Taste of Nova Scotia Prestige Awards: A Celebration of Excellence

Prestige Awards winners

Ascending the escalator at Casino Nova Scotia, I began to hear the the din of hungry people awaiting lunch:  a little louder than the usual noon hour crowd, punctuated by the occasional boisterous burst. I stepped off into a lobby full of a local food geek’s version of the Academy Awards red carpet show.

Over 400 people attending the annual Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia (TIANS) conference were waiting anxiously for the Taste of Nova Scotia luncheon and to hear who the winners of the 2012 Prestige Awards would be.

Admittedly, I was a little starstruck.  Here I was hobnobbing with the creators of the cheese I crave, the wine I sip, and the restaurants at which I carefully cross-compare creme brûlées.

I calmed my fluttering heart and grabbed my picnic lunch, provided by jane’s on the common, taking my seat at the front of the room.  From here I had a choice view of all the goings-on as I downed a sandwich and salad, some Fox Hill cheese, and a Scotian Gold Honeycrisp apple, chased with Terra Beata cranberry juice.  I happily chatted with the Kilted Chef about local honey until the awards ceremony began.

The Prestige Awards are consumer-nominated awards celebrating culinary excellence among Taste of Nova Scotia members.  This year, Taste received over 800 nominations for Restaurant of the Year, Innovative Product of the Year, Producer of the Year, Server of the Year, Consumer Choice Product of the Year, and the lauded Gary MacDonald Culinary Ambassador of the Year award.The first award, for Restaurant of the Year, Essence of Nova Scotia, went to Trellis Cafe for representing Nova Scotia culture, heritage and lifestyle.  This was something I could personally relate to, having visited several times this year after delighting in a particularly wicked crab eggs benny while….ahem…”researching” a blog.  This funky little Hubbards icon wears the Essence of Nova Scotia title well.

The next awards were Restaurant of the Year, Chef Inspired Casual Dining, and Chef Inspired Casual Dining.  These went to Wild Caraway Restaurant and Cafe, in Advocate Harbour, and Restaurant Le Caveau at the Grand Pre Winery in the Annapolis Valley, respectively.I should take this time to tell you that, as the winners were announced, the audience was treated to a video montage featuring each winner.  To be honest, between this and the infectious enthusiasm, dedication, and sense of community I felt among the people in the room, I was starting to get a little misty-eyed.  Seeing the wildest dreams and hardest work of the winners result in this kind of recognition was really inspiring.  And, I’m a sucker for a video montage.Here is one of the videos, for Eel Lake Oysters, but all eight can be found on YouTube:

The next award winner brought a hush and then an appreciative chorus of “oohs” and “aaahs” to the room. Ironworks Distillery won Innovative Product of the Year, an award which includes a $5000 development grant, for their “pear in a bottle”.  If you haven’t seen this amazing product, you really must.  Visit the Ironworks booth at the Seaport Farmers Market and hear all about how they grow pears in the bottle intended for their incredible pear eau de vie.

Every award winner acknowledged the amazing teams they work with, and the community of individuals passionate about promoting Nova Scotia food, as key contributors to their success.  Nowhere was this more endearing than when Jeanita Rand, co-owner of Fox Hill Cheese House, thanked the cows that make it all happen at their farm in the Valley.  It was evident that a huge cast of characters (and creatures) poured their hearts into the success stories we heard through the course of the ceremony.

Deep roots in this province were common among all in attendance, including Andrea Davidson, Server of the Year from Lunenberg’s Fleur de Sel, and the D’Eon family of Eel Lake Oyster Farms, whose oysters won Consumer Choice Product of the Year.  The commitment of these folks to making their livelihood and showing their pride  in Nova Scotia was astounding.

The final award presented was the Culinary Ambassador of the Year Award, presented to a surprised and humble Chef Craig Flinn of Chives Canadian Bistro. Craig is a household name among us foodie types, and was responsible for masterminding this year’s hugely successful Canadian Chef’s Congress.

I was reluctant to leave after all the awards had been given out.  There was such a happy, excited vibe in the room, and a nearly-full tray of tiny little tarts, cupcakes and Florentines left on my table.  Alas, pocketing a chocolate covered strawberry for the road, I headed back down the escalator, wondering what 2013 would hold for my fellow Nova Scotian food lovers.

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