What Culinary Jet Setters Eat at the Devour! Food Film Fest

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Michelin comes knocking at a Canadian film festival known for its carefully curated food and wine pairings at red-carpet dinners.

As if being hit with 2,400 volts of electricity and surviving a freak accident wasn't enough, Montana chef Eduardo Garcia had another shock at the recent Devour! The Food Film Fest when he was presented with a drool-inducing dish inspired by a documentary about his life.

"So I hope your dish is explosive," a beaming Garcia told fellow chef Blair Lebsack just before his made-from-scratch appetizer hatched at the popular cinema-culinary mashup in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, is served during a glitzy five-course dinner.

Lebsack first viewed Charged, Phillip Baribeau's true-life film about Garcia in 2011. It portrays him hunting and coming across a dead bear that he touched with his knife, only to be electrically shocked by partially buried power lines beneath an exposed barrel. Despite losing an arm and nearly his life, Garcia eventually picked himself up off of the forest floor and walked miles to medical help — and then made an inspiring recovery as a bionic chef with a hook for a left hand.

"As much as there's tragedy in the film, I can't get over how uplifting [Garcia] is," Lebsack, the owner and chef of Edmonton-based restaurant RGE RD, told The Hollywood Reporter. His film-inspired dish featured wild boar surrounded by pickled potato to simulate the barrel in the ground, and perch in adobo sauce to illustrate Garcia's love of the outdoors, with the dish finally topped with a snowfall of pop rocks for a sensory taste explosion.

"You get a sensation you weren't expecting," Lebsack says of his yummy dish. Other celebrity chefs who came to North America's largest food film festival also gathered in Atlantic Canada to interpret one of 75 food-centric films that screened at the six-day Devour! festival.

 

With Nova Scotia's in-season scallops, lamb loin and venison, top chefs and restaurateurs were eager to share their love of food with cinephiles and film industry types not a little bit drunk from wine pairings as they enjoyed three nights of gourmet five-course dinners.

Case in point: Chicago-based chef Paul Virant of Vie Restaurant followed up a screening of Felicity Morgan-Rhind's short film How Mr & Mrs Gock Save the Kumara, or sweet potato, by serving a scallop, kumara and brown butter apples dish at the celebrity chef film dinner at the Lightfoot & Wolfville Winery.

And Darren Clay of Vancouver's Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts created a five-spice duck leg consommé, with handmade noodles, after guests seated at a long table in the winery's barrel cellar viewed director Vicki Chau's Pulled Strings, a short about a father teaching his daughter the ancient art of hand-pulled noodles.

"My noodles aren't hand-made or tossed. I didn't have the three years required to perfect that craft," Clay admitted. Devour! also featured an intimate screening of Mark Tchelistcheff's Andre – The Voice of Wine, a documentary narrated by Ralph Fiennes about the director's great-uncle, Andre Tchelistcheff, a native Russian and pioneer winemaker in California's Napa Valley.

Inspired by the California vintners called Maestro, chef Michael Blackie of Ottawa's NEXT eatery served up beet-stained Newfoundland cod that was pan-fried and surrounded by lobster cassoulet with a hint of poblano chili and hickory peppers "for the dirt and the dust of the Californian immigrant experience" faced by the Mexican workers. (It certainly beats that popcorn or nachos routine for movie night back home.)

Later, chef Louis Bouchard Trudeau of Quebec City's Bouchon du Pied Bleu, showcased a nose-to-tail celebration of the pig — and as an homage to the Maestro — cooked up a hot pot of cabbage, sauerkraut, lentils and black pudding stewed in red wine. "It's a traditional dish that comes from ingredients around us. It's a family dish, a working man's dish," Trudeau told THR.

Devour! co-founder and executive director Michael Howell explained the idea for film-inspired five-course dinners and workshops came about because movies like Gabriel Axel's Babette's Feast, co-director Stanley Tucci's Big Night and Ang Lee's Eat Drink Man Woman allow foodies to see eye-popping gastronomy — but never to taste it.

 

And with that, Devour!, the top foodie destination on the film festival circuit, was born. "Our chefs bring the screen to life and allow themselves to be seen as artisans, able to look inside and interpret a movie," Howell said as food films open minds, and mouths, via premieres and workshops with celebrity chefs like Mark Bauer of New York City's International Culinary Center, BBQ guru Meathead Goldwyn and former White House chef Sam Kass. 

The Nova Scotia festival, which in earlier years hosted Jacque Pepin, the late Anthony Bourdain and San Francisco-based chef Dominique Crenn of the two-Michelin-starred Atelier Crenn, also allows celebrity chefs to champion local produce and wines from local sun-kissed farms and wineries.

Renowned Chicago chef Jean Joho created a classic dish — a tender cylinder of pheasant with braised cabbage, mushrooms, little dumplings called knepfla and a cranberry sauce — that bears the marks of his native Alsace, but is seasonal, local and simple.

"I met many farmers here and they think organic. One had 15 kinds of radishes. People are passionate here. They care about food. They respect the food," Joho, who runs Everest in Chicago and Eiffel Tower Restaurant in Las Vegas, said of rural Nova Scotia, where Louisiana’s Cajuns originated.

Also leaving Wolfville's farms, vineyards and orchards with a smile on his face is Garcia, not least from seeing his big-screen story inspire film lovers and fellow chefs. "They see their own lives and how they want to be better," he told THR about personal responses to Charged.

"And people see themselves in the documentary, not a man without an arm. When you look in the mirror, you want to love that person, to be a better human and a better friend," he added.