Everyone was happy as a clam at the French Embassy on Thursday as Ambassador Kareen Rispal hosted a one-of-a-kind Goût de France / Good France gastronomic experience in support of Ocean Wise and its sustainable seafood program.
Close to 50 attendees of the $350-a-ticket, sold-out event dined together by candlelight over a French-style, four-course creation, complete with wine pairings.
The gourmet meal was prepared by Ocean Wise executive chef Ned Bell, the ambassador’s chef, Laurent Provence, and chefs and students from Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa. The event was part of a larger spring celebration of France’s renowned cuisine, taking place in that country and internationally.
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The menu included Bell’s famous northern shrimp taco hors d’oeuvres; smoked sturgeon with saffron aioli and olive fougasse; organic wild coho salmon caught off the northern coast of British Columbia in Haida Gwaii. Guests were also served imported goat cheese from the Loire Valley as part of a fancy cheese dish, and a yummy chocolate-almond dessert.
The goals of Ocean Wise align with France and Canada’s efforts to become world leaders in ocean protection, said Rispal while speaking to the room about the need to: stop illegal fishing and overfishing, protect endangered species and reduce ocean pollution, which is being aggravated by the accumulation of plastic wastes.
“I think this sustainable dinner is more than just a symbol, it also reflects the fight that France, along with Canada, has undertaken in favour of the environment,” said Rispal. “The French Embassy is proud to give the proceeds from this dinner to Ocean Wise, whose conservation programs are helping to create an ecosystem of producers and consumers who are more respectful and aware of these key challenges.”
Making a rare appearance was Rispal’s husband, Nicolas De Rivière, who flew in from Paris just in time to make the dinner.
The ambassador mingled with guests throughout the evening and visited with them at their tables. So did Bell, who’s been an effective sustainable seafood advocate for the ocean conservation non-profit organization.
Bell has authored a cookbook, Lure: Sustainable Seafood Recipes from the West Coast (he gifted a copy to the ambassador at the dinner), and also founded the Chefs for Oceans movement in 2014. It involved him riding his bike 8,700 kilometres across Canada and hosting events to celebrate healthy lakes, oceans and rivers. He was born in the Okanagan and lives in Vancouver but his forefathers were cod fishermen from Newfoundland.
Bell encouraged dinner guests to learn more about the origins of the seafood sold in grocery stores or served at restaurants, and to always look for the Ocean Wise label. “You can vote with your wallet, and that’s a pretty powerful place to be,” said Bell.
His advice got Harley Finkelstein, COO of Shopify, thinking. The self-described foodie said he plans to be more discerning about the fish he orders while dining out. “When you go to a great restaurant you should be asking the right questions,” said Finkelstein.
The evening also helped to highlight the important work being done by Ocean Wise, a group that many in the room had never previously heard of. “Not really knowing very much about Ocean Wise and hearing the stories and inspirational messages has really made it a very, very interesting night,” said d’Aquino, who counts catch-and-release fly fishing in northern Labrador among his hobbies.
D’Aquino, who’s the chairman and chief executive of Intercounsel Ltd. and one-time CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (now known as the Business Council of Canada), said he was initially attracted to the Goût de France / Good France event because it offered guests a chance to dine in “one of the greatest architectural jewels in Canada” with an ambassador as highly regarded as Rispal.