In 1985, when the first Ottawa Wine and Food Festival [OWFF] show was launched, Halina Player – founder of OWFF (with Robert Player) – called in a friend to help out with setting up the demonstration kitchen at the first OWFF. That friend contacted Pam Collacott who agreed to help. Pam has been involved with OWFF directly and indirectly over the past thirty years. She recalls her first year in the demonstration area as, “hectic but fun.” This element of chaotic creativity is a consistent part of Pam’s identity as a culinary specialist. In fact, she noted that one of her favourite parts about cooking is the freedom to play with food.
Fortunately, Pam has discovered a balance between work and play by taking on various positions within the media world that allowed her to interact with food. She is a food writer, a cookbook author, a TV cook on CTV News at Noon, and in the past, she spent fourteen years as a columnist for Ottawa Citizen. “I’ve always enjoyed trying new foods, flavours and techniques, sometimes with surprising and not so great results, and sometimes I create spectacular results. If the latter, I quickly write down what I’ve done,” she stated enthusiastically. “As I’m still doing food writing and recipe development, you never know when something will be useful!” Pam owned and taught at the Trillium Cooking School, which she ran successfully for 23 years. The school closed several years ago.
Pam Collacott helped organize master classes at the OWFF, a project she referred to as, “the brainchild of Kathleen Walker, who was food editor of the Ottawa Citizen at the time.” At one point in the nineties, the Citizen took over the running of the demonstration area at the OWFF and Pam was the manager of the demo area. “Kathleen would contact cookbook authors from Canada, the U.S. and beyond, inviting them to visit Ottawa with their new books at the time of the show, so they could do cooking demos and master classes. We had some very well-known authors and chefs visit over the years. To name a few from Canada: Peter Gzowski, Anne Desjardins, Bonnie Stern, Rose Reisman, and James Barber…and many more.”
“Our job was to purchase food and do advance prep for all of the demos during the show, then assist during their demos, and then plate and serve the audience samples,” commented Pam as she remembered those years. The master classes were run on, “Saturday and Sunday mornings of show weekend but not during [festival] hours,” and the presenters involved were often well-known Canadian and international food personalities. Pam met and interacted with a variety of food celebrities throughout her work at the OWFF demonstration kitchen and along with those encounters she accumulated stories. “Our prep team began work on the show months ahead, gathering and in some cases rewriting chef’s recipes. The author’s recipes were usually okay as we took them right out of their books, but there was [once] a cookbook recipe that made 4 servings that called for 5 pounds of fish. The author was not pleased when we pointed out this error!” she reminisced amusedly.
She credits the smooth running of the demonstration kitchen to the team she worked with, which included local chefs and restauranteurs. Local food was also used as often as possible, said Pam, “[Once we travelled] far out into the Ottawa Valley for wonderful local Ontario Lamb for one chef. Sadly, he said the chops were too large and rejected them. I never did find out who got to enjoy that lamb!”
To hear Pam talk about it, one would think that the food world is as wild and crazy as the Hollywood Hills. One of her best stories was about a chef who rejected a pasta maker that her team had provided for his Italian food demonstration at one OWFF show. “Every Italian household in the city was contacted I think and we heard after the fact that the correct pasta maker was found by someone who actually broke into a store after-hours to get it,” she quickly clarified the context of the story, “in his and our defense, he was a former employee of the store.” When that demonstration occurred, it became clear why a specific pasta maker would be required, said Pam, “[His demo] included making a 70-foot long ribbon of pasta that ran right out the front door…I just wish he’d explained that to us ahead of time. High drama that evening!”
While Pam remarked that she has dealt several prima donnas over her career, she prefers to reflect upon the more exciting, less stressful memories; however, she cherishes each experience she encountered. Actually spending time with and getting to know some of her food heroes was an amazing part of Pam’s participation in OWFF. When asked to summarize the festival in three words, she felt that three words could not do the show justice, “our role at the show was hard work and involved very long hours but when the show ended and everything went well, it was a wonderful feeling.” When pressed about a summary as festival descriptors, she commented, “fabulous food and wine.”
“[My favourite part of the festival is] the people I met and worked with: our advance prep team under the auspices of the Citizen, the many volunteers from my cooking school, and the late David Dollin and Peter Ward, bookseller and wine expert, who worked along with us as well as all of the show attendees who stopped by to visit during the show,” said Pam nostalgically. She joyfully recalls her time working with the OWFF, however, nowadays she does her best cooking in her home kitchen. “[My kitchen] is open to the dining room and I love it when guests gather while I cook for them.” Pam’s preferred audience for cooking has also changed over the years shifting from fellow chefs, festival attendees, local Ottawa residents, and television watchers to her three small grandsons who, “hop up on the kitchen stools and offer to “help” and to sample!”
If you want to find out more about Pam Collacott, visit her official website, Trillium Cooking School.
For more information on the upcoming OWFF festival, visit their official website at Ottawa Wine and Food Festival (OWFF) and note that it is not too late to purchase tickets to the show as it celebrates its 30th anniversary in Ottawa’s culinary scene from Oct. 30 – Nov. 1, 2015 at the Shaw Centre.