Good Eats in Vancouver, Continued

Since returning from Vancouver last week,  I’ve jumped rope each day in a vain attempt to work off the abundance of calories I consumed there. I ran down some of those dishes on Friday, but since a central focus of the press trip was the incredible food that this city’s chefs conjure, I had more than I could stuff into one post. I didn’t get a decent picture of a few memorable dishes: The incredible charcuterie inside Salt Tasting Room, a dim, romantic wine-and-cheese (and meat) tasting bar down Blood Alley, or plump, raw oysters and charred octopus at Boulevard, the see-and-be-seen oyster bar and restaurant inside the Sutton Place Hotel Vancouver. Yet here are a few more I managed to capture and are making me hungry as I remember them.

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‘Tropical’ salmon at Chambar.

Chambar is a perennial Vancouver hotspot, pulling in the crowds with its extensive Belgian beer list and cuisine to match. Last year, they moved to airy new digs in Vancouver’s Gastown. On the bottom floor is a rustic, earthy private event space, and it was here that we were treated to a six-course tasting menu that showed off the mad skills of Belgian-trained chef Nico Schuemans. The dishes ranged from game to seafood, and included the luscious, exquisitely composed “Thon tropicale,” cubes of salmon marinated in pomegranate juice and then arranged with kumquats and puffed black rice atop a coconut-jalapeño remoulade.

blog_chocolate_tastingSingle-origin chocolates at East Van Roasters

Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is famously Canada’s “poorest post code,” but it’s also a vibrant neighborhood dotted with inspiring social enterprises. On a walking tour of a few of those businesses, we met the crew of East Van Roasters, a chocolate shop and café that employs women in transition. Through glass walls, customers can watch the women winnow the fair-trade beans and then shape them into chocolates. Manager Shelley Bolton explained the process and social enterprise model to us over some rich café mochas and a tasting “flight” of single-origin chocolate bars made from beans sourced in Peru, Madagascar, and the Dominican Republic. Their flavors ranged from spice and berries to citrus and even hints of flowers.

blog_shangri_laFennel-apple soup at MARKET by Jean-Georges

This was the moment before a barely-sweet fennel-and-apple soup was poured atop this artful arrangement of fennel fronds and slivered apples. It was part of the antioxidant-stuffed ‘Food For Thought’ tasting menu that chef de cuisine Scott Henderson created for us inside MARKET by Jean-Georges, the elegant, earth-toned restaurant inside the Shangri-La Hotel. Downstairs, the hotel’s lobby was filled with cast and crew for the shooting of an episode of Mistresses (starring Alyssa Milano). Upstairs, we feasted on steamed halibut, mackerel tartare and roasted duck with date sauce. Jean-Georges Vongerichten wasn’t in the house, but Henderson — who is passionate about sustainable seafood — did him proud.

blog_convention_centre__2Maple-seared sablefish in the Vancouver Convention Centre test dining room

One of the best dishes of the trip came — inside a convention center? Yep. Since 1991, the Vancouver Convention Centre has had a world-renowned chef behind the stick, Blair Rasmussen, who has helped shape a modern British Columbia cuisine that tends to fuse Asian touches and flavors with farm- (and ocean-) to-table ingredients. Nestled within the Centre’s massive kitchen is a private, white-tablecloth dining room where catering staff can test dishes out on potential clients. Coming off the crazed days of the TED2015 conference — for which he created 250 new dishes — chef Rasmussen (and his team) whipped up a scrumptious lunch that married unlikely ingredients in alluring ways. His seared sablefish, with just a hint of maple syrup clinging to its edges, was tender and buttery.

blog_japadogOroshi Japadog on the corner of Burrard and Smithe

The humble Japadog food cart has been “making the world happy and alive through hotdogs” (their motto) for a decade now, topping fat bratwursts with morsels such as seaweed, miso, or deep-fried pork cutlets (katsu). As serendipity would have it, the Japadog cart did brisk business right outside the Sutton Place Hotel, where we were staying. On our last night in Vancouver, we dutifully trekked from our dinner inside Boulevard to the Japadog cart, one side of which is plastered with a pictorial menu and the the other, photos of celebrities enjoying Japadogs. On the recommendation of Amber Sessions, Tourism Vancouver’s manager of travel and trade media relations, we collectively ordered an oroshi dog. The weiner arrived on a charred bun topped with minced radish and soy sauce, but we slathered on some wasabi mayonnaise, too, and divvied it up. While the dog couldn’t quite hold a match to the outrageously delicious food we’d eaten for three days straight, a late-night Japadog definitely hits the spot.

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Feed Me Friday: “Super, Natural” Vancouver Dishes and Drinks, Part One

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Seared octopus with mustard greens, charred carrots, spicy Szechuan-style pork rinds, and some tamarind bringing it all together at Quail’s Gate Winery in West Kelowna, British Columbia. (It’s not Vancouver, but definitely worth a road trip).

“We don’t really toot our own horn.”

One hears variations of this almost everywhere in British Columbia: From business people, from tour guides, even from chefs. The constant but earnest humility is puzzling, especially in Vancouver, which is blessed with dramatic views in every direction as well as extraordinary food, drink, and hospitality.

I learned all of this last week during my first visit to Vancouver as part of a TED2015-inspired press trip. With so many great thinkers in its midst, the city was in an electric state — but I have a feeling that the beautifully composed dishes that one encounters almost everywhere, from breakfast through to late night snacks, is a constant throughout the seasons.

When I downloaded photos from the trip — from plates of roasted sablefish to wasabi-smothered hot dogs, Taiwanese stir-fry to venison tartare — I had way too much on my hands to cram into one Feed Me Friday blog post. So I’ll divide them into two — and here are some early trip highlights.

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Brunch at Café Medina

Lamb meatballs for breakfast? Yep. At Café Medina, an airy space on Richards Street in Vancouver, chef Jonathan Chovancek (also a cofounder of Bittered Sling Extracts) gives brunch a fusion-y shot in the arm with flavors grabbed from all corners of the globe, especially Spain, north Africa, and the Middle East. Braised short ribs, Moroccan-spice-cured salmon, hazelnut-almond romesco, and salted-caramel-topped Belgian waffles might all share the breakfast table at this spot, where a line forms on weekends. Those fork-tender meatballs (shown on the right, above) were slathered in an olive-flecked tomato sauce, but our group especially loved the Harissa Pain Plat, a pita stuffed with ground beef and topped with harissa sauce, Manchego, humus, and greens. I washed it down with excellent coffee and a rosehip, eucalyptus, and Jaffa-orange-flavored soda.

 

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Venison tartare at L’Abattoir

The name of this bustling restaurant is a nod to the neighborhood in which it resides, a corner of Gastown that was once Vancouver’s meatpacking district and is now a stylish ‘hood of restaurants, galleries, studios, and shops. Housed in a former 19th century jail, the eatery combines vintage and modern elements in an elegant, multilevel space, and the menu draws heavily on seafood and meat prepared with French touches. The venison tartare is a standout: Chef Lee Cooper lends crunch to paper-thin slivers of venison with crackly, seared brussels sprouts leaves, then layers on more velvetiness with smoked egg yolk.

 

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Cocktails (and wine, and dinner) at Chambar

On her cocktail list, bar manager Wendy McGuiness marries unbridled creativity with doses of restraint and a strong connection to all that grows — such as in Two In the Bush, shown above: Bombay gin infused with red tea leaves (Rooibos), blended with blue-lotus flower vermouth and damiana tincture (!), then shaken with egg whites, citrus juices and some house marmalade. The herbal notes tumble over each other as they bristle against hints of bitterness and sugar. It tastes like early spring in a glass. (More on Chambar’s food next week).

 

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The Pillars of Producing Successful Events, Courtesy of TED’s Janet McCartney

ted_audienceLast week, the TED2015 conference unfolded at the Vancouver Convention Centre for the second time since the event moved there from California last year. For the 1,300 or so attendees, TED is a five-day whirlwind of talks, dinners, networking, and satellite events — so it was a treat when TED’s director of events, Janet McCartney, took time out of her packed schedule to drop in on a TED simulcast at Vancouver’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue. (Convene was in the audience, part of a TED-inspired press trip about which we’ll write more in coming days).

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 2.13.20 PMThe spiky-haired McCartney, who works on TED alongside her business partner (and twin sister) Katherine McCartney, was succinct and efficient as she ran through her list of  “fundamentals” for producing a successful event as innovative and far-reaching as TED. While her own talk was much less than 18 minutes, it was — like the conference itself — dense with big ideas.

Adaptability and attention to nuance. “Everything changes at TED all of the time,” said McCartney, referring to the TED team’s penchant for real-time adjustment of their plans up until the moment that conference begins. “There’s no manual to produce an event of this scale,” she added, and nothing is ever black or white. Rather, desired outcomes help shape moment-to-moment decisions: “What is the opportunity? What is the goal?”

Vision and smart collaboration. McCartney and her staff hew to “a really strong global vision of what we’re doing,” as they plan each event. Because they’re constantly looking beyond the microcosm of the conference itself, TED asks partners to think big and “stretch themselves.” That means the organization seeks out “the brightest minds around,” such as architect David Rockwell, who designed the semi-circular, custom TED theater used for the talks. “There’s nothing inelegant about [the theater],” said McCartney, and it combines both magnificence and intimacy — offering attendees a sense that “this is theirs, and theirs alone.”

Persistence, tenacity, and grit. With TED, as with any event that happens year after year, “there’s a lot of repetition,” said McCartney. So the organization works to keep their employees comfortable and engaged — ordering in delicious food, for example — during a grueling three-month period before the event, a time when they might hardly see families or friends. And with 110 TED team members working in New York City, McCartney quipped that she and her Vancouver team needed to have ample ‘tude to match theirs. “No is never no.”

Curious for a deeper glimpse into producing the TED conference? Check out our interview with Katherine McCartney in the April issue of Convene, online late next week. Also check out “4 Lessons Every Meeting Planner Should Take From TED’s Content Strategy,” on pcma.org.

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The TED theater being broken down the day after TED2015 wrapped.

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Prisoner Exchange

So it’s interesting enough that some inmates at the Indiana Women’s Prison conducted historical research that was deep and rigorous enough to credibly call into question the facility’s saintly origin as the Indiana Reformatory Institute for Women and Girls in 1873 — and publish that research in academic journals. But a particularly noteworthy detail included in this Slate article by Rebecca Onion is that three of the women also presented a paper on their research via videoconference at the Indiana Association of Historians’ 2014 Annual Meeting, while another one of the inmates remotely presented related research at the Indiana Academy of the Social Sciences’ 2014 Annual Meeting.

I don’t really have anything to add except that I think this is pretty cool. I’ve heard of meetings and conferences going out of their way to involve young students, or underserved populations, or the general public, but this is the first time I’ve seen professional societies include people who are behind bars in their programs. And why not? The point of a meeting is to foster new ideas and new connections, and the inmate historians of the Indiana Women’s Prison could certainly use both as they work to repay their debt to society.

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Feed Me Friday: A Small Farm With Big Ideas

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I read a story this morning, and it struck me as a perfect fit for our Feed Me Friday blog series. It’s about the future of farming. And conferences, like in most industries, have an important role to play in that future.

The story, which appeared in the online magazine Craftsmanship, is about Paul Kaiser, whose method of farming three acres of vegetables in Sebastopol, California, has been described as “sustainability on steroids.” His crops gross 10 times the average, all without plowing an inch of soil, without any weeding, without using any sprays (chemical or organic), using minimal water in a drought-plagued state — as little as one hour a week, using a drip system — and applying compost. Lots of compost.

“Kaiser envisions a world where every city — even in the driest areas of the globe — is surrounded by small, healthy farms like his,” the article says. “In his estimation, the higher income these farms can generate will allow their owners to hire more laborers; and the workers will come because these jobs are skilled, full-time, and well-paid.”

Where do meetings fit into this ambitious vision? First, the author of the story met Kaiser last year at a Napa farming conservation conference. And, second, that’s how Kaiser is spreading the word about his methods, which are at the forefront of a farming movement — at conferences. Including the EcoFarm Conference in Pacific Grove, California, a five-day event devoted to sustainable farming, where he packed the house this past January.

That’s how a three-acre farm in California can help feed the world.

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The Sharing Economy is Meetings

airbnb-logo-meaningWe wrote about the sharing economy — and Airbnb’s real or perceived future effect on room blocks — in our September issue CMP Series, and addressed it in a survey in that same issue.
A new study reveals that Airbnb — at least when it comes to leisure-travel accommodations — is more about convenience than anything else, even for Millennials. According to Resonance Report: 2015 Portrait of the U.S. Millennial Traveler, while 40 percent of Millennial travelers use owner-direct services like Airbnb on a regular or occasional basis, it’s often their last choice for vacation accommodations. The study draws the conclusion that Millennials choose owner-direct lodgings at least in part because they are cost-effective, not necessarily because they seek the experience of living like — or with — a local.

In fact, a recent Harvard Business Review article makes the point that “the sharing economy” may be a misnomer — it’s more accurate to call it “an access economy.” In its truest sense, the article says, sharing is a form of social exchange. With Airbnb, consumers are paying to access someone else’s goods or services for a particular period of time, making it an economic exchange. And that makes Airbnb’s rebranding last year (see logo above) “a misstep,” according to the article, because the value most consumers find with Airbnb is monetary, not social.

By this logic, face-to-face events should be defined as the sharing economy, not Airbnb. It’s not just the sharing of knowledge that brings attendees to meetings, it’s the social exchange among peers. While that may be more of a philosophical distinction, there are practical ramifications. Attendees will certainly get less of that socialization by staying at off-site apartments and homes than by mingling with fellow attendees at the host hotel.

One of the HBR article’s takeaways is that organizations that emphasize convenience and price will have a competitive advantage over those who try to play up a sense of community. Meetings already have the community value-proposition down pat. And while negotiating low room rates in this economy is a tall order, at least seamlessly linking event registration with housing could deter convenience-seeking attendees from searching sites like Airbnb for other options.

 

 

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Iron Man in 3D

In February, we wrote about e-NABLE, an organization that has convened a global community of designers, engineers, artists, prosthetists, and others to design and build low-cost prosthetic devices for kids and other using 3D printing. In September 2014, the organization held its first-ever face-to-face conference at John Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore.

One of e-NABLE’s volunteers, it turns out, is University of Central Florida graduate Albert Manero, who led a team at UCF in the design of the “Limbitless” arm featured in the video above with Alex, the bow-tied young man for whom UCF designed its first prosthetic limb.

Manero, a Fulbright scholar, is executive director of Limbitless Solutions, a nonprofit than operates as volunteers under e-NABLE. Their mission: “to create a world without limits, where everyone has access to the tools necessary to manufacture simple, affordable, and accessible solutions through open source design and 3D printing.”

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Feed Me Friday: How Sacramento Is Using Food As A Meetings Magnet

ca_jazzEarlier this week, reps from various California destinations converged on New York City for a handful of press events (including a stunning reception at Jazz At Lincoln Center, pictured). On Tuesday, I had lunch with one — Lucy Steffens, director of travel media for Visit Sacramento — who gave me the lowdown on how that city is developing its farm-to-fork identity.

As we shared some chargrilled squid and salmon salad, Steffens explained how just a few years ago, visitors might not have necessarily targeted Sacramento as a place to get their food groove on. San Francisco, 90 miles to the west, has always cast a long shadow.

sactownYet this city of nearly half-million people is surrounded by 1.4 million acres of farmland, making it easy for chefs at any of Sacramento’s 1,600-plus eateries to serve ridiculously  fresh cheese, meat, veggies, fruit, and legumes  — not to mention first-class wine and beer. A nearby university, University of California, Davis, is known for its agricultural research. More tomatoes are grown around Sacramento than anywhere else in the world. And did you know that Sacramento is an epicenter for caviar and almonds? Neither did I. (Blue Diamond Growers is headquartered here).

Recognizing that this has long gone — well, unrecognized — in 2012, the city took steps to highlight this former Gold Rush locale as a farm-to-fork hotbed. The Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau launched a website that aggregates food-related events such as permaculture courses and walking tours with farmers market schedules. A handy chart even shows when certain veggies and fruit, such as beets and cherries, are in season.

Planners are taking notice, Steffens said. Though Sacramento’s meetings capabilities max out at a few thousand attendees, those that do come in for events find a city teeming with fresh food, incredible wine, and opportunities to learn about the working landscape and how it works in tandem with award-winning restaurants. Sacramento is working hard to get that message out into the world, and it’s a prime example of how a destination can mine an underdeveloped facet of their identity and use it to their advantage. We can’t wait for our next visit.

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CMP Rumble, with Tahira and Claire

Tahira Endean, CMP, Quickmobile’s marketing event manager, and Claire Harrington, CMP, communications manager at Social Tables, are two of the savviest event technologists we know. So we asked them to dive into the numbers in the our 24th annual Meetings Market Survey, and talk about how planners can use them strategically.

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#COCAL2015: A Despedida, COCAL Congress!

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Clockwise from the top — Greater Houston CVB’s Daniel Palomo, Eduardo Chaillo, Bruce MacMillan, Mendoza Bureau’s Silvana Biagiotti, Cartagena de Indias Convention Center’s Juliana López​ (Cartagena Center), and PCMA’s Michelle Crowley enjoy a day off in Florianopolis.

The 2015 COCAL Congress wrapped up in Florianópolis, Brazil, on Saturday night. Our woman on the ground, PCMA’s Michelle Crowley, didn’t get home until early this morning, but that didn’t stop us from bothering her with more questions — and, more important, didn’t stop her from answering them. Here’s her report on the last days of COCAL:

What was a key takeaway from Saturday’s programming?
​Roger Tondeur, the founder, chairman, and president of MCI, presented the closing keynote, highlighting megatrends and how they are affecting the industry. The biggest takeaway for the conference participants was to shift their session format from presenters to facilitators. This can be a challenge for associations to change their structure and mindset.

How did the PCMA-supported session that you previewed for us the other day go?
Bruce [MacMillan] and Paul [Vallee] did a great job.  They presented some very practical examples and steps on how destinations and PCOs can better work together, highlighting the importance of bringing all the key stakeholders in the destination together.

How did COCAL compare to other, similar meetings-industry conferences you’ve attended in other parts of the world?
COCAL has a very different membership structure than other industry associations. Traditionally, they receive a lot of attendees at their annual conference from the country the event takes place in. This was certainly true this year, as around 70 percent of the participants were from Brazil. In addition, the education is typically organized by the local host committee, so it is very different every year, which makes it an interesting conference.

How was Friday night’s reception?
It was fantastic! It was hosted by Guadalajara, which is where the conference will be next year. The food was great, there was Mexican decor and music, and a lot of excitement around the 2016 event.

What did you do on Sunday before you traveled home?
Several participants — six of us in all — decided to take advantage of our evening departure the day after the conference and took a tour to the main lake on the island of Floripa. We took a boat tour that went to a small fishing village that is only accessible by walking trail or boat. We hiked to a waterfall and had lunch at a local restaurant with amazing fresh fish from the lake. It was a great morning before our long flights home.

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