.

The Clough Club's Seam McGuigan was the first winner of the Cocktail Jockey Mixology Competition

The Clough Club’s Seam McGuigan was the first winner of the Cocktail Jockey Mixology Competition in 2013

The Deighton's Landing

The Deighton’s Landing

Inspired by the railway workers who helped connect this country from coast to coast, Buck Friend from Bambudda Gastown introduced his Chinaman in Kentucky creation – a visually stunning cocktail incorporating the signature bourbon, house-made limoncello and his own Asian bitters.

Buck Friend of Bambudda creates his Asian-inspired cocktail

Buck Friend of Bambudda creates his Asian-inspired cocktail

The finished Chinaman in Kentucky cocktail

The finished Chinaman in Kentucky cocktail

Julia Diakow from Reflections in the historic Rosewood Hotel Georgia presented the Ring of Fire – a cocktail combining the Bulleit Bourbon, blueberry oleo saccharum, bitters and her own Scrappy Firewater tincture. It was as much fun to watch it being made as it was to sample!

Julia Diakow made a cocktail that was entertaining to watch - and sample

Julia Diakow made a cocktail that was entertaining to watch – and sample

The Beauregard

The Ring of Fire

And after many more contenders and concoctions I wasn’t able to stay for because I was shooting hats – I returned to see the winner announced and the trophy awarded. Congratulations, Cam Brown from the Blackbird Public House and Oyster Bar, and his Bartender’s Wake-Up!

The winning cocktail - Cam Brown's Bartender's Wake-Up

The winning cocktail – Cam Brown’s Bartender’s Wake Up

Second runner-up Thor Paulson from The Diamond and his Race Day Mounteback cocktail, and first runner-up Amber Bruce from Cuchillo and her Beauregarde creation were also honoured.

As you can see, Cam couldn’t stop smiling – and why not? Not only did he come away with the trophy and bragging rights – but he also pocketed $1,000. And his winning recipe will be featured on bottleneck tags of Bulleit Bourbon in all BC liquor stores.

Not a bad day’s work, even if it was pretty hot in a suit…


The happy winner!

Cam was joined by the Competition’s top-tier judges – Jay Jones, Director of Wine and Beverage Canucks Sports and EntertainmentMark Brand, Hospitality Impressario; Dani Tartarin, Bar ManagerThe Keefer Suites and founder, the Canadian Professional Bartenders Association; Tyson Villeneuve, The Social Concierge and Josh Pape, Wildebeest.

At the end of a long competition, the judges and winner happily pose for a group shot

At the end of a long competition, the judges and winner happily pose for a group shot

As an added treat, I’m able to share Cam Brown’s winning recipe for the Bartender’s Wake Up.Slowly but surely, I’m becoming a cocktail lover. That’s my #EyeOpener from The Deighton Cup!

Bartender’s Wake Up

2 ounces bullet
.25 home made coffee bitters
-375ml JJ Bean East Side Roast cold brew coffee,
Zest of a whole lemon and orange,
Quarter cup devil’s root.
Vacuum-sealed and sous vide for 1.5 hours at 70 degrees.

1 vanilla infused sugar cubes.
– seal vanilla bean and sugar cubes in a vessel for 2 weeks

Stirred and served on the rocks in a stemmed cocktail glass.

Garnished with an orange zest and sprayed with lemon oil but discard the peel


Blind Tastings – New Zealand Oysters Meet BC Spirits

I love supporting independent businesses. So I was excited at the prospect of visiting Long Table Distillery, Vancouver’s first micro-distillery, for a sampling of 46 South Fish Co. New Zealand oysters and an assortment of Long Table spirits.

Long Table Distillery is Vancouver's first micro-distillery, focusing on sustainability and local ingredients.

Long Table Distillery is Vancouver’s first micro-distillery, focusing on sustainability and local ingredients.

NZ oysters married well with Long Table Distillery's locally-produced spirits.

New Zealand oysters married well with Long Table Distillery’s locally-produced spirits.

Mind you, my excitement was a wee bit tempered by the fact that I’m not used to eating oysters. It’s a texture thing for me. But I love the smell of the sea that wafts up from a platter of oysters. They’re such a beautiful, sensual food to photograph. I was bound and determined to have at least one. And I did!

I love shooting oysters, and inhaling the smell of the sea.

I love shooting oysters, and inhaling the smell of the sea. 46 South Fish Co. featured Kaipara (left) and Tio Point (right) varieties.

46 South Fish Co. have introduced Kaipara and Tio Point oysters to the Canadian market, and both were available for tasting to a very eager and hungry group of media and food writers. Kaipara oysters are the same genera as the Pacific Oysters and have a salty, creamy texture with hints of lemon and cucumber. They are grown in Kaipara Harbour in the northwest of the North Island where there is little human activity and exceptionally clean waters. Tio Points are more like the French Belons and have a shallower shell with plump, firm meat and a salty sweet flavour with hints of minerality and a slightly metallic finish. They are grown in the Marlborough area and are native to New Zealand; in fact Tio means oyster in the native Maori language.

The oysters disappeared faster than the shucker could shuck them!

The oysters disappeared faster than the shucker could shuck them!

I opted for the slightly smaller and more familiar Kaipara oyster and it was delicious! And it went down beautifully with Long Table Cucumber Gin. Suffice it to say that I was the only tentative person in the entire room – oyster after oyster was slurped with obvious pleasure and enjoyed with one of the many varieties of local spirits that were available for sipping with the oysters.

Among Long Table Distillery's popular offerings - Cucumber Gin, London Dry Gin, and Texada Vodka.

Among Long Table Distillery’s popular offerings – Cucumber Gin, London Dry Gin, and Texada Vodka.

This was a second milestone of the day for me. I haven’t been much of a spirits drinker, and wine is usually my beverage of choice. I’ve actually avoided gin in particular, mainly because of the smell. But I really liked the Cucumber Gin. Thanks to Charles of Long Table  for encouraging me!

Thanks to Charles at Long Table Distillery for encouraging me to try the Cucumber Gin!

Thanks to Charles at Long Table Distillery for encouraging me to try the Cucumber Gin!

If you’re an oyster lover, you can find the 46 South Fish Co. varieties at Codfathers Seafood in Kelowna, the Lobster Man on Granville Island, and in Toronto Diana’s Seafood Market. If you prefer a restaurant experience, Vancouver’s Oyster Express, Rodney’s in Toronto and Rodney’s Vancouver has them, and soon Rodney’s Calgary will have them on their menu. And if you don’t see them at your favourite fishmonger or oyster bar, ask for them! Mark Urwin from 46 South Fish Co. will be more than happy to oblige.

Of course, there was an #EyeOpener for me, not so much about accessibility of the location, but about my accessibility to new tastes and experiences. At the ripe old age of 60, I’m opening myself to more new bites and sips than I’ve ever had.

So, I’m up for new culinary adventures, folks. (And new selfie locations…)

Bring them on!

Long Table's still provided me with an interesting selfie.

Long Table’s still provided me with an interesting selfie.


Blind Tastings – Earls Test Kitchen and Chef Collective Unveiled

I love restaurants. And I love chefs. I admire their talent, their creativity, their passion.

Vancouver is fortunate to have many extraordinary chefs whose stars shine bright in the culinary world. Earls can now boast a veritable constellation of world-class talent – with the introduction of its Chef Collective.


Last week, Earls unveiled a brand new, million dollar Test Kitchen at its downtown Hornby Street location, and introduced the team of chefs who will work collaboratively to brainstorm, share ideas and techniques and ultimately create dishes designed to elevate every customer’s dining experience.



Diners who visit the restaurant at lunchtime will be able to order new dishes, and get valuable hints from the chefs themselves in the main dining room. A few lucky diners will get a view of the test kitchen at a three-seat counter on the second floor.


The audio visual equipment in the Test Kitchen will allow those guests to see close up what the chefs are creating with two high-resolution cameras that both zoom in and move across the kitchen. That same equipment will also be able to live-stream cooking demonstrations to Earls’ chefs across the country, inspiring them to embrace new ingredients and cooking techniques.

Here’s the team – and some info on the Chefs.

Earls Chefs Group casual

Earls’ Chef Collective, from L to R: Chef Dawn Doucette, Sous-Chef Andrew Hounslow, Chef Tina Fineza, Chef Jeff McInnis, Chef Hamid Salimian, Chef David Wong

Chef Dawn Doucette; Home town Vancouver, originally from Toronto

Chef Dawn Doucette works full time for Earls in culinary development. A chef with many years experience, she was educated at the California Culinary Academy with a degree in Culinary Arts in addition to a professional sushi certificate from TheCalifornia Sushi Academy in Los Angeles (which led to a dream trip traveling to Tokyo to the world-famous Tsukiji fish market). While living in California Dawn worked in the world renowned kitchen of the Zuni Café in San Francisco. Dawn has been part of the Earls family both in the kitchen and as a restaurant manager with Earls and as Director of Culinary Product Development at Townhall and Saltlik restaurants (part of the Fuller Group of restaurants). Dawn travels for culinary experiences, last year studying pasta making in Italy and was recently a competitor on Top Chef Canada.

Dawn’s culinary style encompasses rustic west coast and Californian cuisine.

Chef Tina Fineza; Home town Vancouver, originally from the Philippines and Seattle, Washington

Chef Tina Fineza is renowned for her flair with both Asian and Mexican foods. Growing up in the Philippines, she was surrounded the cuisines of Spain, China and Indonesia and has incorporated those flavours into her recipe development. She worked at Vancouver’s award winning Lumiere restaurant and Diva at the Met before moving to New York to work for the Ryland Inn, a Relais & Châteaux property in New Jersey. She was Executive Chef of Bin 942 and The Flying Tiger. As a culinary consultant in Vancouver Tina has created recipes for Les Faux Bourgeois, Habit, La Taqueria, Commune Café, Oyster Raw Bar, Terra Breads , East of Main, The Roaming Dragon Food Truck and La Mezcalaria.

Tina’s culinary style encompasses Mexican and Latin dishes from the simple to the most sophisticated flavour. 

Chef Jeff McInnis; Home town New York, originally from Florida

Earls knew they wanted to work with Jeff when they tasted his amazing southern style influenced food at a restaurant called Yardbird in Miami, Florida. Born to either fish or cook Jeff grew up on fishing boats around Niceville, Florida, peeling shrimp, cutting fish and cooking on the line at The Marina Cafe. He attended world renowned culinary institute Johnson & Wales University in Charleston before working in the Caribbean, Virgin Islands, San Francisco, Virginia and Miami. Jeff cooked his way into the finals of “Top Chef,” in 2010; He is currently opening a new restaurant in New York City called Root + Bone as well as working with Earls.

Jeff’s culinary skills encompass a distinctive Southern American style as well as vegetarian cuisine.

Chef Hamid Salimian; Home town Vancouver, originally from Iran

Born in Iran and raised on the Caspian Sea, Hamid brings an exotic palate to Earls dishes creating new dishes and bringing a flavour twist to update existing menu items. His influences come from the simple, traditional Persian cuisine though his main area of culinary study was French cuisine. Hamid’s background is in fine dining and hotels working at the Sutton Place Hotel and The Metropolitan Hotel, where he was Executive Chef as well as Chef of the award winning Diva at the Met. He is currently Captain of Culinary Team Canada and splits his time evenly between the Earls Test Kitchen, where he works 3 days a week, and as a culinary instructor at VCC. He and his wife, Chef Jennifer Peters, are also opening a gluten free bakery this year in Vancouver.

Hamid’s culinary skills encompass Persian cuisine and French cuisine blending both those cultures into Asian and West Coast cuisines.

Chef David Wong; Home town Vancouver, originally from Nanaimo, BC

Chef David Wong also works full time in our Test Kitchen. He is an award winning chef from Vancouver, most recently as Executive Chef of the Fairmont Pacific Rim and the award winning restaurant ORU. Dave has too many awards and medals to even list but we would say that  his Gold medal win as part of Culinary Team Canada in Basil, Switzerland and representing Canada at the  Bocuse d’Or held in Lyon, France – are two of the most prestigious culinary awards in the world.

David’s culinary skill encompasses a number of Asian cuisines as well as seafood and shellfish. 

I was fortunate to attend a tasting dinner after the formal tour of the Test Kitchen and introduction of the chefs – and the food and original Earls cocktails lived up to the event.

IMG_0012The tea pots are the receptacles for the Mad Hatter, a warm vodka-infused brew and a personal favourite, and the Tequila Sunset combined el jimador blanco, with aperol, lemongrass, fresh orange and lime juices, and meringue foam. I’m not a tequila drinker myself, but it was a popular choice among the other guests.


I did try a delicious and refreshing Moscow Mule, in a distinctive mug, simply consisting of Smirnoff vodka, ginger and fresh lime with a sprig of mint. I’m surprised and a bit amused by the fact that, at age 60, I’m starting to like cocktails!


We were also treated to a cocktail demonstration by Earls Beverage Director Cameron Bogue, who prepared an Old Fashioned with Maker’s Mark bourbon, Demerara sugar and root beer bitters, and an Earls original – the Cabin Fever, with Crown Royal, Tawny Port, ginger, pineapple, lemon and moondog bitters.

As for the food, we were treated to more deliciousness than I could handle, including BBQ Pork Buns with Hoisin Hot Sauce, Cilantro and Roasted Peanuts, and Vietnamese Style Chicken with Spicy Peanut Sauce, Daikon Salad and Toasted Naan. But here are my favourite dishes of the night.


I thoroughly enjoyed the Earls Cobb Salad, featuring lobster, bacon, egg and my favourites – lots of blue cheese and avocado!


And I loved the spicy kick from the fiery Malaysian Hokkien Noodles with Red Pork and Prawns – so good, but such a huge portion!


And I even managed to nibble everything on the dessert sampler – from the classic Key Lime Pie to the Chocolate Hazelnut Bar with Salted Caramel, and the Chai Panna Cotta with Hibiscus and Pineapple. Oh my…

I’m looking forward to going back to Earls and sitting at the counter overlooking the Test Kitchen and watching the Chef Collective in action. And you can expect that I’ll be posting all the details!

And my #EyeOpener for this post? As simple as salt and pepper. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s grabbed the wrong spice mill because the salt and pepper mills were identical. Earls gets it. And the solution is so simple… See for yourself!


Blind Tastings – Chefs Up Close at EAT! Vancouver: Lynn Crawford

Continuing my love affair with some of my favourite chefs at last week’s EAT! Vancouver, I thought I’d feature one of the most popular celebrities of the weekend – Chef Lynn Crawford, world-renowned chef, author and star of Pitchin’ In.

She was a joy to shoot – funny, spontaneous and very giving. I think she’d get a bit of an #EyeOpener seeing these pics. I hope she does.



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