The DiRoNA Gala

A fine dining finale.

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The Distinguished Restaurants of North America (DiRoNA) hosted its 23rd annual conference gala dinner at the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre Hotel. The three-day conference encompassed fine dining panels, restaurant dinners, and trips to Whistler, all celebrating the art of culinary excellence. This year’s conference chair, and a Hall of Fame member, chef Pino Posteraro of Cioppino’s  put on an event that will “go down in the annuals,” said Lifetime Achievement Award recipient chef Gaetano “Guy” DiSalvo.

The evening began with a Lanson champagne reception. Students from the Vancouver Community College culinary arts department, under the direction of chef Settimio Sicoli and chef John-Carlo Felicella, created eight appetizers using local fare, including pulled bison with fennel apple slaw, and venison with wild rice.

Following a welcome from Aboriginal dancers, the seven-course meal began. Each dish was paired with a Mission Hill Family Estate wine in celebration of owner Anthony von Mandl’s 2013 DiRoNA Hall of Fame distinction. During the dinner, guests shared memories of favourite meals and discussed what inspires culinary innovation. “I will never forget what one of my mentors told me,” said chef Rob Feenie. “He encouraged me to push myself but never to the point where my kitchen became a laboratory. Simplicity is much harder to achieve than complicated cuisine.” Celestino Posteraro of Cioppino’s remembered his mother’s favourite dish of rigatoni con ragú alla genovese. Frank Giustra described his firewood oven pizzas; his “People’s Choice”, a favourite of his guests, is made with fontina cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano di vacche rosse, prosciutto topped with arugula, and a drizzle of Domenica Fiore Olio Novello.

The evening also honoured chef Leah Chase with the 2013 DiRoNA Hall of Fame award. Known in New Orleans as “the Queen of Creole cuisine,” Chase inspired the protagonist Princess Tiana in the 2009 Disney film The Princess and the Frog. Her storied career began waiting tables in the French Quarter until eventually she ran the restaurant owned by her in-laws and converted the menu to reflect her own family’s Creole recipes. Having watched her father grow his own vegetables during the Depression and serve the best of the harvest to his neighbours, Chase attributes her success to her family, heritage, and openness to meeting people. “The more people you meet the more opportunities you have to learn. Everybody has something to leave you,” she told guests.

After Frank Guistra passionately threw down the gauntlet to chef Feenie and Celestino Posteraro, challenging them to a cook-off to determine the best eggplant parmigiana, the inspired evening drew to a close. It was a meal—and a night—to remember.

This year, 21 British Columbia restaurants joined the ranks of DiRoNA honourees. Congratulations to Araxi, Bacchus at the Wedgewood Hotel & Spa, Bearfoot Bistro, Bishop’s, Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar, Chambar, CinCin, Hastings House, Hawksworth, JJ’s Restaurant at the Vancouver Community College, Kirin Restaurant, La Quercia, Lupo, Maenam, Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek, Sooke Harbour House, Terrace Restaurant at Mission Hill Family Estate, Thomas Haas Fine Chocolates and Patisserie, Tojo’s, Vij’s, and West.

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September 19, 2013