By Glenda McCarthy
The culinary arts students at Bonavista campus are in for a special treat next year if a certain celebrity chef has his way. Duff Goldman, star of the hit series Ace of Cakes and judge on the Donut Showdown, wants to host a special workshop when he returns to Newfoundland and Labrador next year when taking part in Roots, Rants and Roars.
Roots, Rants and Roars is a two-day festival held in Elliston, which celebrates Newfoundland and Labrador’s culture by combining world class cuisine with some of Newfoundland’s top musical talent.
Chefs travel from all across Newfoundland and Labrador and other regions of Canada to share their culinary talents, preparing food for 1,200 ticket holders in what is arguably the best outdoor food festival in the province.
But the event isn’t just for the spectators – as organizer Chris Sheppard points out, the entire weekend is also a learning experience for those enrolled in the culinary programs at CNA’s Bonavista campus. As the culinary arts instructor, Chris says it’s an invaluable experience for the students and alumni who return each year to volunteer with the event.
Current and former students work side-by-side with professional chefs to complete their prep work in Bonavista campus’ state-of-the-art kitchen before bringing it to the event campground.
Through Chris’ connections in the culinary community, a number of high profile chefs take part in the festival each year, which in turn helps his students.
This year saw Duff Goldman and Geof Manthrone take part. Both Duff and Geof starred on the Food Network’s hit television show of 10 seasons, Ace of Cakes, filmed at Charm City Cakes in Baltimore, Maryland.
Chris met Duff when he was a contestant on the Food Network’s Donut Showdown. Duff was one of the three celebrity judges selected to judge Chris’ creations for the Circus themed episode.
“He was fascinated with our accents, with where we were from, and he wanted to know more about it,” Chris recalls. “That sort of opened the door for us to attract him to come for Roots, Rants and Roars. We had a friend in common who also works on Donut Showdown and so I tried to get Duff last year but we couldn’t make it work. He said for this year he would make it work no matter what.”
Once here, the college even ended up with an unexpected donation from the pastry chefs of Charm City Cakes.
“When Duff and Geof were working on their cake for Roots, Rants and Roars they brought some of their own tools and one was an air brush machine. When they realized we didn’t have one, they donated it to the students,” Chris says. “It was one of those things that’s been on our wish list.”
He says Duff pulled out of another event to attend Roots, Rants and Roars and had such a fantastic time while here that not only has he committed to next year’s event, he wants more time with the CNA students.
“He wants to come back earlier next year so he can do workshops with our students. Where else are you going to go to school and get a workshop from a celebrity chef? Like, nowhere. He is just a good guy and for him to want to come back next year and do more stuff, to be more involved with the students, is great.”
It’s something Chris feels program alumni would be interested in as well, since a large number of them come back each year to help out with the festival.
“So many of the culinary arts graduates who work at Bonavista Social Club came back to volunteer at Roots, Rants and Roars that owner Katie Hayne actually closed down for the night,” Chris says.
The event kicked off Friday evening with a welcome reception featuring locally prepared charcuterie and artisan cheese followed by the main event of the evening, The Cod Wars. Six chefs went head-to-head to see who would be crowned King or Queen of Cod, all while being serenaded by some of Newfoundland’s top musical talent. The winner was selected by popular vote of the 400 people in attendance and while the plates were small, the portions were large – especially if you were to consume all six samplings.
With such talented chefs in the running, it was difficult for some to choose their favourite. In the end it was CNA culinary instructor and Bonavista Social Club owner, Katie Hayes, who walked away with the first ever Queen of Cod. Katie’s winning submission was a deep fried Cod burger battered with Red Clover beer and served with her own slaw and beet chips on the side.
With full bellies and under a sky full of stars, the crowd was then delighted by the musical style of the St. John’s band, The Once, who returned to the festival this year after playing at the first event six years ago.
Despite being held in September, Saturday’s Food Hike couldn’t have taken place with better weather. The hike featured five stations of delectable dishes with breath taking views at Look-off Point, the beach and the Puffin Site. Hiking from station to station while watching puffins in the distance and hearing the waves crashing against the shore certainly set the tone for the day.
The five-kilometre hike culminated with the dessert picnic at Gary Baker Memorial Park. With tables upon tables of desserts prepared by local residents, the pièce de résistance was unveiled by Duff who is known for his outlandish designs and delicious cakes. The creation for Roots, Rants and Roars was no exception, a beautiful root cellar cake made in tribute to Ellison’s self-declared title as “Root Cellar Capital of the World.”
Despite the array of food during the hike, there was still one sold out event to go – the Feast, which is exactly what it sounds like. Featuring six main courses as well as an array of desserts prepared by 10 main chefs, everyone pitched in to help get the 400 people in attendance fed. Platters upon platters of food were presented at each table in traditional Newfoundland family style, while performers such as Sherman Downey and The Navigators played well into the night.
For some of the chefs it was their first time attending, but for many it won’t be their last. Duff for example, who is from the small town of Sandwich on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, fell in love with Newfoundland during this first trip to the province.
“I grew up in a town a lot like Bonavista; it had three stop lights,” Duff said during the event on Saturday evening. “This is my first time in Newfoundland, but not my first time in Canada. I love it man. It’s beautiful here and the scenery is amazing. Everybody has been so cool and so nice. I’ve met so many incredible people and I’ve learned so much about this area. You guys get polar bears and ice bergs – it’s amazing and really cool.”
He’s had so much fun that he’s very enthusiastic about returning again in 2017.
“It’s been really fun. It’s very different from most of the food festivals I do. A lot of times food festivals are like bigger type corporate events but Roots, Rants and Roars is basically an entire town hanging out, and really, it’s beautiful. Everyone has been so sweet. Newfoundlanders are cool people I tell you. If you guys asked me to come back next year I’m 100 per cent coming back.”
Johnathan Schwartz, who is currently a freelance chef but has worked at the Reluctant Chef and The Vinyl Room in St. John’s, was also attending Roots, Rants and Roars for the first time. He feels the entire event is a great opportunity for comradery.
“It is a really good event for the chefs to interact with one another, which we don’t always have time to do on our own if you didn’t initiate it with an event like this. It creates a lot of comradery amongst the chefs throughout the City of St. John’s and the whole province,” Johnathan said.
“It’s a fantastic festival. The sense of community with everybody is great, with an all-around good atmosphere. There is not one unhappy person around here. I guarantee you can’t find one here tonight. It’s just good music, good food, so there is nothing to complain about. I’ll absolutely come back again.”
Tania Evans-Doyle of St. John’s, was attending “the feast” for the second time, and after all of the amazing comments she’s heard about the entire weekend, she says next year they plan to take in the entire event.
“It’s fantastic and I love it. I’m in a food coma,” she said with a chuckle. “The entertainment is always good and I love that they bring in the local bands and musicians. It adds to the flavour of the whole event. It’s great that it’s in Elliston and the vibe is just all Newfoundland.
“The food is always amazing. It’s great to have different chefs come in and knowing that each different course is done by a different chef is fantastic. It’s a great experience because you get to get a flavour of each of their styles of cooking. It inspires you to go check out their restaurants.”
As event organizer Chris feels each year it gets better and better.
“I think overall this Roots, Rants and Roars was the best one yet. It just keeps getting better because of the food. Everyone who comes every year is trying to produce better food than the year before.”
For more information about Roots, Rants and Roars, visit www.rootsrantsandroars.ca.