If there were an Olympic event for lugging suitcases jam-packed with preserves into Vancouver, local tourism folks Judy Spears and Celia Robben would be shoo-ins for the gold medal.
Last Thursday, Feb. 11, the intrepid women were two representatives of the Sunshine Coast, in Vancouver along with Stafford Lumley, owner of Smitty's Oyster House from the Lower Sunshine Coast. Representing the Powell River area were councillor and tourism chair Chris McNaughton and chef David Bowes of the Laughing Oyster.
The event, billed as A Taste of Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast, was an opportunity for tourism types from both localities to showcase the best of their wares to national and international press. Held on the eve of the Olympic opening, the party did a stellar job of highlighting all the charm of both areas.
The primary focus was culture and food - fabulous food. Beginning with traditional song and dance from the Le-La-La Dancers members of the Kwakwaka'wakw Nation of northern Vancouver Island, the afternoon was magical on many levels.
Another First Nations man, Carey Newman, who hails from a family of carvers, showed his artist ability with an ongoing woodcarving. A multi-talented individual, Newman has yet to meet a medium he hasn't mastered.
The artists, along with a short video showcasing our magnificent landscapes, were great lead-ins to the stars of the show - four B.C. culinary maestros and Food Network star Bob Blumer.
Blumer, known for his whacky and wonderful personality on such food shows as The Surreal Gourmet and Glutton for Punishment, did not disappoint. His reputation as a witty charmer is well earned. He humoured the assembled media and tourism partners by honouring the many requests for photos. He demonstrated how to slurp back the perfectly shucked oyster Lumley presented to him. Blumer's commentary on the many seafoods presented, included the snigger-inducing geoduck, made the afternoon a lot of fun.
Along with the Sun-shine Coast's talented duo, guest chefs included Ken Nakano, the executive sous chef of the Fairmont Empress Hotel, and Ronald St. Pierre from Locals in Courtenay.
As an added enticement for the media, goodie bags were presented to each invited guest. Included in the booty was environmentally friendly swag such as a reusable bag from Chemainus and an apron from Nanaimo made from recycled plastic. And, of course, to go with the theme of the day, there were yummy food gifts of smoked salmon, smoked oysters and an anything-but-ordinary chocolate bar from Victoria. It was like Valentine's Day in a bag. Plus those little jam samples from our neck of the woods - with many different unique flavours, they were certainly not your usual sugar in a jar.
It's fair to say that none of the partakers left hungry from the reception. Lumley also deserves a gold medal -for oyster shucking. A full 35 dozen were opened by our local guru. Those, and the melting chocolate truffles from Victoria, probably set up a romantic evening for several guests.
One of the highlights for everyone was the introduction of Ghana's sole Olympian, skier Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong, better known as Snow Leopard, who has been training on Vancouver Island. He too posed for many pictures with star-struck attendees. His story is an impressive one. He started skiing only five years ago, and he is from an African country that has never seen snow.
While it's too soon to tell what impact the presentation will have on local tourism, if the smiles and satisfying smacks from the guests on Thursday are any indications, the world is indeed our oyster.