We arrive at the loading docks with our carts and coolers and bus bins laden with sauces and salts and tongs and frying pans. Immediately there is a camaraderie. We trash talk while setting up our chafing pans; we laugh while lining up our ingredients; and we joke while waiting for the health inspector.
Then the doors open. 450 people swarm into the ballroom. "Thai mussels, yes green curry, lemon grass, ginger...would you like to try our snout salad?" I repeat, and repeat, 450 times. Some people know us, have been to our place, and for others we are new. "South Osborne, you know, just down from the park theatre..." Some people stay and chat, others come back for seconds.
Then it starts to slow down. Danielle and I get to leave the booth, and explore and shmooze. Many of the chefs are wandering around trying each others tastes. We have some great wine, shiraz-malbec for me, chardonnay-riesling for Danielle. We start the quest for foie-gras. Scott from gusto did a kickass duck 3 way Italian style (I've done a three-way Italian style, but it didn't involve a duck), 529 had my favourite prime rib yorkshire bites, The chocolate shop was innovative with their bannock cups filled with tasty bison; Lobster corndogs from the current, golden caviar and pink champagne shooters from Beujena's. For dessert we had tasty cookies from Pineridge Hollow and fantastic red beet filled chocolates from Constance Popp. But for Foie Gras we had to visit our friends at Oui. Foie Gras Torchons with sauternes gelee. Is it rude to ask for seconds? We washed it all down with tasty vodka, ukrainian beer and some ice wine.
A good night all around.
Then we pack up. As the caravan of carts and coolers winds its way back to the loading dock, we resort to the basest of kitchen humour. It is amazing how often "that's what she said" can form the punchline to a good off-colour joke.
We return to the restaurant to unload and have a night cap. Sure we worked hard, spent our own money, raised money for a good cause, but taste of a nation is one of the highlights of the year. The night when the hosiptality crowd gets together for a good time.