Swallow Tail Canada’s Dessert Festival & Pop Up Soda Shoppe Recap

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A recap of Swallow Tail Canada’s Dessert Festival & Pop Up Soda Shoppe Event!

On August 30th I was invited to Swallow Tail Canada‘s Dessert Festival & Pop Up Soda Shoppe Event in Vancouver, BC. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you would know that I have a major sweet tooth. I love savoury food, but I have to have something sweet after. Even after breakfast I have to have a bite of ice cream, pastry, cookies or chocolate. And after dinner it’s not unusual for me to order 2 or more desserts. It’s a serious addiction and the only thing that stops me from inhaling a bucket of ice cream is the fear of diabetes. Well the only way to overcome your fears is to face them… and that’s exactly what I did on this evening. Okay, that’s actually a terrible way of looking at it and I only wish it worked like that.

Anyway you could sense my excitement when I heard there was going to be a one night only dessert festival. I’ve already attended a few in Vancouver and it’s nice to see the vendors always being different. I like supporting small and local talent and it’s great to have organizers like Swallow Tail Canada taking initiative to create these events.

The chosen vendors at this event were the new, cool and “hip-sterish” dessert, pastry, chocolate and doughnut shops that have more or less opened within the last year. Almost every category was covered except for pies and surprisingly cakes and cupcakes. Who would have thought the day would finally come when cupcakes were out? I don’t have anything against cupcakes, but it’s just refreshing to finally see a new wave of desserts and dessert “trends”. See my post for Vancouver Dessert Trends 2012.

The secret location for the event was announced a few days before and it was located at The Ridge theatre in Vancouver. The theme was a 1950’s theme which seems quite typical of many Swallow Tail events I’ve been too. I had just come from Diner en Blanc, so it was convenient that I got to reuse my outfit!

Tickets were $15 and then desserts had to be purchased from each vendor once inside. Personally I think it would be fair to have at least a sample from each station included in the ticket price. It was also a bit unfortunate that two out of the five vendors ended up selling out before the event ended so anyone who came later missed out. The organization could have been better, but the venue was unique and I liked the concept. It felt a bit like a bake sale or a carnival with an entrance fee and it was quite small and casual, so I’m on the fence with the set up and logistics. On the other hand these events take a lot of time and effort to put on and partial proceeds went to local charity Growing Chefs which is always worth supporting.

Photos thanks to Sherman.

On the table:

 Station #1 – Cocktail Station

The first station was cocktails and it was a dangerous one to start off at. Special guest Shawn Soole, bar manager at Clives in Victoria, BC, was making cocktails for the event. He was nominated as International Bartender Of The Year for 2012 by Tales Of The Cocktail so it was exciting to have him there.

It was $10-12 for a cocktail which is reasonable at an upscale restaurant, but for a fun and casual dessert event like this I would expect something more approachable. Even smaller glasses or less alcohol at more affordable prices would have worked because the drinks were really boozy and strong. After going through all the dessert stations all I really wanted at the end was a cold glass of milk or water. If I was to wash the sugar down with these I would have called a cab home.

Station #2 – Beta 5

Beta 5 Chocolates was my favourite station of the night and one of the two I was looking forward to most. I’ve already tried some of there things before, but I have yet to visit their actual location.

This is probably one of the most exciting new chocolate shops to hit Vancouver. The flavours were imaginative, the chocolates were hand made and the ingredients are high quality and ethical. From what I tried I was on board. The style was very “Portland” and ahead of what most chocolatiers are doing in the city. It was modern in thought and traditional in technique.

The box of chocolates included: Tobacco, Lemon Verbena, Jasmine, Banana, Earl Grey, Coconut Lime, Whiskey, Imperial Stout, Espresso, Olive Oil, Crispy Praline, 72% Dark. 6pc for $10, 12 pc for $20.

The chocolates were excellent. They had care, passion and patience and I each one tasted like what it was supposed to be. I didn’t really need the legend to refer back to and it was quite obvious. The flavours were pure, natural, dominant and yet well balanced.

I also enjoyed speaking with the owner because we saw eye to eye on many things. Although very good we’re both a bit tired of the “salted caramel” and also “bacon everything”. He pretty much refuses to jump on the bacon bandwagon.

It’s nothing against bacon. I love bacon, but it’s just that it’s always existed and on a wider scale it’s a dated trend that people seemed to have jumped onto this year. Now everything has bacon in it even if it’s good without it. Bacon does make some things better and more fun, but I’m just ready for something beyond bacon.

Anyway the chocolatier at Beta 5 is trying to work with what he wants while answering to consumer demands, and I’m looking forward to seeing much more from this company.

The caramels (12 pc for $10) were a crowd favourite. The caramel flavours were Mango-Passionfruit, Local Raspberry, and Salted Butter. The Mango-Passionfruit was insanely good, but I haven’t tried the other two. I like caramels, but I don’t love them and it wouldn’t be my first choice unless you presented me with these.

It was soft and creamy and not just sugary, but buttery smooth and not greasy and I could taste the sweetness of mango and tartness of passionfruit. It was exotic and different. It was made with good quality ingredients and the caramels had expiry dates which is a great sign of freshness. I also like the ones from Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France.

These are the newest addition to Beta 5 Chocolates – Beta5 Baked! It’s a recent expansion of their product line which includes an assortment of cookies, cream puffs, laminated pastries and desserts in jars (I’m familiar with the last one ;)).

I tried these cream puffs (vanilla, chocolate and salted caramel) and I loved them! I’m not even a huge cream puff fan, but these were delicious. It was a light choux pastry with a crispy crumbly top and it had good flavour and it wasn’t dry. The inside was filled with a rich and creamy eggy custard and each one tasted like what it should. It wasn’t greasy and at only $1 each I would buy them again. The salted caramel cream puff was my favourite, but the other two were solid.

I didn’t get to try this Banana Cream Pie (banana, vanilla, white coffee) $4, but already white coffee instead of white chocolate sounds like an interesting twist to me.

Beta5 Chocolates located: 413 Industrial Ave, Vancouver, BC
BETA5 Chocolates on Urbanspoon

Station #3 – Geoff Van Hassel (French Pastry Chef at Che Baba)

I’ve had dinner at Che Baba before, but I didn’t try their desserts and didn’t realize they would be such a highlight there. This was an almond tart with chocolate ganache and a fresh raspberry. This was good, but I would be interested to see it as a plated dessert at the restaurant. I guess I’ll have to go back!

By the time I got to the macaron station they had sold out. See my post for The Perfect Parisian Macarons.

Che Baba Cantina location: 603 Kingsway, Vancouver, BC

Station #4 – Cartems Donuterie

By the time I got to Cartems they had also sold out of their mini doughnuts. I’ve tried Cartems before though – see here. I think they were selling 3 mini doughnuts for $5 and I haven’t tried these more creative flavours.

Cartems Donuterie location: 408 Carrall Street, Vancouver, BC

Station #5 – Earnest Ice Cream

And this is my favourite category of dessert. Ice cream. I love it. I just got the new Cuisinart Ice Cream and Gelato Maker from  Call the Kettle Black this summer and I’ve been having so much fun with it. See some of my recipes here.

Earnest Ice Cream was the other station I was looking forward to trying most. I’ve already tried their ice cream sandwich at Woodland and Smokehouse (the communal kitchen they operate and sell from), but I was only okay on it. The ice cream was good, but the cookie part was very thin and more like a sponge cake. I really wanted to try their ice creams and in this case they were featuring them as sundaes.

The sundaes ($5 for one) were very creative in flavours and I loved the flavour profiles. I was most impressed by that part. There was a 1) Cardamom Ice Cream with candied orange peel and corn flowers 2) Vanilla Ice Cream, hot fudge & butter salted hazelnuts and 3) Chocolate Ice Cream, hot fudge sauce and maldon salt.

Personally I think the artisan ice cream scene is hurting in Vancouver. Earnest Ice Cream raises the bar, but overall ice cream in Vancouver is still pretty weak. I’m super picky on my ice cream though.

Artisan ice cream was named the hot dessert trend of 2012 by national publications and I even named it on my own Dessert Trends for 2012 list, but in Vancouver the concept has still barely launched. Salt and Straw in Portland is an exciting ice cream shop I hope to have in Vancouver one day.

The ice creams at Earnest ice creams were very good, but I had higher expectations. It is made in small batches with local ingredients and it is custard based which is what I prefer, but it still wasn’t as dense as I liked. It was very natural in flavours and the cardamom was my favourite. I liked the concept and ingredients of the sundae more so than perhaps the ice cream itself, although in Vancouver that is a very good ice cream.

I based my ice cream judgements on the vanilla usually. It’s the “tell all” flavour and you can’t hide anything in that. It was decently dense (could be denser) and natural with few ingredients and it wasn’t fluffy with too much air and it wasn’t too sweet either. All good signs. It was custard based, but not really custardy tasting. The pitfall was that it used vanilla extract and no vanilla bean and personally as a premium ice cream I think it should really have the bean. The combination of bean and extract makes a difference and the flavour is more intense and better with both. It was Tahitian vanilla bean too and I prefer Mexican which is creamier and richer in flavour. Personally I like pastry chef David Lebovitz’s vanilla ice cream – see recipe here.

There was also a 4th sundae – a Cheesecake Ice Cream with brandied caramelized cherries and graham crackers, but they sold out of this by the time I got there.

Earnest Ice Cream found at various locations – see here.

Earnest Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

Palate Cleanser – Salt Watermelon & Sake – Sayuri, Nigori Sake (unfiltered sake), fresh watermelon, sesame seeds, mint and pepper. The idea sounded great, but there was a lot going on and it was very watered down so the description was better.

Goodie Bags! This was a nice touch to end the event with and everyone got to take home a Boylan soda and a Chinese take out box with some coupons to restaurants. I was hoping the offers would be for the dessert vendors at the event, but regardless it was an appreciated gesture.


  • Degan says:

    nice selection at least! I’m still in beginner dessert training so I’m going to have to work up to something like this. OR I can drink your cocktails for you 😉

  • Bow says:

    Up, up and away…you look terrific in the opening picture !

  • Eva Choy says:

    when did this occur…OMG got to attend these look amazing..plus amazing photos…would you know when the next event like this dessert event happens would love to be informed.

  • Andrew says:

    Nice review!

    Thoughts: Crazy that it was $15 just to get in, with the desserts each costing further once inside. $12 a cocktail, for a fun event? Pass. 3 mini doughnuts for $5? Pass. Vendors selling out before the event ends, not cool… they should have a idea of how many people its possible to have attend, no?

    On the positive side, everything looked delicious and those Beta 5 chocolates looked to be the clear winner for the night, to me. Ahead of the game for Vancouver, I gotta visit their shop.
    The brandied caramelized cherries in the cheesecake ice cream sound to die for, too bad it was sold out before you got there. Pics are great!

  • Don says:

    Didn’t Sherman Food adventure blog about another Swallow tail event, having same problem that the food was running low or out of stock? For the amount your paying, you would assume they would have more food, rather then less?

  • Mijune says:

    @Degan – You definitely could have helped with cocktails… except they were kind of quickly put together and some were either a bit sweet or slightly imbalanced.

    @Bow – thanks Bow!

    @Andrew – Yeeeaahh it was a bit rough. The vendors had an idea, but still sold out… so I guess it was busier than they expected. Fair enough, but still sucked for people who showed up late before event ended. And yes! Check out Beta!

    @Don – Yes he did… I was at the same event. This one was better than that one, but still… yeah I think the money goes to renting the venue and labour more so than it does more food… because the food you had to pay for separately anyway.

  • Mijune says:

    @Eva – I actually post all these events on my events calender you see on the right hand side of this blog 🙂

  • I'm with you says:

    Great review. My sentiments exactly. Concept was good but execution could have been better. i.e. maybe call it a festival or fair like it was.
    Re: Beta5, love them – so glad I discovered them last year and have been enjoying their chocolates since. They clearly did the best job that night.
    BTW, I don’t think they promoted it very well but a portion of admission benefits a charity. Growing Chefs, I believe.

  • Mijune says:

    @I’m with you – yes! I mentioned the charity aspect in my intro 🙂 I really like that charity. Thank you for contributing to comments!… I’m with you too 😉

  • Swallow Tail says:

    @Andrew & @Don
    Yeah you’re right, the $15 to get in was silly. We did it that way because we didn’t make any money from the restaurants selling food…they were separate. So we had to charge something at the door to cover our costs and make a little profit.

    We won’t be repeating it the same way though. Thanks for your input!

    And as for food running out, we did let all the vendors know how many tickets we’d sold and they brought enough supply for 500 people, but what we didn’t foresee was that many people came back repeatedly to buy from the same booth! That’s why they sold out. I guess people like dessert…duh right?

    Matt Guterres
    Swallow Tail

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