Sample the crème de la crème at EAT! Vancouver

Sample the crème de la crème at EAT! Vancouver

First things first: Go to the EAT! Vancouver Food + Cooking Festival with an empty stomach and an open mind. Forget any preconceived notions you might have about tacos, kimchi, pork belly or even pastry. Now in its 13th year, Canada’s largest food festival shines a spotlight on Vancouver’s culinary rock stars, artisan food purveyors, vintners, craft brewers and more. Toronto chefs Anna Olson (pictured), Susur Lee and Mark McEwan will be here for the action, with Olson taking part in a culinary throwdown.

Want a taste of what you can look forward to at EAT! Vancouver? Here are a few of my favourite bites from the preview event, plus highlights of hands-on workshops, chef dinners and other events you won’t want to miss.

Bao Bei: Still Life on a Plate

Bao Bei: Still Life on a Plate

beef-tataki-cropped-1.jpgIt wouldn’t be an overstatement to call Bao Bei chef Joël Watanabe (pictured above) an artist. He dispels any old notions of Chinese food with his modern cuisine, serving up layers of flavours, colours and textures to create a composition that’s pleasing to both the palate and the eye. On the plate: beautifully marbled slices of beef rest atop crunchy fermented vegetables and an unexpected sauce made from aji amarillo chiles (a staple in Peruvian cuisine). The crowning glory is a glistening “pearl” made from apple (pictured, right).

See the chef:

Dinner Series: Dine with chefs Joël Watanabe of Bao Bei, and Michael Caballo and Tobey Nemeth (both from Edulis in Toronto).

Bao Bei (163 Keefer Street), Tuesday, April 28: seatings at 5:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. ($135

Edible Canada: Wild at Heart
Credit: Janet Gyenes

Edible Canada: Wild at Heart

Some pork belly preparations can be too fatty for finicky types, but not when this unctuous ingredient is left in the deft hands of Edible Canada’s culinary tour-de-force. Tender pork is compressed into a perfect square, glazed with B.C. birch tree syrup and married with a vibrant-green pesto made from foraged stinging nettles (pictured). A sprinkling of radishes brings a dash of heat and pleasing crunch to the plate. If you’re lucky enough to sample this dish, follow the advice the chef gave me: taste a bit of everything in one bite.

See the chef:

Canadian Flavours Gala: Join chefs from some of Canada’s most celebrated restaurants, including Edible Canada, at this event that pays tasty tribute to Canadian cuisine matched with wines from the Naramata Bench.

Terminal City Club (837 West Hastings St.): Thursday, April 30; 7 p.m to 9:30 p.m ($125 plus tax)

Sebastian & Co. Fine Organic Meats: To-die-for Tacos

Sebastian & Co. Fine Organic Meats: To-die-for Tacos

beef-taco-cropped-1.jpgWhen a chef-turned-butcher brings his culinary chops to the table, all bets are off. Especially when you’re talking about Sebastian Cortez, proprietor of his eponymous organic meats company. On the plate (pictured, right): a 12-hour smoked brisket taco, which showcases the succulence of slow-cooked beef. Tacos might seem like simple fare, but Sebastian’s blend of spices, salsa verde, pickled onion and his all-natural chimichurri sauce (soon to be bottled for sale) are a complex combination that earned my distinction as the best thing I ate at the event.

See the chef:

Hospitality Symposium – Panel 4: Beyond the Chop

Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts (101–1515 West 2nd Ave.): Wednesday, April 29, 1 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. ($45)

Beaucoup Bakery & Café: French Kiss

Beaucoup Bakery & Café: French Kiss

I know: it’s hard to resist the buttery croissants or cheese and green onion scones that are lovingly baked at Beaucoup Bakery & Café. But if you haven’t torn into a sweet-meets-salty Kouign-Amann (pictured), you’ve been missing out — big time. Bakery owner and Paris-trained pastry chef Jackie Kai Ellis has perfected the art of creating this “laminated” Breton butter cake with its caramelized exterior. Don’t let its tongue-tangling name deter you (it’s pronounced “queen ah-mahn”). Be sure to snap one up (who says you can’t have dessert first?) before they’re all gone.

See the chef:

Pastry Tasting & Panel Discussion: Interested in the art and science of sweets? So are Vancouver pastry chefs Thomas Haas (Thomas Haas Fine Chocolates & Patisserie), Christophe Bonzon (Chez Christophe Chocolaterie Patisserie) and Adam Chandler (Beta 5 Chocolates), who will take part in this decadent discussion moderated by Beaucoup’s Jackie Kai Ellis.

Pinnacle Harbourfront Hotel (1133 West Hastings St.): Wednesday, April 29, 4:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. ($45)

Café Medina: Old-school Elevated

albacore-kimchi-1.jpgIf you think that tuna comes from a can and kimchi is just fiery fermented cabbage, well, you’ve got a lot to learn. One taste of the tender albacore tuna and Moroccan carrot kimchi (pictured, right) plated by executive chef Jonathan Chovancek is all it takes and you’ve been schooled. Although his hands-on fermentation workshop is sold out, you can get a crash course on the topic from Chef Chovancek at the BC Place Talk & Taste (Friday, May 1 from 6 p.m. to 6:40 p.m.; tickets, $7).

See the chef:

Celebrity Chef Throwdown: Chef Jonathan battles against heavyweight chefs Anna Olson and Jackie Kai Ellis at an the event judged by none other than Rob Feenie, Cactus Club Executive Chef and two-time defending champ.

BC Place: Friday, May 1, 8 p.m. (Free; included in general admission ticket)