Friday, June 28, 2013

Brenda Wong - Passing the Fashionable Torch

Behind the Scenes articles were always my favourite part of Fame'd Magazine. These interviews with long-time industry professionals proved a source of inspiration and knowledge for our readers - and myself.  I remember the day I met Brenda Wong and how impressed I was with her infectious smile and positive attitude. One of the hardest things I had to do was let another writer do the interview - but Natasha rocked it. With her permission, here is her piece, originally published in Fame'd Magazine in October 2011
By Natasha Chaube

Image by Peter Jensen Photography
Brenda Wong's final wish is to be cremated in a classic Chanel suit - the obvious choice of course for any veteran of the fashion industry like herself. Wong remembers the first time she was in Paris as a student and saw the flagship store of her favourite fashion house. She pressed up against the glass display and pointed to a pair of Chanel earrings and timidly asked the sales clerk in her best French accent "Excusez-moi madam, combien ça coût?" Much to her surprise the sales clerk replied in a snobbish huff like a scene out of `Pretty Woman' - "If mademoiselle must ask! Then mademoiselle cannot afford!" Needless to say she spent a huge portion of her student budget in determination to own something Chanel.

Wong has been an avid player in the Vancouver fashion industry for over 20 years and has seen it grow and prosper into the healthy industry it is today. Under her watch as president of the Designers of Fashion Association she was the key vehicle that expanded the membership more than 300% from its original base. The association's main mandate is to promote local up and coming designers. Now the academic director for fashion programming at the Art Institute, Wong is in what she calls the perfect job. It's her way of giving back. "For me I'm at that point in my life where it's time for me to pour my hopes and dreams into that next generation and to support them and hand over that knowledge and see them follow through". 

On set with the crew at a photoshoot
The starry-eyed maverick always felt a calling toward the fashion industry. Growing up in Vancouver as a second generation Chinese Canadian, Wong's parents gave her three career choices- she was to be a nurse, a nurse or a nurse. "I didn't get close to being a nurse" she laughs. Instead the persistent young student graduated from Blanche McDonald and the Paris Fashion Institute with a concentration in fashion marketing. Her inspiration was in fashion show production and upon graduation she produced shows for Holt Renfrew and Catherine Regehr.

Although her heart was always in the fashion side of things, Wong was put into acting classes to build self-confidence. Today she still describes herself as a very "shy outgoing person" and believes acting classes assist in any career ones chooses. It really lent a hand when she made the choice to become a stunt-double for the then growing `Hollywood North' Vancouver film industry. It was her days as a stunt double where she found great mentorship that lead to the opening of her own talent agency -TalentCo.

TalentCo. started small in a tiny office in Yaletown in 2000 and flourished to a very lucrative and well lubricated machine. "It was a humbling experience starting your own business and it was a tiny little office with just me. If you were to come for an interview it was so tiny that if you brought a gym bag and a friend they would be out in the hallway. I could say I was in Yaletown, but back then Yaletown wasn't all that trendy either. It was really industrial back in the day, but then of course that grew and with every move I made, the company expanded". At its peak, TalentCo. represented over 500 models and actors.

Always savvy when it comes to business, Wong looks at business in a practical way and can separate herself emotionally. So when the writer's strike happened in 2006 and soon after the economic downturn in 2007-08, the astute business woman decided it was time to wind down the business and go golfing for a while. In the process, an offer to buy TalentCo. came her way and Wong hesitantly agreed. Her early retirement came to a halt in January of 2011 when she was offered her current role at the Art Institute. The tireless fashionista claims she's still a lousy golfer.

Wong embodies all a successful woman in the competitive fashion industry needs in order to not only survive but thrive: passion, an eagerness to learn, hard work and a stick-to-itiveness attitude. This is the exact advice she lends as she passes the torch to the new generation of hopeful students. Her proudest moments come when she receives feedback on her inspirational venture. "The warm and fuzzy feelings when you get a note or a letter from somebody that you touched 20 years ago sharing you said this to me 20 years ago and it changed my life. Your actions and support made a difference in my career. And as corny as that may sound, it's hugely rewarding. Now I'm in that exact position in the perfect job where I can see students succeed and see the fruits of my own labour". Brenda Wong has lived a very full and stylish life and suffice it to say in the name of Chanel, her legacy will live on.

At the present moment Wong is working with the students in preparation for the Art Institute's big gala show "Paparazzi Fashion Meets Hollywood". This event will be held at the River Rock Casino on Tuesday November 8, 2011. For more information go to

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Rice Noodle and Vegetable Salad with Peanut Dressing

Original image from cookbook with
Eggs which I left out to make it
Vegan friendly.
I love salads of all kinds. With the summer season starting and our first BBQ invitation here, it was time to expand my already large repertoire. The host of this party had to avoid Gluten and Dairy, so  I wanted to find something new and exciting she could eat that would also appeal to everyone.There were 2 or 3 great choices I looked at, but the recipe I settled on was out of a Company's Coming mini-cookbook from the supermarket checkout called Salads to Go. This is one of the best salad cookbooks I have found in a long time because the focus is on recipes that travel well. Most would be great to take to work for lunch or on a picnic and they store well for a few days in the fridge. 

The original recipe - called Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad - was altered slightly to include double the noodles from 4-1/2 oz to 8 oz and no hard boiled eggs. I just felt there weren't enough noodles in the original recipe as they got lost amongst the vegetables. I love noodles, so a no-brainer for me. The change also reduces the amount of dressing per serving creating a lighter taste and the calories per serving goes down.  6 ounces would be a great option if you want to find a happy medium. I removed the 6 hard-boiled eggs to make it Vegan-friendly. They weren't missed. They do boost the protein to make this more of a full meal, so just another option.

2 weeks later I decided to make this recipe again, but with 2 more changes - 1 cup thinly sliced red onion was changed to 1 bunch of green onions and 2 tablespoons finely chopped mint was changed to 1/2 cup chopped cilantro. Green onions have a milder flavour that I personally feel blends better with the rest of the ingredients. If you prefer the bite of red onion, the salad should probably sit a bit to allow the dressing to mellow them.  Mint might be more traditional in this type of cooking, but it it had the tendency to stand out from the other flavours. It was an interesting note which I might use again in combination with the stronger red onion, but overall I felt the cilantro blended with the rest of the ingredients a bit better and it's citrus-y flavour paired well with the lime juice.

I personally dislike a salad that is hard to eat, so always take a moment to break the rice noodles into shorter lengths - 2 to 3 inches.  It is just so much easier to eat and you don't end up after twirling the noodles around your fork, with the vegetables left behind to be eaten separately. BUT, if you love eating LONG noodles, then skip this step. The recipe makes a really large salad, so when it came time to mix in the dressing I ended up tossing the spoon aside, washing my hands thoroughly and diving in. It's bright, colourful and unless someone has nut allergies, everyone can eat it.  But best of all, the leftovers the next day make for a great lunch. Enjoy!

Rice Noodles
Rice and Vegetable Noodle Salad with Peanut Dressing

8 oz.       Small Rice Stick Noodles (I use 1/4" and break into approx. 3" pieces)
1             Small English Cucumber, skin on (see note)
1             Medium Red Pepper, Cut once crosswise and then julienne lengthwise
2             Medium Carrots, cut crosswise into 2" pieces and then julienne
1-1/2 C   Snow Peas, trimmed and julienned (If very large I would also half crosswise)
1             Bunch Green onions, whites and part of green - sliced
2/3 C      Salted peanuts coarsely chopped
1/2 C      Cilantro, finely chopped

Dressing -
Fish Sauce
1/2 C      Smooth Peanut Butter
1/4 C      Vegetable Oil (Peanut, Grapeseed, Canola, Etc.)
1/4 C      Warm Water
2 T         sweet Chili Sauce
2 tsp       Brown Sugar
1 tsp       Fish Sauce
1             Clove Garlic, minced
1/2 tsp    Finely grated ginger root
Juice from 1 Lime

Other -
1 T         Sesame Seeds, lightly toasted in pan or oven

(Note - I find about 3/4 of a long, slender english cucumber or 1/2 if it is really thick and large about right, but add to your personal taste. Cut off the ends, slice lengthwise into quarters and then crosswise into bite size pieces.)

Cook Rice Stick Noodles according to package directions OR put in bowl and cover with boiling water until tender but firm (depending on thickness about 10 minutes).  If salt is not an issue, you can add some salt to the water.  Drain, rinse with cold water to stop cooking and drain again.  Add noodles and next 7 ingredients to large salad bowl. Mix all dressing ingredients and pour over salad. A Magic Bullet mini-mixer is great for this to get a smooth consistency if you have one. If not just be sure to mince finely and mix very well.

Chill for at least an hour, preferably a bit longer. I think it tastes the best the next day, but you do get some liquid in the bottom. If not in the serving bowl yet, transfer to a well-chilled salad bowl or platter. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and serve. Cross your fingers that there will be some leftovers to enjoy.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Project Runway Season 11 - Finale (ep. 14)

This is the moment for the designers to shine! They will be showing their work on the runway soon and I think Michelle is the most transformed of all.  She shares, "I've worked hard before for other people, but I've never worked hard for myself and my vision and it's a totally different experience...I really can do anything I set my mind to.  I can really tackle every mountain that lies ahead of me." Their assistants are there to support them both technically and emotionally through this pressure cooker time.

Tim Gunn meets them in the studio, let's them know they will have until 11 p.m. that night to work and then shares a great surprise - they are given 30 minutes to sketch and $500 to shop at Mood Fabrics. This gives them an opportunity to respond to the judges comments by creating something new. Michelle took out a coat I really liked and added a bright yellow top that didn't draw me.  It had a deep neckline with a square edge to the bottom I find odd, but the judges ended up liking it so kudos for trusting her instincts. Patricia decided to make several new pieces which has Layanna worried as there was way too much to finish already. Stanley keeps saying he only has trims and alterations to do, but that's not the truth. He is absolutely buried under the mountain of things that need to be done. It has everybody worried.  Guest judge this week is Michael Kors.

= = = = = =

Michelle (still working with Amanda) - "I have a 33.3333333% chance of winning this.  It would mean everything. It's been a really long hard journey. I think going through these trials helped me find my voice and I have a hell of a lot of conviction."

Stanley (still working with Richard) - "I've never been in the bottom before. That was a huge wake-up call.  All the work I've put in just to get to this place, it makes you really hungry to win."

Patricia (still working with Layana) - "I'm under the gun because I have to make my collection cohesive. I know I take big risks when presenting myself, but I have to keep doing what I believe in. I feel like this is my voice talking to the world."

= = = = = =

Tim gives them each a last critique - Michelle's was pretty positive, but he felt Stanley's stuff looked like it was from a vintage shop - he needed to modernize it a bit.  Stanley didn't listen and decided instead it was a compliment. For Patricia, he noted a serious lack of cohesion she needed to deal with. Through this time Michelle was the only one that was on track and excited. She might have been way behind when Tim came to visit her in Portland, but she came to New York with the collection ready. She spent time supporting the others by delivering coffee and words of encouragement. While both Stanley and Patricia were behind, Stanley was actually constructing the garments on the models at fitting and still cutting new ones after they left. The tough day had a bright moment when family members came into the studio to offer their love and encouragement.

The day of the show arrives. I love Tim's tears as he shares, "I want you to have this unconditional confidence and high-spiritedness about what you've achieved because I'm so proud of you guys.  I've never been confronted with a season with such extraordinary qualities of character. Someone is going to win and as far as I am concerned it could be any of you. I love you all."  Michelle is packed, calm and excited. It's no surprise she is the only one in that head space as she was best prepared from the moment she arrived. She wants to win, but keeps her generous attitude and chooses to help the others - even offering Stanley four of her backstage workers to sew his unfinished garments. When Tim finally realizes the state Stanley's collection is in backstage at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week he is shocked and not amused. Heidi Klum steps out for a brief chat and then the show begins!

And the winner is MICHELLE!  I have been rooting for her all season and could not have been happier. I wondered how the judges would respond to some of her details such as the sweater with the heart dripping blood, but they embraced her unique collection that exuded who she was as a designer. Michelle brought her joy in her work instead of ego and jealousy to the final show - a wonderful change from previous bitchy seasons. I wish her all the best and hope to one day own a piece of her work.  Judges comments include - great story, phenomenal opening dress, consistent silhouettes, lots of standout pieces, I know who you are, you applied one message on the runway, smart as she styled and layered to make sense, real clothing with a real fashion show and modern, confident and personal. The surprise for me was that Nina Garcia loved the bleeding heart sweater and wanted one.  I bet it comes in the mail shortly.  

Patricia took second place this season. I still struggle with the unifying theme of this collection. There seems to be at least 2 distinct threads, but I cannot help but enjoy her very original point of view and the amount of hand work that went into each garment. Every sequins, every wig, every piece of jewellery, every bit of fringe was created by hand. She even mixed her own chemicals. Judges comments were mixed and include - love you took the craftiness that obviously comes 2nd nature to you and put it into some clothes that could work in the city, I enjoy the difference in your clothes. I love that you make your fabric, Techno Powwow, love it and remembered it, some didn't feel fresh, I like when you take it in a more abstract and edgy space, some were very strong but some had a disconnection with styling, you have to make it more understandable. the artistry is spectacular, new and different, outside the box pure, I don't understand who the customer is and you marched to the beat of your own drummer.

I think Stanley was truly shocked to be the first one sent off the runway as he had been a front runner all season, but it was well deserved. He arrived in NYC too far behind and then didn't work with the critiques. One of the things Nina stressed the most was the need too modernize it - in particular to split up the jeweled top and skirt (2nd row on the left) - by shortening the skirt and pairing the jewelled separates with other pieces. This would take advantage of their beauty, but make them more young and hip. Nina noted her surprise that they were still together on the runway - not good. Stanley also ignored Tim's warning that it was too vintage shop. I also found the gold dress a total yuck. Imagine my surprise to discover the judges actually liked it - especially Michael Kors. Judges comments include - Betty White on Dancing With the Stars, the beading is effective but the mix of materials felt dated, I like that you shortened things, old ladies gown is the weakest of all the looks, should have put the beaded top with black pants, some are phenomenal but you need to bring them to the 21st century. not very exciting, old styled, the mother of the bride, if it had been wild colours it might have worked and some special pieces.

I wanted to share this one last picture for a reason. The local fashion schools seem to be removing illustration from their programs in favour of more technical drawing. I think it's a very short sighted decision driven by the local fashion market. According to experienced industry professional I spoke to, to work internationally, be respected and be the best you can be, the ability to create the mood and look of the garment in an illustration is an important skill. I can understand where Michelle is going just by looking at these images.  Hopefully more research will go into what this decision means in the long run to the students going through their programs now.

To see any of the runway looks in larger format, go to RATE THE RUNWAY.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Project Runway Season 11 - Finale Pt. 1 (Ep. 13)

So instead of three, we have four designers this week preparing collections for Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. The sad truth is, only three will get to show.  I know the other designers are probably not happy with this, but I am totally elated Michelle is a part.  I have felt since about week three that she is the bomb, so glad she was not sent home. That said, I always find it a cruel twist when they have a designer prepare an entire collection and then eliminate them without letting them show it.

Tim Gunn is both proud and excited as he has held their hand through this whole process.  He admonishes them, "Only one of you can win, so each of you have to throw everything you have into the development of your collection - really knock everyone's socks off."  Heidi Klum adds, "I know each of you are exhausted, but now is not the time to rest on your laurels. I wish you all good luck.  Work hard, give it your all and blow us away."  Then they are told they have a budget of $10,000 to create a fall collection of 12 looks.  Stanley and Michelle each acknowledges the other's talent. Patricia is noted as the only one who has never won a single challenge. As this week is only to decide which 3 will show, only the three regular judges took part - Heidi Klum, Nina Garcia and Zac Posen.

Four months later Tim begins to drop in on the designers. First is Patricia who lives in Taos Pueblo, New Mexico.  She first acknowledges her family and support group - all are singers and dancers - as well as the place she lives,"Being raised and taken care of here gave me the strength to go out into the world. People enjoy our celebrations and culture, but don't want to be intrusive. That made me think of contemporary clothing. I wanted to try and emanate my culture as something fun and playful instead of stagnant." For inspiration, she looked to trees.  Leather mesh, horsehair and hand felted wool were incorporated.

Then it was off to Portland, Oregon to see my favourite designer - Michelle!  She admitted she felt very alone and misunderstood when she first came home. From this darker head space came the idea to base her collection on wolves. "Wolves are also often misunderstood and called things like bloodthirsty. It's actually not true. They are loyal, loving pack animals that treat the other members of their crew like family."  Her inspiration then took her to a lone female hunting wolf.  The only concern was that she was only 1/3 of the way finished and there were very few weeks left. Tim was impressed and encouraged her by saying no matter what the outcome, the collection was totally her and she should feel ecstatic about it.

Austin, Texas was next on the list where we saw Daniel with the worst mop of hair I have ever seen. One blogger compared it to a Chia Pet.  It was very unflattering. Daniel shared about being little in Puerto Rico. He was Hispanic, gay and the source of much bullying. The love of his family and friends supported him and this was his now or never moment. His inspiration was a bit of a mishmash - Salvador Dali, the nebulae around planets and the architecture seen on his trip to Germany.  Tim was worried at the diversity of inspiration, but Daniel was confident. The palette was made up of nebulae colours - cream celestial blue, red and black and he added a stingray material to give the collection an edge.  One collar was hand molded at the window using just the heat from the sun.  There were pieces Tim loved and pieces he found distressing, so a mixed bag. I noticed one outfit in the background that had a bulls-eye on the crotch. It is small here but you can see it just above Tim's left hand. Strange!

Last but not least was a visit to Stanley in Los Angeles, California.  He had only taken a week off and went straight to work. We learn a little bit about his past - he made all his nieces Easter dresses, prom dresses and homecoming dresses and this show was the 3rd time he auditioned.  Stanley shared, "My line is reminiscent of the 60's, Renaissance Spain and clean, high end women's looks, so there's a lot going on. If you peel back the layers, I think it's a strong, cohesive collection."  Tim is concerned that some of the fabulousness will need to be edited down and questioned a few of the palette choices, recommending things be combined differently. He also notes that in his previous trips all 3 designers mentioned he is the only one they feel they have to reckon with - not the best way to inspire someone to rethink things.

Arrival in NYC was a time of mixed vibes.  Michelle was way ahead of the game with little left to do and was ready to bond as a group. "We need each other right now. We need to give hugs and support one another for these final collections." She lovingly called Patricia Moma-Glama after looking at her collection.  Daniel called it the Superbowl of fashion. Thank goodness he quieted the Chia Pet hair. Patricia was the same as always - excited, nervous and happy to be there. Stanley was in trouble from the start. The person he hired to do some dying ruined $700 worth of fabric and he had to start over. He had tons of unfinished work and all the designers were concerned.  Each was again given an assistant - Daniel and Samantha, Michelle and Amanda (her absolute #1 choice), Patricia get Layana (it is was surprising how well this worked out) and wait for it............The designer with the most to accomplish gets Richard who is a lovely person, but again mostly known for knits with little experience working with wovens.

When it came to judging the 3 looks presented - no one received kudos straight across the board, but Michelle definitely had a strong collection and was in. She came the most prepared with the least to finish, she had a strong story line and her collection was cohesive.  Her 3 looks included a sweater with wolf theme created with computerized knitting, a crushed silk dress with neoprene skirt and a black coat with modular clips and a great grouping of bags that could be clipped on at will.  Judges comments include - I like this because it's unusual, this is what Project Runway is all about, I wish something would pop with a little more color, need a better connection between the hair/makeup and the outfits, I feel like you've created a universe here, I think you've thought about merchandising, all is wearable, a clear vision and the little engine that could that keeps on fighting.

Patricia had a real mixed bag on the runway that I didn't find cohesive. She shared the collection was for the modern woman who liked to have fun. The look that probably created the most controversy was the blue dress with blue wig.  I personally thought a white wig would have worked better - it would have reflected the silver details instead of looking out of place with the more traditional garments. The judges didn't agree. Judges comments include - my favourite is the jacket as it's rocking and amazing, love the blue dress, the blue dress is Tina Turner Smurf, they are all so different like a circus, will it be cohesive, welcome to the wonderful world of Dr. Seuss, the details are so special but are overshadowed, the head piece is too much, I like the wig it makes the whole look, I want you to take a look at styling. Obviously this collection divided the judges, but in the end they felt she would bring something very different to the runway.

Stanley told the judges it was about simple shapes with textures applied on top.  He even built a loom.This collection is aimed at high end women, but while he did move onto the finals, the response was not positive. I personally hated the fabric in the gold dress. I am sure it was expensive, but that type of fabric always looks cheap on the runway. Judges comments include - I don't think you had enough ideas, it is sophisticated and beautiful but where's the WOW, the proportions date it, chic and banal instead of chic and hot, I think you need to inject a bit of sexiness into these clothes and make them a bit more modern, there is a lot of promise, nothing hip, best made work we saw, beaded top and skirt were great but the skirt needs to go up a few inches and I would pair them with other pieces instead of together.

Daniel (SENT HOME) shares he chose these 3 looks because they show a range with hard and soft - the connecting thread the stingray skin. 3 black looks on the runway are always hard to see. The judges finally noticed that there were looks they have seen before and that there was nothing new or forward about his design work. Judges comments include - I've seen this look from you before, the jacket is beautifully tailored but not the favourite I've seen from you, if you have an all-black collection it's all about the shape or drama and not one look has that, I'm underwhelmed, I always think the last day it will be whoa and the clothes come around the corner will be one amazing look after another, this is too tame and not it's not interesting enough and you didn't bring the drama or glamour.

To see this images in larger format go to RATE THE RUNWAY.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Art Institute of Vancouver - Jillian Gray

While there wasn't a lot of opportunity to develop creatively growing up - fashion definitely caught Jillian Gray's imagination at an early age. "I had an eye for detail and a passion for clothing - both my own and others - for as long as I can remember.  Fashion has always made an impression on me and as I got older it became clear that my love for clothing was more than just a shopping addiction.  I was meant to work in the industry."

Gray was born in the small town of Drayton Valley, Alberta.  As the youngest of four kids, she found herself more the follower than the leader. One favourite pastime was Ringette which she played for 13 years. Here fashion were not something you would normally think of as a career, but a friend studying Fashion Marketing opened her eyes to the possibilities. After carefully researching several schools, The Art Institute of Vancouver quickly became the school of choice. With her family's support and ultimately a final firm push from her mum, she packed her bags and headed off to Vancouver. But change was in the air.

Six months into the program a life-altering experience altered everything. Gray remembers the time clearly, "It wasn't until I began a textiles class with Julie Berg that I truly recognized my passion. I made a scarf for a final project and the excitement I felt was unexplainable. Taking the marketing program first was ultimately beneficial, but I realized that day my true interest was in Fashion Design. I was destined to create." She quickly switched areas of study.

The intense, challenging course work brought not only knowledge, but personal growth. Gray had to learn to trust her instincts and believe in her designs. It was exhilarating to dream up ideas and then figure out ways to bring them to life. As she excelled, a new confidence emerged. "I began to realize just how creative I was and started to notice all the elements that make my designs unique." Over time the process of creation became effortless.

Gray participated in two competitions during her time as a student.  The first was the school's Cool Vs Cruel Competition 2012. Art Institute students throughout North America were asked to creatively reinterpret and replace animal fur on runway designs by Marc Jacobs, J. Mendel, BCBGMAXAZRIA and Jean-Paul Gaultier.  Her entry was inspired by J.Mendels' F/W 2013 collection. To meet the challenge, she decided to recreate the alligator leather he had used in a few of the dresses, but didn't want to use store bought Pleather (plastic leather).

After much research and reaching deep, Gray came up with the idea of using a stamping technique.  "I carved a rubber stamp with an alligator pattern and, using donated fabric with the texture of a raincoat, I painted it with acrylic paint. Then I pressed my stamp into the paint while it was still wet." The end result was an alligator-textured fabric that she fashion into a dress.  Feathers to trim the hem were created from carefully combed and hair sprayed faux fur. The judges were impressed and she was awarded 3rd place in the Vancouver competition. It was a challenge that tested her to the limits and she loved the experience. "The Cool Vs. Cruel Competition made me realize just how much creativity I had in me."

Left - Cool Vs Cruel  2012             Right - Telio Competition 2013
Telio Fabrics also runs a competition each year for all Canadian design students that includes a theme and a selection of fabrics to be used. For 2013 the theme was Overexposed Glow and the 22 fabrics selected offered several white, ecru and beige shades along with a beautiful selection of pastel hues.  For this challenge she had to tightly channel her creativity in a way that honoured their choice of inspiration and fabrics. It was a great moment to learn that her design was selected as one of the top at her school and that it had been sent on to the judging panel in Montreal.

Gray's graduation collection was titled "Slave to the Rhythm" - a reference to the Grace Jones album with the same name.  
"Grace Jones was so iconic for her presence of an alter ego and I wanted to portray a similar contrast in my collection. The foundation came from my love of leather, but I didn't want to use it in a traditional sense and have it come off as too harsh. I wanted it to have a feminine feel."  To accomplish this the designer choose to balance the black leather lambswool with chiffon in three shades - champagne, soft pink and black. 

Her collection consisted of contrasts between the textured, colours and shapes.  The leather exudes power and confidence, the chiffon offered a softer feminine touch. Looks were comprised of versatile separates that could be mixed and matched to create a day outfit or a classier evening ensemble. Gray's personal favourite is the asymmetrical black chiffon dress over the leather ribbed bodysuit. "The look was exactly what I had in mind when I designed it.  It has all the elements I was trying to incorporate - edginess and femininity."

With graduation behind her, Gray is headed back to Alberta. Eventually she would like to travel internationally, but for now there is a lot to learn from other designers. What she has to offer them in return is strong skills, unbridled creativity, fresh ideas and a new perspective. In closing, Gray took a moment to mention those who encouraged her along the way, "Thank-you to my Mom and Dad for their faith, love supporting and making my dreams come true. Thanks to Brenda Wong for not only sharing her experience and expertise, but the encouragement and confidence she  gave me. To Sandra Scott - thank-you for the pressure, the patience and the knowledge. And a huge thanks to my instructors Shainin Hudda, Julie Berg and Valerie Pugh. Without you I would never have realized my full potential."

For more information or to contact Gray, please visit her website at  To check out the Fashion Design and Fashion Marketing programs at The Art Institute of Vancouver go to

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Hungarian Beef Goulash

I grew up without ever tasting real goulash.  My mother made something she called goulash that was a mix of elbow macaroni, hamburger and tomato sauce. As a child I just assumed it was the real deal, but as I got older I realized the dish wasn't even close to the flavour treat of a real Hungarian Goulash.  

Over the years I kept meaning to find a recipe to try, but never quite followed through until last month when I stumbled over the recipe below. It looked wonderfully flavourful and I felt it perhaps might be at least a bit traditional from the comments. The recipe wasn't a quick fix, tailored to fix our busy lifestyle - it had several steps, real spices and red wine.  It looked much more authentic than others I had seen in the past. 

It was time to take the plunge. So last month I wrote out the long shopping list of ingredients required and headed out to the store.  An afternoon of cooking later this recipe was labeled a keeper by my family. I also liked it, but think some adjusting is in order to make it more my own. The broth didn't cook down as much as I would have expected and I think I want to fill out the flavour a little.  I will have to try it again and may have to look at a few more recipes before I settle on how to fine tune this one. Only then will it become a family staple. For now I am including the recipe in it's original form. 

The only real difficulty for me was finding real, fresh Hungarian Paprika. Even the local Galloways was out of stock. So before you take the plunge, be sure you can get this important ingredient. I did a little research on the subject of paprika.  It was interesting to find there are 8 grades of the Hungarian from mild to hot. My family is really mixed on the heat issue, so I was sure to go with a mild version. If you're interested, I would check out this article - What's the Difference? PaprikaOne substitute I found locally that I tried and seemed okay was La Chinata at Save-on Foods that is a similar sweet, mild paprika only from Spain. 

Note - I thought I originally saw this in an article in the Vancouver Sun, but couldn't find the link so I could confirm where is originally came from. In an internet search I found the exact recipe and images at The Kitchen in an article by Nealey Dozier of Dixie Caviar titled - Late Winter Recipe: Beef Goulash. I don't know if it was picked up on a wire service and did appear in my local paper or not, but I am sure I didn't find it on this website first. Definitely a mystery and one I will perhaps never solve. 

Beef Goulash

Serves 6

2 1/2 pounds boneless beef chuck (preferably chuck-eye roast or chuck tender)
4 ounces (about 4 thick-cut slices) bacon, roughly chopped
Neutral cooking oil, such as canola or safflower
3 yellow onions (about 1 pound), sliced into thin half moons
4-5 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 teaspoons caraway seeds (optional)
3 tablespoons Hungarian sweet paprika
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons dried marjoram
1/2 cup dry red wine, such as Chianti or Zinfandel
1 Can Condensed Chicken Broth
1 Can Condensed Beef Broth
2 red bell peppers, sliced lengthwise into thin strips
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces wide egg noodles, cooked according package directions
8 ounces sour cream, for serving
Fresh dill, for garnish

(Note - I have been slowly adjusting this recipe over time as it just wasn't tasting quite perfect. Last night someone suggested a little lemon juice just before serving.  I tried a little in a side dish and it was promising, but I haven't officially tested it yet - so be cautious if you want to try this.)
Preheat oven to 300°F.
Cut beef into 1-inch cubes. (You can place the meat in the freezer for thirty to forty minutes to make make it easier to cut. Just allow it to come to room temperature before cooking.) Thoroughly pat dry with paper towels and season generously with kosher salt and pepper.
Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and fry until crisp and golden, about 7-9 minutes. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon, leaving the remaining fat in the pot, and set aside.
Add 1/3 of the beef cubes to the bacon fat (do not stir or disturb the meat) and cook until the bottoms are seared and deep golden brown (almost black), about 3-5 minutes. Turn beef and continue cooking until remaining sides are browned, another 3-5 minutes. Remove the beef to a separate bowl.
Allow the fat in the pan to reheat for a minute or so (and to cook out any residual meat juices before continuing. Add the next 1/3 of beef and a glug or two of oil if the pot seems dry. Repeat the searing process until all the meat is browned and set the bowl aside.
Lower the heat to medium and add a couple tablespoons oil. Add the onions and sauté, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden, about 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and caraway seeds and sauté for another minute or so. Stir in the paprika, tomato paste, and marjoram until combined.
Pour in the wine and increase heat to high. Scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to remove any leftover browned bits. Add stocks, browned beef, and reserved bacon to the pot and bring mixture to a boil. Cover and transfer to oven. Cook for 1 hour, then stir in the bell peppers. Return to the oven and continue cooking until the meat is quite tender, another 45 minutes to an hour. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Ladle over cooked egg noodles, and serve with a big dollop of sour cream and a sprig of fresh dill. This recipe is even better made a day or two in advance. Just reheat in the same Dutch oven over medium-low to medium until warmed through.