For 50 years, Pride movements around the world have been about fighting for and protecting the rights of LGBTQ people. While that human rights piece is still key, our local Pride Week has also evolved into a celebration of the talent and accomplishments of LGBTQ Calgarians. Pride attendees have seen this expressed through music, art, film and countless drag shows, so it’s only natural that food events would start to sneak into the Pride schedule. After all, we all have to eat, and breaking bread is designed to bring communities closer together.
For the second year in a row, Calgarians can celebrate Pride and get fed at the same time with the ingeniously named Sashay Fillet, a special event where the deliciousness of food meets the delightfulness of drag entertainment. Held on Aug. 29 at Hotel Arts and presented by Calgary-based food website and event organizer Eat North, Sashay Fillet is also a rare all-ages drag event, giving younger fans a chance to see local and international performers in action.
Because Pride events are never boring, Sashay Fillet isn’t set up as a standard dinner: five Alberta-based chefs will be paired with local drag performers. The chefs will make canapés inspired by their partner (which will be available for guests to nibble on at a series of stations) and each pair will have to go through a variety of challenges in a RuPaul’s Drag Race-style elimination competition. The event is hosted by Top Chef Canada judge Mijune Pak and former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Jaidynn Diore Fierce.
“When I think of drag, I think of explosive designs and dresses and makeup and gorgeous beautiful hair,” says Lindsay Porter, the chef behind Edmonton’s London Local restaurant and a first time Sashay Fillet participant. “So I’m going to take that and try to emulate it with my dish.”
Calgary is a bit of a maverick in this field. While the tradition of the drag brunch has become a worldwide phenomenon, the quality of food at those shows is not usually the focus and drag dinners are certainly less common. Sashay Fillet’s mash-up of fine dining chefs and drag performances is something that Sashay Fillet’s head judge and RuPaul’s Drag Race alumnus Laila McQueen has never seen.
“I’ve done quite a number of different kinds of gigs over the years and the shows I’ve done with Eat North are the first time I’ve done something that is a combination of drag and the culinary arts,” says McQueen, who has also appeared at Eat North’s Drags Benny events. “Never before have I been invited to an event that’s pitched as Drag Race meets Top Chef.”
Calgary Pride’s executive director Parker Chapple agrees. While more and more celebratory events have being tied into Pride Week over the years, an event that truly integrates LGBTQ culture into a gourmet event is something that Calgarians should recognize as being unique to our city.
“In all my years as an activist, I have never seen an event like this,” Chapple says, also noting that a portion of the event’s proceeds go to Calgary Pride’s year-round programming. “You can find a drag brunch, you can find a drag dinner. This is not that. This is something entirely different that I’ve never seen anywhere else.”
Sashay Fillet isn’t the only Pride-related food initiative in Calgary this year. Earlier this month, Ryan Massel, a local blogger and media personality known as “Mr. Fabulous,” launched a batch of products branded as the LOVED collection in partnership with a number of local businesses that will be available throughout Pride Week. Not everything is food and bev based, but the collection includes a “snack cupboard” flavour from Fiasco Gelato (a nod to the history of LGBTQ people hiding behind closed doors), a Ruby Slipper variety of kombucha from Wild Tea kombucha (in reference to the term “friend of Dorothy”) and a barrel-aged pre-mixed Manhattan cocktail from Eau Claire Distillery (to honour the Stonewall riots in New York City 50 years ago that launched the Pride movement). Information on where to buy the LOVED items is available at thelovedcollection.com.
Since Pride always has had a party element, there are a few other tasty Pride projects, mostly in liquid form. For Shake, Stir and Strainbow, a cocktail initiative from Eat North and Vine Arts that runs until Sept. 2, participating bars and restaurants have developed Pride-themed cocktails (with names ranging from Proof’s “Miss Vanjie” to Milk Tiger’s “Death Drop”), with proceeds going to the Skipping Stone Foundation. Beer lovers can also get their fix during Pride: Tool Shed, in collaboration with several other breweries has released a special pale ale called Protest, with a portrait of Marsha P. Johnson, the protester who threw the first brick at the Stonewall riots, on each and every can.
Calgary Pride takes place from Aug. 23 to Sept. 2, with the main parade on Sept. 1. For more details on Sashay Fillet and information on how to buy tickets, visit eatnorth.com.
Elizabeth Chorney-Booth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @elizaboothy or Instagram at @elizabooth