The Labour Day weekend marked the unofficial end of summer. But that just opened a door to savour the fall bounty of Alberta’s rich agricultural sector.
The sixth edition of Dig In Food Festival returns with its warm, laid-back vibe. Scores of food-related events are planned throughout the six days from Sept. 12 to 18 with intriguing author readings, culinary tours and workshops.
However, organizers have pared down the festivities and created a smaller, leaner event. Horticultural workshops that took place at the Enjoy Centre and were a large ingredient of past festivals were scrapped.
“We had a partnership with them (Enjoy Centre) but truthfully, the numbers were going down the last few years and we had to re-evaluate,” said festival coordinator Nicole Pearson from City of St. Albert Economic Development.
She believes a combination of factors led to declining numbers including a dip in the economy and the initial novelty of a food festival wearing off.
As part of a major overhaul, the Saturday night long table gala banquet that attracted celebrity chefs from across Canada, was also eliminated. And the original name – Dig In Horticulinary Festival – selected to represent the City of St. Albert’s botanical arts slogan as well as our love and enjoyment of freshly sourced and prepared local food, has been changed to read simply Dig In Food Festival.
In place of the gala dinner, Pearson is working to organize a Dig and Dine Week from Nov. 1 to 10 whereby St. Albert sit-down restaurants would offer two- and three-course dinners priced anywhere from $15 to $45.
“It would be a celebration of what local restaurants offer. It’s an opportunity for them to be creative and offer dinners at an affordable price,” Pearson noted.
Launching the revamped Dig In on Thursday, Sept. 12 is a food talk from Karen Anderson and Matilde Sanchez-Turri, authors of Food Artisans in Alberta – Your Trail Guide to the Best of Our Locally Crafted Fare.
The book chronicles the province’s seven signature foods – beef, bison, canola, honey, wheat, root vegetables and saskatoon berries alongside our enjoyment of breweries, meaderies, distilleries and cheese makers.
“The only mention of St. Albert is the St. Albert Farmers Market which isn’t really a restaurant but it’s a mention,” said Pearson.
The reading held at St. Albert Public Library is free. However, tickets for a post dessert and wine add-on are $15.
Following on Saturday, Sept. 14, Laura Rogerson, founder of Breadlove, returns to Dig In teaching the art of making hand-crafted loaves and buns the no-knead way. Tickets are $60.
“People love her bread. If anyone has tried it, they want to learn to make it on their own. She also tests out different flavours of butters.”
Sunday, Sept. 15 marks the first Beef and Brews workshop and dinner. It starts at D’Arcy’s Meat Market on Chisholm Avenue where butcher Kyle Iseke demonstrates how to cut a beef carcass.
“He’s going to talk about farming practices and he’s going to show them where the different parts come from.”
Following the demo, foodies walk over to Endeavour Brewing on Carnegie Drive for a brewery tour and a flight of beer before enjoying a meal supplied by a trained chef from D’Arcy’s. Tickets for the event are $75.
Valerie Loseth, also known as The Wheelbarrow Gardener, adds her touch to the festival with a workshop teaching individuals to craft a fairy garden. Dessert and wine are provided. Tickets are $60.
Campbell Park is also this year’s focal point for one of the festival’s most popular events – a four-stop Culinary Bike Tour held on Tuesday, Sept. 17.
Limited to 20 people, the tour starts at D’Arcy’s for charcuterie tray samplings before biking to Appetite Global Cuisine. At the casual dining restaurant, Red Seal chef Reggie Srivastava offers clam chowder, fish and chips, mango smoothies and an optional pudding.
The next stop is Endeavour Brewing for a pint of beer on tap paired with a king-size cheese pretzel. The evening is capped off at Skybox Grill where foodies can enjoy a tasting plate of desserts. Tickets for the 3.5 km bicycle tour are $65.
Another event for the serious gourmand is the Wednesday, Sept. 18 Culinary Walking Tour held in the Perron district. The tour gets rolling at Janos Turkish Coffeehouse as participants indulge their palate with authentic Middle Eastern grape leaf rolls and hummus.
The next stop is Jack’s Burger Shack, where owner Tu Le, two-time competitor at Canadian Food Championships, whips up a nostalgic mini-burger with fries and a sundae.
Cajun House receives the honours of serving a main entrée – a medallion of pork tenderloin with a side of apple in a barbecue sauce, baby potatoes and a glass of Alley Kat beer.
Dessert is served at Confections Cake Co. with a platter of mini-cakes presented alongside a glass of Prosecco or a mimosa. Ticket price is $65.
“You don’t leave with an empty stomach on either of these food tours.”
Tickets for events can be purchased at eventbrite.ca