Food and en­ter­tain­ment all un­der one tent

Vancouver Sun - - FRONT PAGE - STUART DERDEYN sderdeyn@post­media.com twit­ter.com/stu­art­derdeyn

When was the last time you headed to Queen El­iz­a­beth Park for a gourmet meal served up in­side an an­tique spiegel­tent? Never?

The pro­duc­tion team be­hind Bacio Rosso are bring­ing the lat­est foodie en­ter­tain­ment con­cept to town, pair­ing gourmet eats with high-fly­ing feats. At­ten­dees ex­pe­ri­ence a three-hour-long evening of en­ter­tain­ment draw­ing upon el­e­ments of vin­tage Moulin Rouge cabaret bur­lesque, nou­velle cirque acts and high-end din­ner the­atre, all washed down with a de­li­cious four-course meal and li­ba­tions.

Scott Mal­colm of Voila Pro­duc­tions has de­voted 15 years to cirque cabaret di­rec­tion across Europe and the U.S.

Among the pro­duc­tions to his credit is Teatro ZinZanni, which ran in Seat­tle for many years.

“I started ZinZanni in 1998 and spent six-and-a-half years with them there be­fore head­ing to San Fran­cisco to start up their show there,” said Mal­colm.

“I orig­i­nally brought TZ the con­cept from a show that I had been in­volved with from the Ger­man show Pomp Duck and Cir­cum­stance, which came to New York and then At­lanta for the Olympics. The his­tory of din­ner spiegel­tent shows goes back in Europe to at least 1985.”

This kind of din­ner/cabaret per­for­mance has roots much far­ther back in time, with the rowdy and some­times bawdy tour­ing turn of the cen­tury car­ni­vals that criss­crossed Europe be­fore the First World War. While some of these shows set up in town squares and ru­ral barns, oth­ers would oc­cur in­side lux­u­ri­ous trav­el­ling venues. Bacio Rosso uses one of these, with its vin­tage Bel­gian spiegel­tent.

The name trans­lates as “mir­ror tent,” and the con­struc­tion from wood and can­vas go­ing up in Queen El­iz­a­beth Park is dec­o­rated in­side and out with mul­ti­ple mir­rors, stained glass, hard­wood and vel­vet. Orig­i­nally built in Flan­ders as late 19th cen­tury dance halls, the largest of these venues can hold up to 1,000 peo­ple stand­ing, and con­tains well over 3,000 pieces.

There are very few spiegel­tents re­main­ing in op­er­a­tion around the world, with fewer still be­ing used for a Bacio Rosso type per­for­mance.

“When I was do­ing some re­search into Van­cou­ver, I dis­cov­ered that one of the greats — some­one like Sammy Davis Jr. — had once de­scribed this city as ‘the place where vaude­ville came to die,’ as it out­lasted the U.S. scene by about 10 years,” said Mal­colm.

“So this is some­thing of a res­ur­rec­tion of that, although what we present may have some his­toric re­la­tion­ship to the past but isn’t very sim­i­lar in terms of en­ter­tain­ment.”

In other words, you might get a tease but don’t ex­pect a bawdy 1900 Bri­tish dance hall or gen­der­bend­ing Ger­man cabaret of the 1930s.

“That wouldn’t de­scribe this event, which has its own com­pletely in­te­grated gourmet food el­e­ment and is an im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence quite un­like even a re­view the­atre in France where you get your meal, ta­bles are cleared and the show be­gins,” he said.

“Ours all takes place at the same time, which makes it re­ally a bit of its own thing.”

Ma­gi­cians, jug­glers, trapeze artists, con­tor­tion­ists, clowns, comics, mu­si­cians and more will fea­ture along­side a food ex­pe­ri­ence to mea­sure up to any top restau­rant in town.

The job of keep­ing peo­ple fed as some­one flies through the air with the great­est of ease above goes to Adam Pegg, the award­win­ning chef be­hind Van­cou­ver’s La Quer­cia. Mal­colm was a reg­u­lar cus­tomer at the West Fourth Av­enue eatery and ap­proached the own­ers with his con­cept.

Pegg is the first to ad­mit that plat­ing up a tent full of food for be­tween 270 and 300 pa­trons and get­ting it out while mimes mer­rily dance down the aisles is a new thing. In essence, La Quer­cia is open­ing a pop-up for a few months with Bacio Rosso.

“I think it’s go­ing to be a lot of fun and more in­ter­ac­tive than any­thing we’ve done be­fore,” said Pegg.

“The chal­lenge in any the­atre set­ting puts a whole new level of what’s pos­si­ble in terms of what you’ll be cook­ing. Ob­vi­ously, tak­ing place in months like Novem­ber and De­cem­ber means more steams and braises; heartier stuff that keeps its tem­per­a­ture.”

A spe­cial­ist in Ital­ian slow-food cook­ery, Pegg has de­signed a menu in­clud­ing re­gional de­lights like a mush­room po­lenta and a baked pasta course with a twist, which he’s ex­cited about.

“We’ve come up with a gluten­free eg­g­plant parmi­giana that’s us­ing chick­pea flour, which is just re­ally high qual­ity,” he said.

“It’s not al­ways easy to find a gluten-free sub­sti­tute with some of these dishes, but my wife is Ital­ian and it has her stamp of ap­proval. Ev­ery­thing will be of that qual­ity.”

Pegg is ex­cited to have his young, tal­ented team take on the ex­tra re­spon­si­bil­i­ties around the show and this is a sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge for his staff. As to any is­sues about whether do­ing vol­ume sit­tings runs counter to the whole “slow food” phi­los­o­phy, Pegg says there are none.

“When I lived in Italy, there were all kinds of much larger events that took place where the food was still all about be­ing pre­pared the right way and with the best pos­si­ble sea­sonal in­gre­di­ents and so forth,” he said.

“The idea is to get the word out there that we are us­ing the finest prod­ucts and do­ing ev­ery­thing to give you the best pos­si­ble meal while tak­ing in the en­ter­tain­ment.”

There is no rule book about whether it’s bet­ter to have the jug­glers come out dur­ing the salad course of the main meal, but Mal­colm says he’s done enough of these shows now to have a good idea about how to make it flow. What wasn’t as straight­for­ward was get­ting Bacio Rosso to Van­cou­ver.

“I ap­proached ZinZanni as long ago as 2005 to take the show to Van­cou­ver — where I live and where my daugh­ter lives — be­cause I felt that the place was chang­ing enough to be suited to some­thing like this,” he said.

“There was a foodie in­dus­try, which has now grown to some of the best in the world, and the au­di­ences for this sort of thing had de­vel­oped where they might not have been be­fore. They said no.”

The rea­son­ing was that, un­like Seat­tle or San Fran­cisco, Van­cou­ver’s lack of ma­jor cor­po­rate head­quar­ters didn’t look good for the block seat sales the com­pany had op­er­ated so suc­cess­fully on.

There was also an ex­tra level of bu­reau­cracy to deal with, which has re­ally shifted in re­cent years with events from Skookum to Sur­rey Fu­sion and Mu­ralfest all get­ting into city parks with rel­a­tive ease. Fi­nally, the day came when it all came to­gether.

How easy is it to find per­form­ers to do such a long-run­ning show?

“I started with my ex­ten­sive Cana­dian clown Rolodex, be­cause I had worked with a lot of peo­ple over in Europe from the Mon­treal schools and seen their good work, but the prob­lem was that they were all work­ing,” Mal­colm said.

“I’ve dug deep into all my con­tacts and was lucky to get lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional tal­ent to do the run, as well as all lo­cal mu­si­cians for the band.

“It’s about 11 per­form­ers, five mu­si­cians, the kitchen, ser­vice and full bar staff to make 55 or so work­ing ev­ery night in the tent and then pro­duc­tion staff too; a big gang.”

Bacio Rosso’s gourmet cabaret cirque runs for two months in the park. That’s prob­a­bly longer than a lot of these per­form­ers have had in one place in years.

Some­one like Sammy Davis Jr. had once de­scribed this city as ‘the place where vaude­ville came to die.’

Bacio Rosso will of­fer fine din­ing with a cir­cus cabaret in­side a spiegel­tent in Queen El­iz­a­beth Park, but for only two months.

The three-hour-long spec­ta­cle has el­e­ments of vin­tage Moulin Rouge cabaret bur­lesque and nou­velle cirque acts.

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