Saturday, December 12, 2009

An International Christmas Feast in Calgary

Vine and Dine Gives Perfect Holiday Pairings

Christmas came early in Calgary, as over one hundred excited guests gathered on the 35th floor of International Hotel and Suites to celebrate the holidays with fine wines and food from around the world. Vine and Dine, the popular food and wine club hosted by Linda Garson, organized the event.

The menu featured six small courses, each paired with wines from a different country. First there was Portuguese bacalhau da consoada - poached cod with egg and cabbage - matched by Casal Garcia Vinho Verde. Vinho vedre literally translates to ‘green wine’ and speaks to the youthfulness of this blend, which is bottled without aging and meant to be drunk right off the shelf. The wine comes from the north of Portugal. It is fresh and slightly bubbly, a perfect balance to smoky, earthy flavoured food. Then a taste of Chilean sea bass arrived, with a sample of Botalcura Chardonnay/Viognier. The highlights of the meal were yet to come, though, in the form of a succulent braised wild boar belly from Italy and French-style smoked duck breast with toasted pistachio nuts. Those were paired with Masi Campofiorin and Coudoulet de Beaucastel, both full-bodied reds. Typical Canadian holiday fare was provided in the form of turkey with gravy and stuffing, paired perfectly with Gray Monk 50 Red from the Okanagan Valley.

Although she had not tasted any of the dishes prior to the event, Garson was pleased with the pairings. The menu was created especially for the occasion, in partnership with the multi-cultural talent of the hotel’s kitchen staff.

“None of these are available on the typical menu,” explained Carrie Larose of International Hotels, “We wanted to show that the hotel can really provide whatever you want for catering or functions. We also want to provide food that is not typically found in Calgary - or hard to find - and cater to that niche.”

Guests ranged from regular Vine and Dine attendees, like Heidi Wiebe and Wendy Walters, to pure vino-philes like importer Jocelyn Morgan, to culinary adventurers like Ann and Jim Murphy, who are set to travel through Southeast Asia with local food critic John Gilchrist next month. Their trip is organized through the University of Calgary, where Gilchrist teaches, and will include a two-day workshop on ‘Food and Culture’ at the campus before a two week trek through Thailand and Cambodia.

A large and jovial group of sixty-five patrons dominated one side of the room. They were managers of Boston Pizza franchises, enjoying a company Christmas party in high style. Dennis and Betty Bailey, owners of several Boston Pizza restaurants in the Calgary area, were among them.

After each course, there was a draw for two prizes: a bottle of one of the wines sampled, and a gift bag including chocolates and other treats. The majority of the randomly awarded prizes went to the Boston Pizza crowd. After dinner, the tables of the ballroom were cleared to allow dancing late into the evening.

Published in National Post on December 12 2009

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business in Calgary

The Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business [CCAB] was in Calgary last week for their annual gala dinner. It has been twenty-five years since the organization was founded. Earlier this year, an anniversary party was held in Toronto, where John Ralston Saul was the keynote speakerand Rick Mercer delivered a pre-taped welcome address.

In Calgary, the celebration focused on economic development and the success of private-public partnerships. “Alberta is a dynamic place to be, and to learn about sustainable partnerships,” says Clint Davis, president of the CCAB. “This province is an economic driver for the country, and you’re also talking about a strong First Nations community, politically.”

Held at The Westin Hotel, guests mingled around hors d’Ĺ“uvres and an open bar before sitting down for a full four course meal. Salad and soup were served before a turkey and lobster duo, which was finished with a seared berry desert. The food was paired with excellent selections of wine from Nk’Mip Cellars, Canada’s first Aboriginal owned and operated winery. It is found deep in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia.

While networking was high on the agenda, the gala was also the launch pad for the CCAB mentorship program. The initiative partnersAboriginal entrepreneurs with experienced leaders in Canadianbusiness. Applications will be accepted as of January for partnerships in Ontario, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

“It’s a fascinating time in Canada as it pertains to the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal business relationship in this country,” says Davis.

He points to the increasing number of young, urban, educated Aboriginals in Canada as a timely remedy to labour shortages. Davis adds that other factors in the growth of Aboriginal influence include a “groundswell of support for corporate social responsibility” which further connects Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal business communities, roughly five million dollars in investment capital from settlement claims, a panache for entrepreneurial activity, and the legal ‘duty to consult’ before developing on traditional Native land.

While yet another First Nations community in British Columbia - the Gitxsan of Hazeltown - considers giving up their rights under The Indian Act, Davis says change continues to come quickly. “There’s no doubt that The Indian Act in and of itself is a barrier to economic development,” he says, “[Relinquishing it] certainly has an impact on how government and business works together. But I think it’s a very good thing. It builds capacity within the community, and it opens up more opportunity to attract investors."

Those who attended the Calgary gala included: Treaty 8 Grand Chief Arthur Noskey of Loon River First Nation, Woodland Cree Chief Joseph Whitehead, director of education for the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation Dr. Noella Steinhauer, Jess McConnell of
ConocoPhillips, Maria MacAulay of Enbridge, Vicki Reid of EnCana, and Bonnie Veness of Suncor.

Published in National Post on December 5 2009

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Rosenberg Talks Risk at Teatro

David Rosenberg was the guest of honour at the latest Salon Speaker Series event in Calgary.

The theme for this season is Risk and the Global Economy. It’s a topic with which Rosenberg, who left Bank of America-Merrill Lynch in New York to join the Canadian firm Gluskin Sheif earlier this year, is intimately familiar.

After a champagne reception and impressive three-course meal at the posh Teatro Restaurant, guests settled in for the main event. Salon speakers are requested to make opening comments, unscripted, for approximately 30 - 40 minutes before taking questions from the audience. The generous portions of lamb with caramelized root vegetables had barely been cleared, the mouth-watering array of sweets hardly explored, when Rosenberg launched into his monologue.

Dubbed the ‘double dip guy’ by at least one guest (because of his two-pronged recovery forecast), Rosenberg prompted a rush of murmurs with his opening: “You have to make your bets against the consensus,” he proclaimed, “The consensus gets it wrong about eighty percent of the time. But maybe this year is one of those times the consensus actually gets it right … right now the consensus is on some sort of v-shaped recovery.”

He was quick to win over his audience and declare his intentions.

“I am a financial market economist,” he said, “I’m a Wall Street guy and I’m a Bay Street guy. I’m here to talk about how to take the economics…what it means for your investments, and how to stay out of trouble. It’s about how much risk you want to take on, in order to get your return.”

True to the evening’s theme, Rosenberg’s talk centered on risky endeavors. First there was the Obama-Bernake analysis. Calling the United States economy a “fiscal train wreck,” he predicted that the sanctioning of a low dollar would boost their economy, promote exports, and protect balance payments. Then there was full-blown derision for the equities market, which he claimed “as a culture is dead”.

A director of Gluskin Sheif and regular Salon Series patron, Wilf Gobert, agrees on both counts.

“What he’s saying is that people are so focused on equities as the only investment,” Gobert said, “But the reality is that there are a lot of different investments available, including gold and bonds. And the attractiveness of alternative investment has grown, as a means of diversification in asset risk.”

Unsurprised by much of what Rosenberg had to say, Gobert says the economist “can be bullish at times,” citing his optimistic perspective on commodities (and therefore commodity equities) but agrees with his assessment of the American dollar.

“He’s bearish on currency because it’s the only major policy lever left in US government to try to stimulate their economy,” Gobert said.

And what does this mean for Canada, and more to the point, Alberta?

“Like all exporters in Canada, a low US dollar hurts the oil patch,” explains Randy Pettipas, president of Global Public Affairs and a regular guest of the Salon Series, “Your expenses are in Canadian dollars and your revenues in US dollars. It's worth noting though, that historically as the US dollar weakens the price of oil rises providing some compensation.”

Other guests at the function included D’Arcy Levesque of Enbridge, John Cordeau, Q.C. of Bennett Jones LLP, Dave MacInnis of Chevron Canada Ltd, Mark Kryzan of Shaunessy Investment Counsel, Jim Palmer of Burnet, Duckworth & Palmer LLP, Wouter Raemdonck of Total E&P Canada Ltd, David Bercuson of the University of Calgary, and Nicholas Kohler, Calgary Bureau Chief for MacLean’s Magazine. Rudyard Griffiths, co-founder of the series, skipped the event to be with his wife and new-born baby in Toronto.

Published in National Post, November 28 2009
Photo by Adrian Shellard.

Calgary Spies with the Geminis .... A Film Studio?

The 24th Annual Gemini Awards for Excellence in Canadian Television brought top industry talent to Calgary last week for a series of meetings, galas, and a glittering award ceremony, broadcast across the country. Held in a different city each year, this is the first time The Geminis have come to Calgary.

On-screen talent Brent Butt of Corner Gas, Arlene Dickinson of Dragon’s Den, Erin Karpluk of Being Erica, and Tom Jackson, most famous for North of Sixty, mingled with the behind-the-scenes folk who make it all happen, like local acting instructor Karen Ryan, Calgary film commissioner Luke Azevedo, Vancouver producer Ed Hatton, and Tom Cox, executive producer of SEVEN24 Films. While out-of-towners were kept entertained, local industry got a huge boost from their provincial ministry.

It’s taken almost three decades of planning, bargaining, lobbying and hoping, but a permanent, full-service film studio and post-production centre seems to finally be on the horizon in Calgary. During last week’s haze of Gemini Award parties, Alberta Minister of Culture and Community Spirit Lindsay Blackett unveiled an “agreement in principle” with the owners of Canada Olympic Park to buy a piece of their land and build a 75,000-square-foot facility there. The agreement comes less than two weeks after plans for a Canadian Sports Hall of Fame on the same site were announced. The province has promised $10 million to the Hall of Fame, and indicated partial funding support for the estimated $26 million studio development. At another function, Blackett also revealed $800,000 in new provincial grants for creative projects.

“For us it’s amazing”, says Azevedo, “It’s more than just sound studios: there is potential for sustainability, there are plans in place to allow us to link with post-secondary, to help create a training grounds, to help us become the diverse economy that we always talk about. Although we’re in a downturn economy, this is one of those things that will help us recover on a global scale. In my opinion, without a sound stage it’s also very difficult to grow our industry to where we want it to go. And since 80% of the work is done in the Southern quadrant of the province, we do need to facilitate that. This property will allow us a quick transition and a quick build.”

The Glenbow Museum, Westin Hotel, and Teatro Restaurant were all venues for hot ticket parties last week. After the funding announcements were made at the museum, insiders mingled, munched and mused across the street at the Women in Film and Television Alberta (WIFTA) party. Guests dined on scallop ceviche, fresh oysters, seared duck breast, and pork belly appetizers while a seemingly impromptu drum circle and live jazz provided entertainment.

Marni Fullerton, the recently elected president of WIFTA, says the timing was perfect for both a party and the new grants announcement. “We wanted to sort of ‘present’ Alberta, as the rest of the industry from across Canada descended,” she says, “[The funding announcements] are a really positive sign that Alberta is serious about long term development and sustainability in film and television in this province, and I applaud Lindsay Blackett for taking that initiative.”

Big winners at the next evening’s gala award ceremony included The Rick Mercer Report for best comedy, Flashpoint for best drama and best direction, and The Dragon’s Den for best reality series.

Published in National Post November 21, 2009
Photo by Adrian Shellard