A BeakerEats Preview

Toasted Canola Hay Gelato Profiterole

When your thoughts swing to gelato flavours, how often does canola appear on your  radar?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess:  never.

Fortunately, the mind of gelato guru Chef Mario Spina of Burger 320 holds no such limitations.

When the team behind Beakerhead – Calgary’s annual smash up of art, science, and engineering – dropped a load of canola hay, seeds, meal, and oil on his stoop, and asked him to produce an entry to this year’s BeakerEats program, he took up the challenge with gusto.  Notwithstanding a dramatic confrontation between his convection oven and the canola hay, Chef Spina came through with a toasted-canola-hay-infused gelato profiterole, topped with honey-chocolate sauce and a dusting of canola meal; a dessert that – judging by the moans of rapture emanating from my fellow diners – was right on the mark.

Canola sheafIt was the crowning finish to the BeakerEats Chefs’ Collaborative Dinner, a public event that previews some of the delights awaiting diners at participating restaurants throughout Beakerhead.  BeakerEats launches today, while the 2018 festival’s full lineup of activities, installations, talks and workshops – including a handful of culinary chemistry sessions – runs September 19 to 23.

Each year under its BeakerEats banner, the festival team selects a theme ingredient from Canadian farmers and producers, puts together a science kit of local products for Calgary chefs and mixologists, and challenges them to do what they do best:  apply their creativity to the fullest expression of outstanding ingredients.  The theme for 2018 is canola in all its forms – oil, seeds, meal, hay, and sprouts – a true prairie product grown by some 14,000 Alberta farmers.

As Beakerhead’s Paul Gordon noted at the outset of Wednesday’s dinner, canola itself has a long and interesting scientific history.  From its lowly origins as an inedible lubricant for the steam engines that powered Canada’s WWII navy, to its current position as one of the world’s healthiest edible oils (whose spent grain has also become a top-grade feed for dairy cattle), canola is a Canadian success story that speaks to the best of health-friendly science and to research both collaborative and tenacious.

Our BeakerEats walk through canola history was fueled by a Bloody Airdrie created by Spirit of the Wench, Wendy Peters.  It was a tasty tipple  that combined summer tomatoes, cucumbers, and red peppers with blended canola seed and Absolut Lemon vodka.

Bison Tataki

Then it was on to the tasting menu – and what a menu it was!

River Cafe‘s Chef Matthias Fong started us off with bison tataki, tucked cozily with Highwood Crossing canola oil sorbet and canola hay infused cream, and laced with Fallen Timbers mead, honey-crystallized canola seed,  and charred kohlrabi.

Brassica Family Salad

 

 

 

It was the perfect prelude to Chef Mitchell Carey’s Instagram-worthy salad of brassica-family vegetables, arranged with a cracker of spent canola & grains and honeycomb sponge toffee among pools of colourful canola infusions created by his Winebar Kensington team.

Spiced Canola Cake

 

Next up were spicy morsels of canola seed cake, created by Chef Liana Robberecht of WinSport, with bitey Highwood Crossing confit tomatoes, ninja radish, tomato skin petals, and canola shoots.

Chef Mike Pigot brought his Home and Away crafting style to popcorn-and-canola-meal tempura shrimp, with drizzles of canola seed caramel and a brilliant canola aioli.

Beef Bavette

 

 

The main course was provided by the dinner’s host venue, Brasserie Kensington, and featured a canola-hay-smoked sous vide beef bavette created by Chef Jorel  Zielke, sided with ABC Farms honey & parsnip saute and cold-pressed canola hollandaise.

And finally, that dessert:  Chef Spina’s toasted-hay gelato, sandwiched between choux pastry layers made from a canola oil/butter blend.

I could wax endlessly about the tastes, textures, and stylings of the night’s creative offerings – but go try them yourself instead.  You’ll find each dish on the menu of its creator’s home restaurant, from now until the end of Beakerhead 2018.

Be sure to ask Chef Spina about his canola hay tribulations.

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Sample more BeakerEats cocktails and food features at these other participating restaurants:  The Coup, Deane House, Oxbow, Yellow Door Bistro, and Shokunin.  Two dollars is donated to Beakerhead for every BeakerEats dish and cocktail sold.

Find the full line-up of Beakerhead events here.

For insight into canola’s fascinating scientific history, check out this overview at wdm.ca or the resources at albertacanola.com

Text and photos © 2018 Catherine Van Brunschot

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It’s Beakerhead time!

big data image
(Credit: infocus Technologies (Creative Commons license))

At the point where art intersects with science, something exciting happens.  Something innovative.  Potentially game-changing.  Possibly delicious.

And from September 14 to 18, 2016, Beakerhead – Calgary’s annual “smash-up of science, art, and engineering” – promises to deliver all of those things and more.

Think interactive art and science experiments in the streets.  An inside-the-studio look at the art and mechanics of special movie effects (read:  autopsies and snow flurries).  A Rock ‘n Roll History of Space Exploration, featuring a real astronaut.  And a plethora of workshops that plumb the intricacies of memory, revenge, and each of the five senses – including my obvious favourite: taste.

H Tech High-Balls - web
(Credit: beakerhead.com)

Food nerds, get excited – because there’s a veritable buffet of activities and samplings at this year’s festival.  In the chemistry class you wish you had in high school, Hi Tech High-Balls lets you create “engineered drinks” under the guidance of Hotel Arts’ Mixologist, Franz Swinton.  Coffee-lovers can join Phil & Sebastian coffee roasters as they explore java/milk synergies in Cafe-au-Lait Scientifique (who knew these guys were both engineering school grads?).

For those who believe there’s no better workshop than one with take-home treats, there’s Spicy Palate Workout, The Squeak Behind the Cheese Curds, and the Science of the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie.  And in the realm of epic events, Torched  brings six top Calgary chefs and mixologists together with a car turning a spit and wire baskets of trout roasting over a giant flame.

Around town, Engineered Eats sees over 30 Calgary restaurants and bars creating engineered treats and molecular cocktails for you to try, using the 2016 festival’s theme ingredient: milk.  I’ve already got my tickets to Exploring the Milky Way, a Stampede Trolley tour to four of the participating restaurants, where we’ll meet the chefs, learn how the dishes and drinks were created, and taste the results of their experiments.

(In truth, signing up for the Milky Way event had my loyalties divided, as it meant having to forgo the engaging Seven Wonderers session – a panel of first-rate science writers and storytellers telling tales of their own wondering.  It was my Man’s and my favourite session at last year’s festival).

lucky iron fish
Lucky Iron Fish (Credit: beakerhead.com)

On the game-changing front, several Beakerhead events present a half-dozen social entrepreneurs:  folks intent on improving the world with small inventions that have potentially big social impacts.  Products like wearable technology to assist autism-sufferers interpret social cues.  An iron fish that tackles world malnutrition one pot at a time.  Disaster relief in a box, and a tsunami survival capsule.  An inflatable solar light that packs flat.  And a solar-powered bike pod to keep you warm on your winter commute.

Calgarians who favour careening around the city on two wheels will be happy to know that a multitude of free art, cultural, and science exhibits and activities will be placed in cycle-friendly locations around the downtown core.  There’s a foldout of these Chain Reactions inside the program guide to help you map out your route.  And those for whom this is new territory can join the Cyclepalooza folks for a free guided bike tour through all the major installations – finishing up at Beakernight,  the festival’s culminating all-ages street party in Bridgeland.

There truly is something for everyone among the more than 50 events and exhibits at the 2016 Beakerhead festival.  Check out the full list at beakerhead.com or download a PDF version of the festival program here.

Text  © 2016 Catherine Van Brunschot