From Royalty to Metallica: Scanway Delivers
Whether you’re new to Halifax or lived here your entire life, there’s a very good chance you’ve already enjoyed Scanway.
If you’re like me, you’ve stood on Quinpool Road and looked longingly through the window at the whimsical and elaborate cakes. You’ve picked up some Florentines, or better yet, had the good fortune to attend a function catered by Scanway Catering & Pastry Shop. You already know the food is delicious, the cakes are amazing, and the Florentines are so authentic, they must have just arrived from the Old World.
Despite prior eating experiences with Scanway, I didn’t know what to expect when I sat down with Unni Simensen. I was delighted to discover that using locally sourced products isn’t a new concept for Scanway, it’s a long-standing business practice.
Unni laughed when we talked about ‘Buy Local’ because it is all she has ever done during her 30 years of business. “It’s always been a natural thing,” she said. “We’ve always done slow cooking – it’s what we grew up with.”
Everything under the Scanway umbrella is made fresh either at the pastry shop on Quinpool Road, the catering kitchen in downtown Halifax or Saege Bistro – another arm of the Scanway family – on Spring Garden Road.
One of Unni’s most compelling points is the flexibility that is possible when everything is made fresh. “People like to know where their food is coming from. We can make gluten-free, diabetic, we can cater to everyone because we know where everything comes from.”
After our chat, Unni showed me around the kitchen, and I got to see their famous Florentines made right before my eyes. Mind-blowing fact: Scanway makes about 100,000 Florentines a year.
One of many highlights of my visit was the opportunity to sample Scanway’s best-known cake, the Princess Martha raspberry torte, Halifax’s most popular celebration cake. It’s easy to see why. Raspberry mousse layered with impossibly light cake, topped with whipped cream and white chocolate shavings. It was light and fruity, just sweet enough to make me want a second piece.
To make sure I enjoyed the full scope of the pastry shop, Unni prepared a mini-feast of sweet treats: Florentines, strawberry and pistachio macarons, truffles, raspberry buttercream tarts, meringue kisses, chocolate chip cookies, spice cookies, and an almond tart.
I enjoyed every bite of it that I didn’t share, and it was a very decent-sized plate – almost delicious beyond words. I hoarded the macarons because they reminded me of Paris, but was happy to share the rest with my eager co-workers and friends. In short, I was the star of the office and in retrospect, it would have been a good time to ask some favours.
A couple of days later, I visited Scanway’s catering kitchen, located in downtown Halifax at the Sheraton Four Points. The kitchen was a beehive of activity. An evening event meant all hands were on deck busily preparing food, consulting the order sheet, slicing, rolling, wrapping – simultaneously – and joking while discussing the event’s details in the same breath.
This level of activity, though, is just another day on the farm at Scanway, so to speak. I got to speak to chef Geir Simensen, about their approach to catering and how their take on fresh, local ingredients sets them apart.
“We’ve done food for the G7 and for royalty, but then we also did the Metallica concert,” says Simensen. “Everything at the events is local. If we’re doing fries, we doing fresh-cut fries, we’re using chicken from the Valley, we do fun tacos and burgers made with Nova Scotia beef. With catering, we try to do restaurant-style food, but smaller. ‘We can’t do it’ – those words don’t apply.’”
One of the points both Unni and Geir were clear to make is their customers know they will get exceptional quality food, that is a given, but they also get a local food experience that is adapted for a wide range of event sizes, and importantly, a wide range of budgets. They want their customers to enjoy an unforgettable eating experience, one that I was fortunate enough to sample twice in a week.
At the catering kitchen, the chefs treated me to a sampler plate for that day’s event: potato latkes with Nova Scotia smoked salmon, mini burger on a homemade Scanway bun, house-made sushi – rolled fresh on site, lamb kefta, Scanway’s famous Thai salad rolls – with cilantro hoisin sauce, lobster bruschetta on a crostini, and hoisin-glazed scallops.
To retain an air of professionalism, I approached my plate slowly, doing my best to take each bite deliberately, despite wanting to inhale everything in sight.
The lobster bruschetta was a rich, local take on a classic “portable” food. The mini burgers were tasty and juicy, and the smoked salmon and potato latkes balanced contrasting flavours. Scanway’s famous Thai salad rolls did not disappoint, with a nice bite of cilantro, and tangy cilantro-hoisin sauce, making it a perfect vegetarian option.
With sea water in my blood, I couldn’t resist the hoisin-glazed scallops. I was only sad I couldn’t attend the event to park myself by the station to fill my plate as they came out of the prep area.
When people use Scanway for an event, chef Geir wants people to taste the quality and effort his team exerts: “We take the effort to source local ingredients and give them respect, serve them properly. I want them to think about what they’re eating. Even with catering functions, where people are working and the food could be secondary, we want them to know we respect the food.”
My trips to Scanway were certainly educational. I always knew the food was terrific, but I have a whole new appreciation for the effort and flexibility their work requires. One day they could be in a field, the next they’re in a private home. With their well-earned reputation for professionalism, flexibility, planning (and then more planning), and a determination to make things work for clients – full-stop – there are plenty of reasons to go back to Scanway again and again.
Next time, however, I will definitely nab some more of those salad rolls and a few of the macarons while I’m at it.