Saturday, May 30, 2009

Mountains, Music & Masterpieces

The weekend began with a cocktail reception in the Lakeview Lounge. Through the windows, frosty Lake Louise glittered under the sinking sun. Classical guitarist John Goulart played while guests mingled around tables of h’or doeuvres, sipping wine and feasting their eyes on the majestic Rocky Mountains. Lamb, risotto, bococcini salad, and lobster bisque were among the edibles.

Pat and Sherrold Moore, Alison and Elliot Geskin, and Andrea Brussa lounged and laughed, sharing travel stories. The Moores and Brussa recounted their most recent trip to Zimbabwe; the Geskins spoke of Hawaii and Mexico. Across the room, Patricia Johnston and Don Groot shared stories of cycling through France, eating grapes off the vine. Talk of beautiful landscapes shifted easily to the one thing they share above all else - a love of fine arts. Hence their presence at The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise for an intimate experience with The Art Gallery of Alberta and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO).

Ann Lewis-Luppino, president of the CPO, welcomed guests warmly, making introductions and setting a relaxed tone. “This weekend is really meant to encourage dialogue, and make friends,” she explained, “I wanted to keep it small, special.”

Lewis-Luppino and her husband, Tony Luppino, executive director of The Art Gallery of Alberta, were gracious hosts for the weekend, the concept for which came from Fairmont Hotels and Resorts Inc.

“European tourists love the mountains, but they’re also used to culture,” explained Luppino, “A package like this keeps them here a little longer and introduces them to more than our wild outdoors.”

It’s also a community-building exercise, they explain further, both for The Fairmont and their two cities. The Mountains, Music & Masterpieces weekend was the first in a variety of themed packages to come.

Saturday featured a discussion on the Group of Seven and their unique role in shaping Canadian identity. Luppino gave an inspired lecture, inviting the forty guests to examine the Lawren Harris and J.E.H. MacDonald paintings in the room. While utterly respectful of original artwork, Luppino wonders if our society is not overly cautious.

“What’s the point in preserving them if no one ever sees them?” he asked.

After a light lunch, Maestro Roberto Minczuk took the stage for an interactive seminar on music and nature, including a performance by CPO musicians Craig Hutchenreuther, Tom Mirhady, Rob Penner, and Brad Otteson.

A four-course gala dinner in the small, plush Alpine Room capped off the day. Atlantic salmon was presented three ways: tartare, smoked, and ceviche, followed by a tomato bisque, and Alberta beef. Another private performance from the CPO quartet - complete with a heartfelt rendition of “home on the range” - prompted standing ovations.

Guests stayed in the elite 7th floor “gold rooms” and following dinner, some made use of the kitchen, chess board, and armchairs in its comfortable lounge while others braved the grizzly-friendly weather for a glimpse of the stars and lumbering porcupines.

A decadent brunch - champagne and eggs benedict with duck confit - gave time for guests to say goodbye. Most agreed that the end of the weekend marked the beginning of something wonderful.

Published in National Post, May 30 2009

NOTE: My accommodation for this event was generously supported by the CPO and the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise - what a treat! My gratitude is only shadowed by my awe for the spectacular views, detailed luxury, and superb service from the valet to the saloon. We will return; thank you!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Business in Calgary, Party in Banff

The Rocky Mountain Food and Wine Festival had the streets of Banff bustling last week. People from across the province strolled down the avenue, hopped on buses, and paraded into the Fairmont Banff Springs for a taste of gourmet fare and fine wine. An entire weekend of decadence was available.

At the Buffalo Mountain Lodge on Friday night, a small group sampled five varieties of Brunello di Montalcino and local fare crafted by Chef Linda Calabrese. While sommelier Roisin Hutchinson shared her passion for wine, coaxing guests into sharing their insights, platters of cheese, jellies, and local game were served. A peppered elk carpaccio and duck terrine, paired with a 2003 Pieri Agostina had guests gushing.

A much larger crowd gathered at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel on Saturday for the first session of the wine and food tasting. Over 2400 people attended the two sessions. Wine, beer and spirits from around the world were featured; guests enjoyed everything from unique coffee rum to organic vodka and vintage wines. Judie and Jim Keall were hunting for new labels on behalf of their son, who owns a wine shop in Calgary. Hellbent Shiraz from Australia did the trick, although New Zealand wines were top among many guests.

Meanwhile, local restaurants and hotels were tempting many with delectable plates. The Bison Restaurant turned out a steady stream of mini herb-rubbed pulled pork sandwiches on freshly made buns with house-made tomato jelly. It was a favorite among many guests, who were served by the restaurant’s owner Ryan Rivard.

Competition for best dish came from young South African chef Morne Burger of Maple Leaf Grill. His wasabi-crusted salmon, cooked to order and perfectly positioned on bite-sized polenta squares, attracted a high number of patrons and a huge amount of praise. Although not on their regular menu, the dish had a number of guests making early plans for dinner.

Among those attending the festival were: Harry Wells, vice president innovation and technology for Newalta (a happy side-trip to his week-long business excursion from Ontario), real estate agent Joe Badin, Alan Beres and Perry Fleming of Foster’s Group, Chef Martin Brenner of Sunshine Village, and Allan and Sonia Cavanagh.

It was back to business in Calgary the following week, at the Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame Luncheon. The inductees for 2009 were announced by Arlene Dickinson, president and CEO of Venture Communications, with comments provided by Colin Merrick, associate partner at Deloitte.

The laureates are: Edward (Ed) McNally, the lawyer and rancher who founded Big Rock Breweries, Allan Markin, the engineer and community leader who helped steer Canadian Natural Resources Limited to great success as the board chair, and Senator Patrick Burns, who will be awarded posthumously for his life of public service.

At the luncheon were Karen Chown of Calgary Economic Development, Murray Edwards of CNRL, Heather Douglas of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, Eva Friesen of The Calgary Foundation, 2008 laureate Don Taylor, and Donald Seaman. The awards will be handed out at the Business Hall of Fame gala in November.
Published in National Post, May 23 2009

NOTE: My accommodation for the Rocky Mountain Food and Wine Festival was generously supported by the folks at Banff Tourism and the oh-so-splendid Fox Hotel & Suites. <- (click here to check it out) Many many thanks for their gracious hospitality, outstanding service and pristine, luxurious hot springs pool.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Bateman Offers Brush With Nature in Banff

At the Whyte Museum last week, guests dressed in vintage safari-wear pulled tiny keys out of a tiny treasure chest before striding down a red carpet into the main gallery. The keys were tied with various colours of ribbon, indicating your “team” for the night.

Robert Bateman, famed Canadian artist and environmentalist, stood on a small stage and spoke quietly about his work. A retrospective hung on the walls around him, work from the different decades of his life. The room was crowded. Finally, raising his sketchbook in one hand, he gestured at the crowd and ordered,

“Now go, get drunk, and spend a lot of money at the silent auction.”

Laughter. Before the audience could swarm or disperse, two figures took the stage - this time, dressed in elaborate Jumanji-style dress with head-set microphones. They directed the audience on an elaborate treasure hunt around the museum, where clues were hidden at various bars and food stations. Catering was provided by the Bison Resturant, which offered dripping, indulgent fondue bits, pan-cooked shrimp, crudités, and other assorted goodies.

Among the adventurers were Alberta Minister of Sustainable Resource Development, Ted Morton with his wife Bambi Morton, MLA Dave Rodney, curator at the National Museum of Wildlife Art, Adam Duncan Harris, Under The Sleeping Buffalo (UTSB) researcher Peter Poole, executive director of Heritage Community Foundation Adriana Davies, sommelier Roisin Hutchinson of Bin 905, senior vice-president of BMO Financial Group Ted McCarron and his wife, Jane McCarron, and Olympic gold medalist Mark Tewksbury with his partner, Rob Mabee of Axis Gallery in Calgary.

Proceeds from the evening will go to the Whyte Museum; Bateman is trumpeting another good cause - the “Get to Know” program, which connects children and the wilderness.

The evening closed with a very special connection to nature: two live owls and a giant hawk, brought in to the museum by animal trainers. The remaining guests crowded around the birds in awe, touching their feathers and watching the odd turning of the owl’s head.

Published in National Post, May 16 2009

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Woodward Woos Teatro

Another heady season at the salon is over. Last week brought a final gathering of Calgary’s cultural elite and intelligentsia to Teatro Restaurant for the last in speaker series on “The Race to the White House and Beyond.” Infamous investigative journalist Bob Woodward was the guest of honour.

Well known for uncovering the Watergate scandal, and introduced by Rudyard Griffiths as a “chronicler of our time”, Woodward focused his remarks on the role of journalism in a democracy, and his personal recollections of the Bush administration. But he began with a different race to the Oval Office, way back when Al Gore was a contender.

“Having dinner with Al Gore is unpleasant,” Woodward said dryly. There was laughter and the clink of glasses as the audience took another swig of Tegrino Vin Santo. “There is not one pleasant thing about it,” he confirmed, “It is taxing. He is absolutely sure he knows everything about every subject.”

Yet there was some wisdom Woodward did accept at face value: Gore told him that only one percent of what goes on in the White House is public knowledge. Years later, it was clear that little more than that was even executive knowledge, when George W. Bush told him he did not attend many of the early meetings on the Iraq war.

“We’ve seen a staggering increase in the level of violence in Iraq - almost incomprehensible - and George Bush was out there asking if we were winning, not for months but for years!” Woodward charged, “The idea that the commander-in-chief would absent himself from those meetings … I felt sick. Sick for my country. The president had lost control. He didn’t know what was real; he didn’t have a grasp on it.”

And thus began his treatise on the role of the press in a liberal democracy, complete with mea culpa on the coverage of the Iraq war. “Media drives them toward accountability,” he said.

The questions ranged from ironic - Tom Flanagan asking about barriers to accessing Canadian politicians - to the cheeky - Carlo Bellusci asked, “Isn’t it true that if governments weren’t so secretive, you’d be out of a job? And don’t people want to just kind of tune all this out and go to the cottage?”

Woodward took it all in stride, concluding on a truly diplomatic note: “Obama thinks he’s restored moral authority to the White House, just as Bush though he’d restored dignity. I say, we’ll see. You can be so sure of something, then time passes, you do your homework, and things look very different.”

The Salon Speaker Series at Teatro will resume in Autumn 2009.

Guests dined on a mouthwatering preserved lemon risotto, the classic Alberta beef tenderloin, and a dainty selection of mignardises. Among those in attendance were: the camera-shy Murray Edwards, University of Calgary’s Barry Cooper, Greg Forrest, John Cordeau of Bennett Jones, Randy Pettipas of Global Public Affairs, Dina and George Honke, energy analyst Wilf Gobert, and Timothy Hamilton, managing partner of Hamilton Hall Soles/ Ray & Berndtson Inc.

Published in National Post, May 9 2009

Saturday, May 2, 2009

New Works and New Workers Welcomed in Calgary

Vincenzo Calli, an Italian painter, has brought a collection of his latest work to the Art Gallery of Calgary, where the work and the artist were celebrated on Wednesday April 22. The paintings depict moments between dreaming and awake, and the suspension between heaven and earth. Some of them portray figures in shadow with placid expressions, while those in the sunlight stare forward anxiously. Others feature tarot cards, clouds, wolves on the hunt, and tiny brushstrokes to simulate watery ripples. The exhibit is on display until Saturday, June 27.

The Italian Chamber of Commerce in Canada (ICCC) co-hosted the event, attracting a large contingent of guests from the local Italian community. Remarks from the artist, and Marina Mason, vice president of the ICCC, were made in Italian and translated.

Guests included Jean Merriman, executive vice president of White Iron Productions, Omar Channan, founding world president of the World Organization of Building Officials and the president of United Nations Association in Canada-Calgary, Dr. John Lacey, honorary consul-general of Thailand, Jennifer Hames, of CTV Television, Lorenzo Lecce of A Touch of Italy, and Jessica MacLeod of Vendemmia International Wines.

Viable Calgary, a workforce program designed to connect employers and persons with disabilities, launched on Thursday, April 23 with a cocktail reception in Teatro’s Opera Room. A keynote speech was delivered by Elsbeth Mehrer, manager of workforce development at Calgary Economic Development. Other speakers included Lisa Thompson of Bank of Montreal, and Peter Pilarski of the Retail Council of Canada.

“When I went to job interviews,” Thompson recounted, “A lot of people thought I had a cognitive impairment, just because I’m in a wheelchair. I had to fight to show them there’s nothing wrong with my brain. It was very discouraging. Luckily BMO was more than open-minded during the hiring process.”

Viable Calgary offers “integration studies” upon request, showing local business how easy - or how difficult - it would be to welcome an employee with a disability. Other services include staffing support, research, and best practices workshops on hiring disabled workers. Funded by local industry, the Government of Alberta and the Government of Canada, these services are provided free of charge.

Guests of the event included Pat and Sherrold Moore, Bryce Roblin of Placement Group, Jim McLaughlin of Alberta Employment and Immigration, Robert Hansen of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, Jenny Cruickshank of The Home Depot, and Linna Morgan of Calgary Counselling Centre.

Wallace Galleries welcomed the work of two new artists this week, Camrose Ducote and Rachel Ovadia. At the opening on Saturday, April 25, guests wandered in for a sip of wine and a look at the fresh pieces. Abstract, eggshell-coloured mixed media make up Ducote’s work. Ovadia on the other hand, with bold colours on giant canvas, lights up the room. Ode to Mozart is made up of deep, grandiose swirls of red overlaid with broad strokes of orange, pulsing from the centre of an electric blue and green border.

The joint display lasts until May 10.

Published in National Post, May 2 2009