A few weeks ago, I emailed a handful of Canadians in the restaurant scene in Beijing and proposed we do something for Canada Day. Nothing huge, nothing costly, just “something” modest to promote places owned or staffed by Canadians, to introduce some dishes and drinks popular in Canada, and to hopefully generate enough buzz to motivate more people to get involved in future projects. People had talked about doing something for years and this seemed like a good time.
That something was for each restaurant to feature a Canada-themed food or drink on its menu for a week. We named it Grade-Eh Week and it also included a half-dozen spots with no Canadian ownership but that nevertheless joined the fun.
Anyway, despite the short preparation time, we did generate some buzz. This was due to stories by media like Beijing Today, City Weekend, The Beijinger and blogger Emily Young; by the Embassy of Canada re-posting our main link to its 220,000+ Weibo followers; by the efforts of venues like Fairmont Beijing which sent Grade-Eh Week info to its 3500 newsletter subscribers; by venue managers telling patrons about the Canadian food and drink specials; by word or mouth and lots of play on social media, including retweets from the Canadian Alumni Network, and so on.
Above all, Grade-Eh Week was a team effort. Some people created dishes, some sourced materials, some made drinks, some did promotion. No doubt, there were frustrations. I know I had some and I am sure others did, too. But all in all, I think Grade-Eh Week was worth it.
As someone who was involved in the project and spent most of the weekend visiting venues on the circuit, I’d like to give a few personal awards. This is simply my take — no one else’s — on the event. Warning: there are some very bad photos coming up…
Going Above (Expectations) and Beyond (City Limits) Award
To Jun Trinh of 4corners, who went to the boondocks to source raw milk and make his own cheese curds for poutine. I know I put pressure on Trinh by telling him a lot of people in the restaurant business were looking forward to trying his work. But it was true!
And while his effort in getting the ingredients was impressive, even better was that he ably used them to create an authentic dish. Those curds did squeak, that gravy was savory, those fries were smothered in both. Good stuff, as attested to by everyone from my fellow Canucks to an Austrian hotel executive to an American editor to several people in the restaurant sector, including a Korea-Hong Kong couple who studied in Quebec, where poutine is said to originate.
On the other hand, there were Trinh’s Lotto 649 shots, named after the Canadian lottery. Here’s how it works: a patron picks 1) a shelf of booze and 2) either the right side or left side. Trinh then makes a shot that uses alcohol from the sixth bottle on that side of the bar, the fourth bottle in the reverse direction, and the ninth bottle going back the other way. The name is good since the odds of getting a good match are roughly the same as winning the lottery. Case in point: Our shot included Johnnie Walker Black, cachaca and 151 rum. Not pleasant. Though hilarious when others are drinking it.
By the way, I know a few people who visited 4corners and found no poutine available. Sorry for the inconvenience. If it is any consolation, Trinh is thinking of featuring poutine on the menu one day per week. I’ll update when I get more info.
The Canadian Multimedia Award
To Adam Goodman at Switch! This place had the Canada-U.S. men’s gold medal hockey game from the 2010 Olympics, Teen Wolf (starring a young Canadian Michael J. Fox: see photo below), plenty of Canadian music (with some songs so popular they repeated three or four times) and patrons singing the national anthem. Good stuff on top of the all-you-can-eat ribs, Moosehead and pitchers of Caesars (see above), with the glasses smartly rimmed with celery salt. A slow clap to Switch for bringing its eh game, although I was slightly miffed the place didn’t show the Canadian classics Porky’s and Porky’s II back-to-back. After all, it was ribs night.
The Defining ‘Penalty’ in ‘Penalty Shot’ Award
To The Irish Volunteer for nearly knocking me and The Rock Lobster out of the game on Friday night with that frozen vodka “penalty” shot. Why not just call it The Gordie Howe Elbow? Anyway, kudos to the IV for its signage, for coming up with creative drink names, and for its hockey-loving crowd. I especially liked the bartender who only had enough Jack Daniels for a half shot of whiskey and topped it up with Johnnie Walker Red Label. There’s a guy who understands line changes.
The Pull the Goalie for an Extra Skater Award
To Alisha Bailey of Starfish. With resident Canuck Chris Herbert tied up in the kitchen, the definitely non-Canadian Bailey — as she informed us — handled the clamato-vodka-oyster shots on Canada Day. A tasty concoction that inspired us to order more oysters and more drinks. She was like Chris Kreider out there.
The Serve the People Award
To Simon Gauthier of A Food Affaire and No More Bunz. While many items during Grade-Eh Week did not come cheap, understandably so given the price of the ingredients, Gauthier was stocking his four branches of A Food Affaire with Nanaimo bars at rmb18 and mac ‘n’ cheese at ~36rmb. Given their popularity, the Nanaimo bars might soon be a regular item. And I can testify that the mac ‘n’ cheese works for breakfast. But not that 48-cm hot dog at No More Bunz. It’s more an afternoon snack. Anyway, for pure range, Gauthier spread the most Canadian food love during Grade-Eh Week.
The Bobby Orr Coast-to-Coast Award
To Marcus Routbard, chef at The Cut in Fairmont Beijing, and Rosayln Ediger from the Embassy of Canada, on hand as guest chef. It would have been easy during last Sunday’s Canada Day brunch to focus on Alberta beef — after all, it just became legally available here — and to surround it with a few other well-known items such as poutine and Nanaimo bars.
Instead, Routbard included them as well as Canuck treats that drew inspiration from across the nation. My favorite: the steelhead trout, a fish popular in BC and also now farmed outside of Beijing. There were many other examples, Timbit-style doughnuts, pork tourtiere (meat pie), moosehunter cookies, Okanagan Valley fruits with wild rice, Canadian ham and pea soup, mac ‘n’ cheese, salmon chuanr….
Given that spread, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see baby seal sausages wrapped in moose bacon. Then again, they might have been at the buffet and I missed them. Anyway, add in that marketing director Nick Stipp played music in the massive range between Gordon Lightfoot and Snow and it made for a great brunch. And that bottle of Forty Creek whisky served as a pleasant digestif.
The Grade-Eh Canuck of the Weekend
Speaking of Stipps, pictured at the top of the post, I’m giving him this award.Who else had a sparkly blue Canadian Idol T-shirt? No one! On top of this, he defied sleep as we hit the Grade-Eh Week trail Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Given he went to bed later and had to get up earlier than me, and I found getting up a momentous struggle, that was pretty impressive. The only thing missing: his hat from last year.
The Paddy O’Sh’Eh’s Award
To Karl Long of Paddy O’Shea’s who actually did some research for the Canadian content section of his weekly quiz. I hear he even mulled calling the pub Paddy O’Canada’s for the day. Anyway, you can find quiz answers and questions here.
The Feel the Music, Hoser Award
To Billy Kawaja of Switch, who sent a steady stream of text messages with the names of Canadian bands last Sunday. Crash Vegas, Doug and the Slugs, Glass Tiger, 54-40, Arcade Fire, Barney Bentall and The Legendary Hearts, Big Sugar, Bush, Cowboy Junkies, Rush, April Wine, Blue Rodeo, Tragically Hip. Why? I don’t know. Maybe he was testing the Caesars all day. Anyway, he forgot Moxy Fruvous, Sass Jordan, Parchute Club, Maestro Fresh Wes and Platinum Blonde. And Helix. Can’t forget Helix.
The Two-Four Award
To my bottle of 25-year-old Alberta Premium Rye that by my count touched the lips of 24 people. I gave out pours at Flamme, Brussels, Champagne Bar, NOLA, Q-Mex and probably a few other places I have forgotten during the past week. General impression: it was spicy, very dry, and clean as a moose fresh through a car wash.
Kudos also to Paca Lee at The Box (I stopped in too late for a beaver tail but will be return for the poutine soon), Seth Grossman, Adam Murray and Victoria Liu at Home Plate (who sold lots of Memphis BBQ poutine and quite a bit of Moosehead) and Mei Li and Joseph Kornides at 12SQM.
Finally, thanks to two non-Canucks, Alisha Bailey and Paul Mathew, for helping save the day, er, night on the mini media tour (and additionally to Bailey for providing a source for Clamato for other establishments that had had trouble finding it). Also, to Simon Gauthier and Nick Stipps for being sounding boards last week. Things got stressful at times and they provided advice and support. And if I’ve forgotten to list anyone here, sorry. Let me know and I’ll add it later, eh.