Five days of sampling delicious delicacies

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Ivano Reali, managing director of Castello di Gabbiano in Tuscany, will entice you with sips of his famous Chiantis. (Photo: Jean Levac)

Ottawa Wine & Food Festival

What: Five-day festival with meals, cooking demos, seminars, a field trip and a tasting floor featuring foods, beer, spirits and 1,500 types of wine from around the world.

When: Main event goes Friday, Nov. 9, to Sunday, Nov. 11, at the Ottawa Convention Centre.

Cost: Admission is $22 Friday, $32 Saturday, $18 Sunday. Sampling tickets are 50 cents each (wine tastings from two to 36 tickets each). Some other events extra. Many events and even admission tickets for Saturday sell out in advance: you can buy them now on the website.

Off-site events

■ Wednesday, Nov. 7: Pop-up meal with Montreal chef terrible Martin Picard.

■ Thursday, Nov. 8: Meet the winning winemakers of Wine Access magazine’s annual awards.

■ Sunday, Nov. 11: Field trip to area farms.

More: or 613-523-6386

Joan Culliton says that when she took over the Ottawa Wine & Food Festival five years ago, she made a commitment to make the show less all about wine, and more about the marrying of wine and food.

“This year,” she says, “I’m proud to say that we’ve really achieved it.”

For the first time, people who arrive at the show on Saturday, Nov. 10, will be hit with the food-and-wine combo as soon as they arrive, with a sample of each of the show’s red- and white-wine best-of-show winners, along with a matched food, even before they make their way up to main exhibition floor.

But that’s just the beginning. You’ll also be able to learn how to match cocktails with sushi. Or taste tacos from the Hintonburg’s Tacolot with Californian wines. Or try chutney made from locally grown ginger and kumquats (yes, local ginger and kumquats — more on this in No. 2, below) paired with premium wines from Prince Edward County.

“Really, if you look at the trends, people’s hobbies are wine and food,” says Culliton. “And I keep hearing from the exhibitors, who come from across Canada and around the world, that Ottawa stands outs as being a sophisticated clientele, with a knowledge of food and wine that blows them away.”

If Ottawans are already knowledgeable, they could be aficionados by the end of the festival, the longest running food-and-wine event in Canada. At this, its 27th edition, you’ll be able to learn everything from how to read a restaurant wine list to how to make cheese at home. You’ll also be able to taste food from more than 30 local restaurants, beers from 16 microbreweries from Vancouver’s Granville Island to Broadhead on Ottawa’s Auriga Drive and sample more than 1,500 types of wine from countries around the world.

To help you navigate all the events and offerings in the jam-packed festival, here’s an (admittedly subjective) Top 10 best of the fest:

1. Dinner with Martin Picard:

You can’t just drop into Martin Picard’s famous Au Pied de Cochon restaurant when you’re in Montreal — it usually books up weeks in advance. And getting into his new gourmet sugar shack is even tougher: on the date that bookings open, the phone lines are jammed.

But next week, he’s coming to you: Picard is bringing his kitchen crew from Montreal and putting on a what promises to be an over-the-top four-course menu for 700 people right here in Ottawa.

Even if you’re not into his famously rich fare, it might be worth the price of admission for the unexpected: Picard, whom Anthony Bourdain describes as “brilliant and dangerous,” is sure to pull off some surprises. No one knows yet what’s on the menu or even where the dinner will be held.

And, will he serve foie gras? And, if he does, will anyone protest as they did when he supposed to come to Ottawa last time?

When: Wednesday, Nov. 7, 6:30 p.m.

Cost: $125 (includes signed copy of his new book)

2. Mini meals with Clark Day:

Throughout the weekend, Kingston chef Clark Day will be serving three-course tastings of local foods, paired with Prince Edward County wines. The menu includes ginger, kumquats and water buffalo — and he calls this local?

“I do get this look of disbelief when I say some of this stuff is local,” says Day with a laugh. “I’ve been doing local for, I don’t know, probably 20 years.”

He admits that the offerings have recently become more varied: the kumquats are grown in a greenhouse in Prince Edward County, the ginger is grown under cover at a nearby farm and the water buffalo are from Stirling, near Kingston.

Probably the best thing Day brings, though, is a refreshing perspective.

“There have never been more cooking shows on TV and fewer people who actually cook. They’re intimidated. My big plan is to say, ‘Let’s just have fun here.’”

When: Day is offering the three-course “Taste of Kingston” tasting plates 14 times throughout the weekend; see website for times and to sign up. If your preferred session is sold out, you can still buy one of his small plates anytime for $4 or drop into his free cheese-making class Saturday at 2 p.m.

Cost: The tasting plates with wine pairings are $30 (in addition to a festival day pass to get into the show).

3. Foodies in the Field:

Last year, for the first time, the show became a festival by busting out of the Convention Centre with a rubber-boots bus trip to meet some of the farmers who grow the food that ends up on fine-dining tables.

“It was a huge hit,” Culliton says. “It sold out and everyone loved it.”

This year, two buses will roll out to the country, with stops at Roots & Shoots organic vegetable farm near Manotick and Castor River Farm near Metcalfe, where oats and grains are grown organically and off the grid. Lunch and a chance to meet more farmers will be at Kemptville’s The Branch Restaurant.

When: Sunday, Nov. 11, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Cost: $95 (includes VIP admission to the show when you return)

4. Meet the Makers of Canadian Gold:

The rest of the world won’t know the winners of Wine Access’s annual awards until the magazine hits the newsstands Dec. 1. But if you sign up for this exclusive event, you will not only find out who won this year, you’ll get to meet them, spending 10 minutes with each of 10 gold-medal winemakers and tasting their wares, speed-dating style.

When: Thursday, Nov. 8, 7 p.m.

Where: The penthouse of the new Delta Hotel City Centre (corner of Lyon and Albert)

Cost: $55

5. Belly up to the Bacon Bar:

What’s better than bacon? How about seared apple wood smoked bacon, or beer-braised pork belly, paired with wines or local Kichesippi Beer? You’ll get all this and more at a three-course pairing of “the divine swine, beer and wine” presented by the Ottawa chapter of the Canadian Culinary Chefs Federation. The chefs donate their time; funds go to bursaries for aspiring young chefs who will learn to cook more great food for you — a delicious win-win.

When: Various times throughout the weekend; see website.

Cost: $25 (in addition to a festival day pass to get into the show).

6. Rethink Canadian whisky:

If you still think of Canadian whisky as the down-market drink that goes into rye-and-ginger, spend an hour with Ottawa’s charming and knowledgeable Davin de Kergommeaux. He’s the man who wrote the book on Canadian whisky, literally, with this year’s Canadian Whisky: The Portable Expert. You’ll hear — and more importantly, taste — why Canadian whisky is having a renaissance.

When: Saturday, Nov. 10, 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Cost: $69 (includes signed copy of book and VIP entrance to the show Saturday)

7. Drink in the dark:

You’ve heard of the trendy restaurants in Paris, Montreal and Toronto where you eat in the dark, served by blind waiters. Get a liquid taste of the experience — and find out whether you actually know red wine from white — at the Tasting in the Dark seminar, led by the Citizen’s wine writer, Rod Phillips. It’s a true blind tasting, but the waiters will be able to see since they’ll wear night-vision goggles.

When: Friday, Nov. 9, and Saturday, Nov. 10, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Cost: $50 (includes VIP entrance the show on the day you go.)

8. Get a taste of Tuscany:

Ivano Reali, managing director of Castello di Gabbiano, a winery at a 12th-century castle in Tuscany, will entice you with the first sip of one of his famous Chiantis. By the time you’re trying his top-tier reds and hearing about how you can actually stay at the castle, you’ll be completely seduced.

When: Friday, Nov. 9, 7 to 8 p.m.

Cost: $50 (includes VIP entrance to the show Friday.)

9. Try the Tasting Alley:

It’s the fifth year for this premium event and it will likely sell out as usual. No wonder: for price of admission to the Alley (actually the Trillium Ballroom on the top level of the Convention Centre), which also includes VIP (no lineup) entrance to the show, you get to spend two hours sampling more than 75 wines, while nibbling on creations from the Canadian Culinary Chefs Federation that will include a poutine bar, flambéed shrimp and huge selection of regional cheeses. It’s the biggest wine-and-cheese party you’ll ever attend.

When: Friday, Nov. 9, and Saturday, Nov. 10, from 6 to 8 p.m.

Cost: $85 (includes VIP entrance to the show for the day.)

10. Learn the wine-list ropes:

Do you freeze up when you’re at a restaurant, wondering how to begin to pick a selection from the wine list? Let some of Ottawa’s top restaurant sommeliers and wine directors demystify the lists for you, all while offering wine tastes from their menus. Even if you’re a pro at ordering wine, you may discover some new favourites worth crossing town for.

When: Saturday, Nov. 10, 3:30 to 4:30 p.m.

Cost: $50 (includes VIP entrance to the show Saturday.)

Chef Clark Day’s Duck and Rabbit Terrine

■ 1lb (450 g) rabbit meat

■ 1lb (450 g) duck meat

■ 1lb (450 g) duck fat

■ 5 oz (140g) duck liver

■ 2 oz (60 mL) brandy

■ 4.5 oz egg whites (whites of 4 eggs)

■ 1 cup (250 mL) diced shallots

■ 1/4 cup (50 mL) chervil

■ 1 tbsp (15 mL) fresh thyme

■ 1.5 lb (680 g) duck breast

■ Caul (fatty membrane lining of an animal’s stomach; available from some butchers if you call ahead)

1. Marinate the meats, fat and liver in the brandy for a couple hours.

2. Pass the chilled marinated ingredients through grinder on a medium grind.

3. Mix the minced marinated meats with the egg whites, shallots and fresh herbs. Season mixture with salt and pepper and return to fridge.

4. Pound out duck breast as thin as possible. Arrange the duck breast on plastic wrap, making a rectangle shape. Place the minced meat mixture from the fridge in the middle of the duck breast and keep it in a tube shape. Pull the plastic wrap and duck breast over the mixture, completely covering the mixture with duck breast. Wrap this roll in caul fat, place on a baking sheet and roast at 400 F (200 C) for 20 minutes, until the fat is browned. Continue cooking at 250 F (120 C) until the centre is 165 F (74 C).

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