A screengrab from a promotional video for the Yellowknife Culinary Festival.
A four-day festival celebrating food in the Northwest Territories will take place for the first time in 2023. Yellowknife will host the festival in the last week of July.
The NWT Culinary Festival is a creation of the Territorial Agrifood Association, which says it wants to celebrate the “taste of place” that the territory has to offer.
From July 27-30, that will mean a range of tastings, contests, celebrity appearances and even a hot wings competition in the style of Hot Ones, the hit Youtube series in which host Sean Evans grills stars about their lives while eating increasingly spicy wings.
“Our goal is to promote that NWT food exists, and that we have not only growers, we have producers, we have chefs, we have restaurants, and that we actually have our own taste of place,” said Janet Dean, the agrifood association’s executive director.
“We wanted to promote and celebrate that, and we thought what better way than through a festival? Coupled with the rise in culinary tourism on a global scale right now – people are travelling to eat and drink – the time was right, and we were the right organization.”
Preparations are now under way.
Dean hopes to offer chocolate tastings, wine pairing sessions, and cooking contests like so-called black box competitions, in which chefs must use all the ingredients in a prepared box to cook the best dish they can.
Dean said two celebrity chefs are booked to appear at the festival (she did not confirm those chefs’ identities) and said well-known local chefs would also be a feature.
Other planned events include a contest to create the best wildcrafted tea and a theme of “dining in unexpected places,” whereby meals might be offered in locations like aircraft hangars, the middle of a lake, or similarly unusual environments.
Smaller-scale chefs ‘seen in a different way’
While the festival draws some inspiration from established southern equivalents, Dean said the recent launch of a cocktail book had also been a driving force.
“It was really well-received,” she said of the book, Frontier Spirits, which included recipes crafted by Yellowknife mixologist Skye Plowman and photos by Hannah Eden.
“People said they didn’t know they could do things like that with what we have here, and that got us thinking that maybe we needed to do a better job promoting how unique and special our flavours are in the Northwest Territories.”
Dean cited the global appeal of NWT fresh fish as an example, and added that she wanted to build on the success of Yellowknife culinary events like Burger Week.
“That’s a big thing but there’s more,” she said, “and I don’t know that people know there’s more. This is a chance to highlight some of that.”
Dean said the festival will work hard not to “burn out our volunteers and then disappear off the books” before it can become a fixture in the territory’s calendar.
“We’re trying to make sure that what we’re asking of volunteers is reasonable,” she said.
“Because our organization is running it, we don’t have to expect volunteers to take on those huge, cumbersome financial roles or leadership roles. People can lead the sections they’re interested in and do what they love.”
She also hopes the festival can provide a spotlight for smaller players in the NWT food industry.
“We’ve got amazing home bakers here, for example, and they can be a part of it,” Dean said.
“Some of the takeaway stuff we can get on Facebook Marketplace? Maybe this is a chance for them to come offline and be seen in a different way.”
This article appears as part of a paid partnership between Cabin Radio, NWT Tourism and the Government of the Northwest Territories Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment celebrating Tourism Week 2023 in the Northwest Territories. To explore more, visit Spectacular NWT on Youtube.