The explosion of food trucks in major cities has been a very successful phenomenon. Understandable with an abundance of new talented chefs emerging without the necessary capital needed for real estate investment. Mobile kitchens also suit the economic crunch reaching out to consumers who are seeking cheaper quality food with faster service. Food trucks now are prominent in most cities with the West Coast of America strongly represented all the way from Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco to Los Angeles.
The streetfoodapp.com for Vancouver is most helpful with details including a listing of the food trucks, where they are located, and their hours of operation. Some already have been successful restaurant operations who have opened a truck outlet (Vikram Vij’s Railway Express) and others have been so successful as a food truck that they now have opened a restaurant outlet (Tacofino).
Last week saw the first Chef Meets Truck Festival in Vancouver organized by the chefstablesociety.com. The innovative idea was to show some Vancouver restaurant chefs hopping aboard local food trucks to jointly cook up some new exciting “gourmet” dishes matched with appropriate beverages. The event was very successful and likely to become an annual feature. The exciting menu for the inaugural one was as follows:
Please weigh in with your fav food truck dish and tips from your city!
From those of us who simply slice it into our breakfast cereal to the diehards who consider it to be an integral part of their post exercise smoothie, the banana is ubiquitous in every city across the United States. Whether it’s the need for potassium, fiber or affordable flavor, Americans have made them the highest selling fruit crop for over a century. And despite the thousands of miles they have to travel in order to get here, bananas continue to outsell apples at the grocery store, even though the latter is usually grown within mere miles of many U.S. cities.
But behind this spectacular rise is also a dark past—and a murky future. With the banana’s friendly price tag came numerous coup d’états and military juntas that completely altered the political landscape of numerous countries near the equator. Meanwhile, with the possibility of crippling diseases making their way across the oceans, many are uncertain that this cherished fruit can survive into the next century. It is a fascinating subject that author Dan Koeppel dives into with his 2007 book Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World. “The banana is one of the most intriguing organisms on earth,” writes Koeppel. “Most of us eat just a single kind of banana, a variety called Cavendish, but over one thousand types of banana are found worldwide.”
If you’ve eaten plenty of bananas over the course of your life, then you’ll definitely have a new appreciation for this fruit by learning just how important they are across the globe. For example, in Uganda, a country that grows 11 million tons annually (or 500 pounds per person), famine and hunger is nearly nonexistent due to its banana production. Likewise, to combat Vitamin A deficiencies that affect 150 million children worldwide, the Federated States of Micronesia may have the answer in a hybrid known as Utin lap, which contains 6,000 micrograms—far more than the daily requirement for a child—of beta-carotene, a precursor to Vitamin A.
Another fascinating chapter deals with the continent of Asia, and more specifically, India. As the author points out, “If banana consumers were as enthusiastic and inquisitive as wine lovers, a tour of Asia’s groceries and plantations would be the equivalent to a visit to Bordeaux or the Napa Valley.” Of course, nowhere are people crazier about this fruit than in India, which grows approximately 20 percent of the world’s bananas and has more varieties than anywhere else. While many will scoff at the Indian practice of substituting tomatoes for bananas in their ketchup, you can’t help but feel shortchanged at the grocery store when you learn that there are so many different types beyond Cavendish (the ‘McDonalds of bananas’ according to the author) that we in North America have become so accustomed to. After finishing Koeppel’s book, the urge to try something new will make you go bananas!
Chiquita Banana commercial from the 1940s
For history buffs, a large section is rightfully dedicated to the disturbing role that bananas have played in the Americas since the late nineteenth century. Beginning in 1870 with Captain Lorenzo Dow Baker who made the first commercial transaction by bringing back 160 bunches of Gros Michel to the United States from Jamaica, we learn all about the banana craze that eventually made it America’s number one fruit. Interestingly, at first, the banana was considered a luxury item and extremely taboo due to its phallic nature, requiring an aggressive marketing campaign to assure women of the Victorian Era that it was perfectly fine to eat. But as the twentieth century began, the cost of bananas came down significantly due to several factors. The first was its monoculture where companies focused exclusively on growing only the Gros Michel or “Big Mike” cultivar. Unlike apples, which have many varieties resulting in higher prices, bananas were kept simple, allowing them to undercut their competition despite the distance they had to travel in order to reach consumers. More importantly however was that in order to keep costs down, wages needed to be low, yields high, and countries completely subservient to their interests.
From 1900 to 1930, approximately 25 interventions were conducted by the United States military on behalf of the banana companies, helping them overthrow governments and squash uprisings. In fact, we learn that the term “banana republic” was popularized in a story for Esquire magazine in 1935, describing countries that bent over backwards in order to accommodate the U.S. government and its fruit companies. United Fruit (now Chiquita), the company synonymous with this era is highlighted in great detail, especially for its role in CIA-backed overthrow of President Jacobo Árbenz in 1954.
However, as Koeppel contends, all of these incursions ended up being pyrrhic victories for United Fruit. Following the numerous regime changes, a new threat emerged that couldn’t be bribed or overthrown: Panama disease. A fungus that knows no boundaries, the damage this disease did to United Fruit’s banana fields was so extensive that by 1960, the Gros Michel that millions of people had grown up eating was nearly gone. But instead of finding ways to combat it, United Fruit simply tried to find more land while its competitor Standard Fruit (now Dole) began growing Cavendish, a banana resistant to Panama disease. This strategy would end up knocking United Fruit off its pedestal as the number one banana grower.
More than fifty years later, the question that still remains is could another plague reach the Americas? Koeppel certainly believes so, stressing other diseases like Bunchy Top and Black Sigatoka while demonstrating how easy soil can be contaminated. All it takes is one person with traces of it on their shoes to destroy entire banana fields. And since the business model of American banana growers is based on a monoculture, this makes them particularly vulnerable. Oenophiles will undoubtedly draw parallels between this scenario and the phylloxera epidemic that nearly destroyed France’s vineyards in the nineteenth century. So, could cross breeding bananas work the same way grafting vines on resistant rootstock worked for vintners?
A key strength of the book comes from the tangible solutions that the author proposes. In addition to advocating cross breeding, Koeppel also recommends genetic engineering, a proposal that won’t win him any friends with the organic crowd. Also, it is time for consumers to demand a greater selection of bananas, moving beyond the standard Cavendish. After all, many think that it pales in comparison in terms of taste with the other varieties. And since it seems inevitable that an epidemic will hit Central and South America, it is time that consumers take action before the banana is gone forever.
Question: Recently tried a Pinot Gris with lots of reddish colour. What is going on?
Answer: Yes Pinot Gris (and Pinot Grigio) is usually white. However we are seeing more produced now with a pink tinge or looking like a rose from skin contact. One I enjoyed recently was the Nichol Vineyard Pinot Gris using 100% Naramata grown fruit in BC. It has a salmon berry look from being gently crushed and then spending 36 months on the skins to obtain more colour before the fermentation. Enjoy.
Big wine festivals are still educational and plentiful. I have visited so many of them including Vinexpo in Bordeaux, Prowein in Dusseldorf, London Wine Fair, and even the opportunity to taste the world’s most expensive wines at the Wine Spectator’s New York Wine Experience. It can be frustrating to try and visit everyone at these large wine fairs with so many exhibitors and so little time. This is so even at the annual Vancouver International Wine Festival with Canada the focus for their 39th edition from February 11-19, 2017 which is limited to under 200 wineries.
However the wine explosion around the world has left many smaller wineries without a venue to show their emerging wines to interested consumers. To meet this demand there are more small focused wine festivals to check out. Two in British Columbia this month both in their 3rd year are good examples of this trend:
1. Garagiste North (www.garagistenorth.com) – Model for this is the Bordeaux small lot winemakers making garage wine under the “gar-ay-jeest” name. This one is marketed as “The Small Guys Wine Festival” because it only shows wines produced from 100% Canadian grapes from wineries with an annual total production under 2000 cases. First held in 2014 the 3rd one will be held in Penticton on Sunday September 18. In the Financial Times London on August 21, 2015 they featured Garagiste North as one of the five best wine festivals in the world. Well done!
2. Top Drop Vancouver (www.TopDropVancouver.com) – This festival was just held on September 7 & 8 limited again to only around 40 International, Terroir-Focused Wineries, Craft Breweries, Cideries, and Food Purveyors. Event proceeds go to BC Hospitality Foundation for a good cause – supporting individuals within the hospitality community coping with a financial crisis arising from a medical condition or injury. All visiting winery principals are so passionate and their wines are excellent yet diverse from La Spinetta & Borgogno both from Piedmont, the M. Chapoutier Domaine Tournon project in Australia & those TintoNegro soil unique Malbecs from Argentina and the special white wines of Terravista Vineyards on the Naramata Bench in the Okanagan. The important theme emphasis must be Terroir + Craft. Some thought provoking informal seminars too showing the difference in style of Syrah produced from 4 “boutique” producers from BC, Chile, Australia, and France. Top Drop is so popular that there is now pressure on the organizers to increase the size. The problems of success!
What small wine festivals are already successful or are emerging now in your region?
As one of America’s hottest winemaking states, the Commonwealth of Virginia has experienced a phenomenal amount of growth over the past forty years. Being the fifth largest wine producing state in the nation and home to seven AVAs, local vintners have become known for both quality and diversity, which can be seen in two of its most popular grapes, Cabernet Franc and Viognier. Being praised by numerous wine writers including Jancis Robinson who said some recent vintages have “a good chance of putting the state on the world wine map,” shows just how far the state has come since its darkest days not so long ago.
Back in 1977, a columnist for the Washington Post offered this opinion after attending a blind tasting: “The best of Virginia wines were judged to be barely drinkable, and no bargain at half the price. The worst made us gag … what possessed their winemakers to release them for sale?” Likewise, one native grape grower thought the Virginia Wine of the Month Club was simply a ruse to unload all its bad wine onto uneducated consumers. So how did the situation go from this to the present day? How did President (and native Virginian) Thomas Jefferson’s dream of producing wines that could compete with the best from Europe finally come to fruition?
In putting together ten interesting facts about the wines of Virginia, we can see that viticulture is a practice deeply embedded into the state’s culture. For over 400 years, Virginians have struggled against both Mother Nature and man-made disasters such as war and Prohibition. And through a rigorous process of trial and error that has gone on for centuries, the fruits of their labor have finally ripened for the entire world to see.
1. The first American wines were made around 1609 by English settlers in Jamestown using local grapes. Unfortunately, the finished product was bitter & musky tasting and did not travel well on its way back to Britain.
2. The British were so determined to make viticulture work in America that in 1619 they sent French winemakers and vine cuttings to help establish proper vineyards. That same year, “Acte Twelve” was passed in the Jamestown Assembly, requiring each male colonist head of household to plant at least ten grapevines.
3. Despite these attempts, for hundreds of years, Virginia was not able to successfully grow vitis vinifera vines. Even Thomas Jefferson attempted to make European wines at Monticello for 36 years and was never able to produce one single bottle.
4. A key obstacle for Virginia is its continental climate. In addition to cold winters and springtime frosts, intense heat and humidity in the summer can cause rot and mildew while causing the grapes to ripen too quickly.
5. Realizing this, local vintners focused on growing mostly native Vitis labrusca and Vitis aestivalis varieties such as Norton grapes in the 1800s.
6. Founded in 1873, the Monticello Wine Company would become the largest winery in the South. At both the 1878 and 1889 Paris Expositions, its wines were the only American entries to receive awards.
7. Unfortunately, statewide prohibition in 1916 would have a devastating impact on Virginia’s wine industry. It was very slow to recover and up until 1960, there wasn’t a single winery in the entire state.
8. A key figure in Virginia’s wine history is Gianni Zonin, the boss of one of Italy’s biggest family owned wine companies. In the mid 1970s, he purchased Barboursville Vineyards and was able to produce 300 bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon in 1978, proving that European rootstocks could be successfully planted in the state.
9. Two of the oldest wine festivals in the Mid-Atlantic Region – Vintage Virginia and the Virginia Wine Festival – were instrumental in showcasing the state’s wine industry to both locals and tourists.
10. Today there are hundreds of vineyards all over the state. Those in the east tend to be planted in clay and loam soils while western vineyards are more granite based. Virginia also has a reputation for growing grapes other places find difficult such as Viognier, Petit Verdot and Nebbiolo.
Clarke, Oz. The History of Wine in 100 Bottles: From Bacchus to Bordeaux and Beyond. London: Pavilion Books, 2015.
Fodor’s. Fodor’s Virginia and Maryland with Washington DC. New York: Fodor’s Travel Publications, 2011.
Harding, Janice. The Ultimate Guide to Wine Tasting. Lulu Press, Inc, 2015.
MacNeil, Karen. The Wine Bible. New York: Workman Publishing, 2015.
Rowe, Walker Elliott. A History of Virginia Wines: From Grapes to Glass. Mount Pleasant: Arcadia Publishing, 2009.
Zraly, Kevin. Kevin Zraly’s American Wine Guide 2009. New York: Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., 2008.