Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
TORONTO, ONTARIO — A week before the Toronto International Film Festival launched its 2018 edition, a smaller event featuring moving pictures drew a crowd to George Brown College’s Chefs’ House restaurant.
The brainchild of Nova Scotia-based chef Michael Howell, Devour! Fest has morphed from a curiosity in the Maritimes into a phenomenon that has attracted global attention. Its annual multi-day festival in Wolfville, where Howell lives, has drawn notable speakers such as Anthony Bourdain to small-town Nova Scotia. In 2019, the festival expects to attract more than 10,000 people to Wolfville, which has a population of only 5,000 residents. The opening night keynote speaker will be Sam Kass, who was the chef at the White House during Barack Obama’s tenure.
For those who can’t make it to Wolfville, Devour! Fest is increasingly visible in communities across Canada and around the world. More than two-dozen satellite events were held in 2018 and just as many are planned for 2019, according to Lia Rinaldi, Howell’s business partner in the enterprise and the curator of the films featured in the program.
The event in Toronto showcased the films that will be screened at Devour! Fest “Chefs and Shorts” program in locales such as Fogo Island Inn in Newfoundland, Long Beach in California, and Berlin. Chefs are given a short film and challenged to prepare a dish that complements it. The exercise can be difficult, even for some of the best culinary talents in the world.
Jason Bangerter, the brilliant executive chef at esteemed Langdon Hall in southern Ontario, admitted to a brief moment of anxiety after watching “Pulled Strings,” a six-minute art piece that melds traditional Chinese cuisine with music from that nation. In the film, an accomplished chef demonstrates to his daughter how to create noodles that are woven into thin strands that evoke violin strings.
“I don’t work with Japanese noodles so at first I had to think about this. Then I realized the film was about a master and a student, and I could relate to that because I teach everyday. So what I did was create a noodle dish and stuffed it, which is a technique I’m more familiar with, and then incorporated the ingredients from the Langdon Hall garden that we use in our recipes,” says Bangerter, whose dish featured pasta stuffed with a game bird. “The film has nothing to do with anything at all I’ve done with my cooking — which is exciting but also nerve-racking.”
Finding the films has not been difficult for Rinaldi and her team of curators. They receive hundreds and hundreds of submissions from producers and directors each year. Increasingly, filmmakers are targeting Devour! Fest when developing their creative projects, Rinaldi noted.
Devour! Fest started in 2009 as an autumn event to draw traffic into Wolfville, where Howell owned a well-regarded restaurant that was in need of more patrons during the shoulder season. The 2019 edition of the Wolfville festival will be held from October 23-28 and will include 75 films. While the Wolfville event has been a hit since its inception, attention for the festival really sparked after the 2015 edition that featured its most famous headliner to date.
“It really took off with Bourdain,” Howell says of the influence of the late author and TV host. “Since then everyone has been like, ‘Oh, what’s that? What are you doing over there? I think I’ll have to check that out.’ And we’ve really grown from there.”
MORE ABOUT DEVOUR! FEST
When: October 23-28, 2018, in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.
Satellite Events: Upcoming events outside of Wolfville include stops in the Bahamas, Alberta’s Jasper Park Lodge, and Sonoma, California. Check the schedule to see if there is a Devour! Fest event near you.
Disclosure: Devour! Fest’s Lia Rinaldi will soon be a contributing writer for Vacay.ca, producing articles on culinary tourism in the Maritimes and beyond.