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YYC Food and Drink Experience promises adventurous dining

By Troy Hasselman, March 1, 2019

The YYC Food and Drink Experience is a multi-day food program that includes 55 restaurants across the city participating in multiple events and offering prix fixe menus. Replacing the Big Taste event, the festival is set for its inaugural run and offers numerous dining and drinking options available that aim to go above-and-beyond the typical restaurant experience.

“The YYC Food and Drink Experience goes back to 2001. It started off as Dine Out Calgary and morphed into Big Taste a few years ago, focusing on restaurants in the downtown area,” says Food and Drink Experience organizer John Gilchrist, who organizes the event along with Donald House of marketing group Culinary Marketing Strategies. “For this edition, we’re taking it out of the downtown association so we can use restaurants from across the city. We’ve got over 50 restaurants that are offering prix fixe menus, lunch and/or dinner, some gourmet specials and there are some special events as well.”

While food festivals are typically associated with gourmet fare and fine dining, Gilchrist says that there will be options for students or people on a budget who’d like to participate.

“You’ve got some gourmet dinners that are $65 a hit, but there’s a lot of lunches where you could get a good three-course meal for $20 or a lot of dinners for $30,” Gilchrist explains. “There’s places like Alforno Bakery, Bea’s Eatery and Blanco Cantina that are offering very good value. Of course, National as well, where it’s been known the odd university student has wandered into.”

The inclusion of more casual fare reflects what Gilchrist sees as a growing trend within Calgary and across North America where dining has become a more relaxed atmosphere that emphasizes food beyond the gourmet.

“We’re seeing an increased casualization of dining,” he says. “Especially now with so many of us having grown up in the drive-thru lane. We’re seeing a lot of cheaper Asian chains, Bangkok street food and Poké Bars. Places that offer a nice, tasty, face full of food for under $10.”

This event is also meant to reflect the diversity within Calgary’s food scene and the evolution of the city’s restaurants and the food served in them, with hopes that this will get people to choose a new kind of food or restaurant they haven’t tried before.

“The Calgary food scene has really been in evolution for the past 120 years. We’ve had an economy that’s always supported strong growth in restaurants. You add general immigration to that and we have representation from so many cultures that open restaurants in the city whether it be Vietnamese, Ethiopian or Indian,” Gilchrist says. “What this event does is it allows people to get out of their comfort zones. Most people have five or so restaurants that they go to. There’s one they go to on Fridays when they’ve had a good week, or a birthday one — that kind of stuff. What this does is it shows people there’s something new out there and lets them be a little more adventurous.”

On top of the different types of food available at restaurants around the city, there are also numerous events that are part of the Food and Drink Experience that highlight local chefs and restaurants.

“There is a kitchen party at Charbar with some visiting guest chefs including Darren MacLean from Shokunin, who was the chef representing Canada on Netflix’s Final Table,” Gilchrist says. “River Café, which is closed currently for renovations, is going to do a pop-up at the new Central Library. As well, The Guild on Stephen Avenue is going to do a big multi-chef longtable meal. Those are a few highlights but there are going to be a dozen events in total.”

Also on the event roster is an International Women’s Day event on March 8 at Donna Mac. The events features a meal made in collaboration between female chefs from around the city with proceeds going towards the “Women Supporting Women in Hospitality” scholarship, which is awarded to women enrolling in the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology’s culinary or hospitality programs.

With the variety and options available at the event, there should be a large number of interesting meals to try as the restaurants experiment and try their hand at something new and different.

“The restaurants who really succeed in this event are ones who say, ‘We’re gonna give extra value here, we’re doing something special.’ I think the restaurants involved really are going to do something interesting,” Gilchrist concludes.

The YYC Food and Drink Experience runs from March 1–10 at restaurants across the city. For more information on the event visit their website at foodandrinkexp.com.

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