Edmonton Heritage Festival launches virtual culinary showcase

Luke Holcombe is used to running. The man at the helm of the Edmonton Australian Football Club is also in charge of the pavilion from Down Under at the annual Edmonton Heritage Festival

“Normally I would be flat out right now, not a second to spare,” Holcombe says. 

But this year, COVID-19 means the staple of Edmonton’s August long weekend will be virtual. 

Luke Holcombe would normally be down at Hawrelak Park running the Australian pavilion for the annual heritage fest. (Edmonton Heritage Festival)

Starting this morning at 10 a.m. the site goes live. The site is a rich cultural resource featuring stories, videos, photos, an online marketplace and recipes showcasing food from around the world. 

Holcombe helped develop the website along with 40 other cultural groups.

As usual, food takes centre stage. Holcombe finds the food closest to his heart at the Edmonton restaurant, South Island Pie Co.

In an interview with Russell Bowers, host of CBC Radio’s Daybreak Alberta, he describes the restaurant’s meat pies as “mouthwatering” and a “little taste of home.” 

“I know it’s one of the first things I get when I get back home, the pie, even sometimes right at the airport when I land, or on the way home from the airport.”

South Island Pie Co. and dozens of other Edmonton eateries are partnering with the Heritage Festival and will be showcased as part of the virtual festival through August. 

It’s good news for Lydia Jimenez, the co-owner of the Palabok House and a longtime organizer of the Philippines pavilion. 

The pandemic hit the business Jimenez has built up over 36 years hard. COVID-19 meant she had to lay off all but five of her 16 employees. 

“I don’t have that many people working for me now, because we’re not that busy for dine in, but the take out is OK on the weekends, so hopefully we can go back to normal again,” she says. 

The buzz around having her business profiled on the festival’s website can’t hurt. 

Festival volunteers Honora Forster, Stephanie & Betty Cescon, Alyssa Lao-An and Mumbah Mahmood at the 2019 event. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

“People are really excited about the ability to go and get local multicultural food right from the people who own it and get that money in the hands of the people who need it to recover from the COVID pandemic,” says Jim Gibbon, executive director of the Edmonton Heritage Festival Association. 

“It’s done such great things for 47 years, you know 350,000 people a year. We did the math, it’s roughly 14 million people that have attended this event,” Gibbon says. 

While the absence of an actual festival is sad, Gibbons encourages traditional festival goers to give the virtual event a chance.

Volunteers Sofia Mariona, Hobe Macedo and Nancy Cordero help prepare food at the Guatemala pavilion in 2019. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

The website will also have a place to make donations to Edmonton’s Food Bank.

The heritage festival typically gathered 50,000 kilograms of food and $100,000 in cash for the food bank, says executive director Marjorie Bencz.

The food bank has set up two drive-thru drop-off sites: Southgate Shopping Centre’s north parking lot and the food bank warehouse at 11508 120th St.

Each is open Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Edmonton Heritage Festival goers learn about Vikings at the Scandinavian pavilion. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)