Taste the JUNOs!

Photos by Andre Gagne

For those of you who think that the JUNO Awards are just about music… well, you’re mostly right. But not quite.

Earlier this week, the JUNOs hosted a tasting party, privy to the official JUNO Gala on April 1st, which is to be hosted by Tom Power. The tasting party was an intimate event, the trailer to the JUNOs motion picture.

“I always like to say that the perfect evening is the pairing of great food, great wine or beer, great music and great conversation,” explains Allan Reid, the President and CEO of the JUNO Awards, CARAS and MusiCounts.

While the JUNO Awards have the music component covered, the food is complements of Jennifer Sands, executive sous chef of the Shaw Centre’s crEATe Kitchen. They are the people that will be cooking up dinner for the Gala’s 1,500 guests.

“Music, food, wine, beer: it’s all fantastic. It’s really what the Ottawa-Capital Region is all about,” says Sands.

It certainly is all fantastic.

Over the course of a half hour, we were treated to just a taste of the four courses that will be served at the Gala. Certainly, just a taste was not enough.

The hors d’oeuvre served was smoked duck and caramelized Macintosh apple chutney, placed on top of marble rye crostini, sweet and perfectly seasoned.

The second course was the salad, featuring panko crusted goats cheese croquette, beet root salad, arugula-pumpkin seed pesto, hot house sprouts and baby spinach. Despite the -16C temperatures that were awaiting us outside, this plate reminded me that spring, at least in spirit, was already in the air.

The entrée was a slow-braised Wellington County beef short rib, served with creamy polenta, roasted butternut puree, and locally-sourced vegetables. And dessert… Dessert was hot chocolate cheesecake. Just as you think it could not get better, it does, as you find a layer of dark chocolate ganache hidden below the cream cheese topping.

This is all to say, those who will experience the four-course meal in its entirety, I envy you.

The drinks were supplied by Steam Whistle Brewing, whose Pilsner, with its floral hoppy aroma and full malty flavour, perfectly complemented the rich flavours of the duck and chutney. Jackson-Triggs Estate Winery provided the wine for the other three courses. The 2015 Reserve Merlot was especially delicious, with dark notes of red berry and warm spice, was the ideal match for the Wellington County short rib.

As for the conversation, six-time JUNO Award-winner Sam Roberts was in attendance to represent the music community.

Speaking to the all-encompassing importance of the JUNO Awards, Roberts notes that they have become “a quintessential part of the Canadian musician’s experience, something that is valuable beyond words. [They are] the only time we get to come together as a community to share our stories, to share our triumphs, the difficulties that we went through, to talk about where music’s going, where it’s headed.”

This community involves more than just musicians, as Roberts noted how the Jackson-Triggs Estate Winery, which sports a huge amphitheatre right in the middle of its vineyard, has become extremely important to his band.

“It’s become a fixture on our summer calendar. And it’s really one of the most beautiful places you can imagine playing music. And it’s in Ontario. You would think you could be in [Italy] or in the Napa Valley, but you’re not. It’s in Ontario.”

The event had all the aspects of Reid’s perfect evening: food, drinks, conversation and music. As a preliminary event anticipating the Awards weekend of April 1st and 2nd, it showed that the JUNOs are not just a musical event: they’re a cultural one.