ON THE PLATE: Spot Prawn Festival is May 5
April 18, 2012
On May 5, many of Vancouver's very best chefs will gather at False Creek Fisherman's Wharf to celebrate the 6th annual Spot Prawn Festival. They'll be cooking up a storm of the freshly caught and wholly sustainable crustaceans for the more than 1,000 people who are expected to crowd the wharf and the adjacent seawall to celebrate what many in the local food trade consider to be the city's first-of-summer event.
Fisherman Steve Johansen is thrilled that Vancourites now share his love of our national edible treasure.
I count myself among that number. On the morning of the festival, I will — for the fourth year in a row — wake up before dawn and ride my bicycle down to the wharf to sleepily clamber aboard Steve Johansen's boat, the Organic Ocean. With hot coffee in hand, we will pass quietly under the Granville Bridge and out to several secret spots in the Georgia Strait. To amuse myself, I will try to predict what sort of ancillary creatures will have the temporary misfortune of being brought to the surface (only to be immediately thrown back in). Little kelp greenlings and crabs make regular appearances, but the octopi provide the most drama of the lot, as they seldom want to leave the buffet and require quite a bit of convincing to return to the deep.
As per tradition, once we pass back under the bridge and approach the wharf, I'll be tasked with climbing on top of the cabin with an air-horn to announce our return (and thus, blare the official start of the festival).
It's funny to remember how the Spot Prawn Festival began as a gamble. The Chefs' Table Society came up with the idea for it six years ago to awaken Vancouverites to the fact that there was a sustainable BC alternative to the bland Black Tiger prawns imported from environmentally devastating "farms" from the east coast of India to the Mekong Delta of Vietnam, and to also show our fishermen that they need no longer ship the entire annual spot prawn catch to Japan. Surely there had to be a local, hungry market for the critters, right?
I remember being a little doubtful about it at first, and for very valid reasons: the diners of Tokyo were more familiar with our spot prawns than we Vancouverites were, and seldom does one see chefs accomplish much aside from mutual antipathy whenever they try to act on the same idea together.
In other words, the gamble paid off. It's worked out for everyone, especially us diners. Today, the spot prawn is celebrated across Canada as an edible national treasure when they're in season during May and June. Here in Vancouver, they're in the tongs of pretty much every chef who gives a damn about where their ingredients come from. The chefs are thrilled to have such a reliable, juicy and tasty product to fiddle with and be proud of all summer long, and the fishermen are happy because we've woken up to their wares (sorry Japan). What's more, the festival has inspired other communities to launch similar events (the 4th annual Cowichan Bay Spot Prawn Festival is May 13-14.)
Tickets have gone on sale online early this year, and there is a very real chance that they will sell out before the day. If you want to be guaranteed access to the main attraction, the "Spot Prawn Boil" at the wharf, go to ChefsTableSociety.com and pay your $12 entrance fee up front. In addition to a plate of same-day prawns cooked up by the attending chefs, ticket holders will be treated to the musical stylings of 4U and Matthew Presidente together with samples of R&B beers, Ganton & Larson wines, and coffees from Mogiano. Representatives from Ocean Wise will also be on hand to give away free passes to the Vancouver Aquarium at the festival's kids' zone.
And should you be wondering how best to prepare the prawns that you've purchased fresh from the dock, there will be six local celebrity chefs serving up inspiration one after the other in a cooking demonstration tent for the festival's duration (11am until 3pm).
For those looking to get a little more out of this year's festival, there's also a $42 package that includes all of the above, plus a souvenir tote bag (perfect for carrying your prawns home), a festival T-shirt, a signed copy of the Chefs' Table Society's award-winning Vancouver Cooks cookbook (edited by yours truly), and more.
Note: keep abreast of developments on Twitter by following @SpotPrawnFest and keeping track of the #SpotPrawn2012 hashtag. And on the day, listen for my horn — we'll be arriving at the dock at noon!
Source: WE Vancouver