Sometimes cooking and writing alone at home all day can get lonely. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to do so but as with any ‘work from home’ career, it’s easy to let yourself wear pyjamas all day and go all day without any other physical human contact. It’s so easy to get lost in dramas and lives online and never leave the house and not feel anything until the loneliness washes over you like a steamroller. I’m a bit of an introvert at heart so I have to force myself to join meetups and groups to get myself out of the house. Since I’m not a naturally awesome (yeah, I’m awkward) conversationalist, I tend to chose groups where I know there will be like minded people present. It just makes meeting someone and talking to them that much easier.
About a year ago, local chef and food writer, Julie van Rosendaal, threw out the idea of having monthly cooking club meetings via Facebook. The intent was to gather food lovers together monthy, to cook a variety of dishes using a theme, cookbook, or specific chef. A few names were kicked around and Bite Club was born. The first meetings were a ‘get to know you’ sort of style, with ‘biteclubbers’ bringing cherished family recipes. Monthly topics are discussed via the Facebook group and members often take turns hosting at their homes. So far we’ve had a French cooking themed Bite Club, as well as other meetings featuring the food of Rick Bayless, Julia Child, and Dorie Greenspan. We’ve also cooked from books written by local authors; A Spicy Touch (Noorbanu Nimji and Karen Anderson) and Yassin’s Kitchen (Yassin Jallow). I’ve been following Julie’s social media feed for years and (being a fellow pie enthusiast) I’ve always wanted to participate in a pie social, like the ones she hosts several times a year. My wish came true this year on pi day (March 14!!) as we gathered together with 20 plus pies in the basement of a local church, I recognized the diversity of our wonderful group. We had everything from pear tart to whoopie pies, Saskatoon pies, Peanut Butter Pie, Banana Cream Pie and even a couple of savoury pies.
One of the savoury pies was mine. I knew there was the high likelihood of sugar overload so I decided to bring a meat pie and for some reason, even though I have no fear of pastry, I decided to try making a crust using matzo crackers. I googled ‘matzo pie’ and several different recipes came up and I chose Molly Yeh’s recipe because it looked the closest to what I was going for. I think next time I will include some mashed potatoes or lentils to make the filling a bit more stable as I found it was a bit messy when cut into individual portions.
Spiced Beef Matzo Pie (from My Name is Yeh)
5-6 sheets matzo
egg wash: 1 egg lightly beaten with a splash of water
fresh parsley, pea tendrils, or micro greens for serving
For the crust –
Christmas is family time. It means the constant state of being together, deciding who gets to sleep in which bedrooms (and on the blow up mattresses), endless Crown Royal Cokes, the repetition of the cooking/eating/cleaning cycle, getting boozed up on Bailey’s then going sledding, and our family’s favourite past time; playing cards. Sometimes on a particularly frosty night, we set up multiple games on folding tables, then build a round-robin type series from which players drop out as they are needed to cook or clean. The unspoken initiation into our family relies on one’s card playing abilities…if you are a quick study, it means immediate respect. If you have trouble catching on, or take forever to decide what card to play you will be the subject of good natured ribbing FOREVER (right hun?). We can’t help but build up an appetite doing all that drinking and card playing, so in addition to the appetizer themed meals, and classic turkey dinner, there’s card snacks.
My mom is pretty crazy about licorice, and my dad likes to pilfer the Christmas goodie tray that stays out all day long (and is constantly being refilled by your truly), the rest of us like salty snacks like peanuts and pretzels. When I was a kid I remember my aunt gifting us a giant ice cream pail full of her home made Nuts ‘n’ Bolts. We piled through them pretty quickly and they were a huge hit. Eventually they disappeared and my mom attempted to pick up the slack by making her own version. Even though everyone enjoyed them, she stopped making them too (it might have had something to do with having to make all the other appetizers she makes every year and being a bit overwhelmed, something I can now relate to!).
With our daughter coming home from University of British Columbia this year, we’ve decided to have Christmas here in Calgary so she can relax in her own bed and cuddle with the dogs. Who am I kidding? We want her all to ourselves! Usually when we say we want to stay home for Christmas, everyone drives the ten hours to Calgary and I play the host to 13 people for about a week. While I love having my extended family around, it does get exhausting. I’m looking forward to a bit of quiet time with just our little family this year, maybe we’ll play a round or two of cards just so we can feel a bit closer to our long distance family. Just to make sure we’re well fed at all times, we’ll be snacking on these Ranch Nuts ‘n’ Bolts in between hands.
You know those old-style community cook books? The ones that have all sorts of strange, but wonderful and notoriously bad for you recipes? I wonder why no one makes them anymore…do you think that websites like Allrecipes and food blogs in general have just replaced the good old fashioned community recipe book? I still consider myself a ‘spring chicken’, as my grandma used to say, but I am old enough to remember my mother submitting recipes for a couple of different community driven cookbooks. When I say ‘community’, it’s in the broadest sense of the term because two of these books were published by different branches of our family. My mother’s mother (or ma mére as we all call her even though she’s my grandma instead of my mother) had many brothers and sisters on the Ruel side of the family and after several huge reunions they decided to compile all the dishes they shared at each family function into one handy book. In it were several recipes for ‘never fail’ pastry, the Black Bottom Cupcakes that I make for every super bowl party, my mom’s Tomato Soup Cake, and MY Creamy Mushroom Linguine. I guess since it was published in 1997, I was already a mom (and a half!) and so entirely domesticated. Never in my dreams would I have imagined that mom and I would have recipes published in one book! Now that I am thinking about it, I think it was probably my very first original recipe.
I have several of these ‘community’ cookbooks that I drag out every year at about this time, one from the Herzog side of the family with my grandma’s buttertart recipe and another from the Shellbrook Elementary Playground Fund Raising Committee which holds one of our family’s longest lived Christmas traditions (which has been around since our buttertart munching days); the Petit Cheesecakes. There have been years when I never thought making these was going to be possible, like when we lived in Perth, Australia and I had no clue whether or not I would be able to find the special ‘Nilla wafers needed for the tiny bite sized bases. I must have checked every store until I found them and then I realized that year, more than ever, we appreciated this little bite of home after we had finished stuffing our gobs with Western Australian rock lobster instead of turkey and before snorkelling at the beach instead of sledding on the family hill. In a place of uncertainty and of new experiences, this little bite brought us closer to home and the loved ones we missed terribly.
I usually make these quite a bit ahead of time, because they freeze extremely well and the recipe makes a lot so that when you’ve noticed that half of them have disappeared from the freezer container, there are still enough left over to share with the family on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. I freeze them without the berries or pie filling and just take them out of the freezer and top them up just before we eat dinner. They have just enough time to thaw, though if you forget and do it after dinner, no one will care because they are just as good frozen.
There’s a different beast on the Calgary food scene…a beast from the east! The Guild officially opened in the historic Hudson’s Bay building during busy Stampede season way back in July. Kind of a balls-y move but after six years of dreaming, planning, and extensive renovations the Oliver and Bonacini owned restaurant required a grand entrance.
And what a grand entrance it was. For the entire Stampede, The Guild had a large smoker going out on the huge 175 seat covered patio with a pared down ‘pop up’ menu. The smoky aromas were a great way to introduce passers by to the basic philosophy of the restaurant; hearty cuisine with a huge focus on locally sourced proteins. Hubby and I attended the Stampede party splash-out held in the restaurant’s basement; a below ground haunt of epic proportions with dark corners, sexy brass accents, and gorgeous wall frescoes of skeletal bird and reptile illustrations mixed with large red roses. The subterranean space, combined with the gorgeous wall blooms and exclusive Eau Clair Distillery Sub Rosa Gin and Vodka, is now open as a 160 seat Stephen Avenue ‘speakeasy’ named Sub Rosa.
We waited a month or so before visiting for dinner, our anticipation building with each passing day.
The main entrance is, for the most part, understated…though it shares a transparent display of various hanging meats with the main dining room. Once you enter the main dining area, it’s a totally different story as your view sweeps downward and across the entire multi level room below. To the left (and looking out onto the patio and street) there are large windows which shed light onto the nearby tables of the top tier. Looking central (and down a few stairs) are cozy black leather banquets with brass accents throughout. To the right, a row of regular tables are set across the terrazzo tile, one of the only recognizeable remnants of the original Hudson’s Bay. The feel of the room is that of art deco meets modern industrial and you can view the open kitchen from any seat in the large room, thanks to the theatre style multi level seating. The large semi circular bar becomes an opening act, through which the open kitchen (the main feature) can be viewed. The action is mainly centred around the central wood- and charcoal-burning parilla grill which became a project on it’s own…adding a million dollars to the final cost of the restaurant. It’s central location, grill style and massive size required a specially designed system and a lengthy fire code re-write.
The menu is a mix of old school favourites, bright new flavours, and comfort food. We’ll just say that with all the meat on the menu (slow roasted pig’s head, tomahawk rib steaks for two, and a 28 ounce porterhouse) that parilla grill will certainly get a good workout!
The garlic basil roasted Escargots are not often found on many local menus but it’s a dish that my husband is sure to order every time he sees it. He was quite pleased to have them all to himself, but for some reason he thought he should be sharing my Gin & Tonic Salmon! This very popular dish is comprised of softly smoked and gin cured organic salmon morsels with cucumber, tonic gel, crème fraîche, and Irish Soda Bread crumble. It was way too delicious to share.
All the meat is 100% locally sourced (except for the salmon!) which allows chef Ryan O’Flynn and crew to showcase the best Alberta has to offer. The menu has a daily Lambtastic Farms feature, which happened to be this Lamb Stew on the day that we visited. The lamb was so tender and juicy while the red wine sauce was rich and well seasoned…it was only missing a bit of bread for dipping.
It’s a shame that this Brome Lake Duck Confit and Lentils dish is no longer on the menu, but maybe it just didn’t make the cut. The duck was perfectly brined and nicely confited, however I could have used a few more of the roasted carrots (one is never enough!!) and felt that it needed much more of that delicious burnt orange sauce to pull it together.
Our starters and main dishes had left us feeling pretty satiated, but with gentle prodding we were able to enjoy this outstanding Crown Royal Whisky Bread Pudding. It was everything a bread pudding should be; soft and squishy in the middle with crusty outer edges and surface. It was rich and creamy, with a bit of pucker from the Saskatoon Berries and sweetened by the Crown Royal caramel sauce. We ate the entire dish clean.
With friendly service and an engaging atmosphere, both hubby and I were very happy with how our visit to The Guild went. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a cozy spot with a craving for comforting roasted or grilled meat dishes and great cocktails.
200 8 Avenue SW; 403-770-2313
Mon – Sat: 11am to 1am
Sun: 11am to 10pm
There’s a new trend appearing here in Calgary and though High Tea has been around for centuries, a recent resurgence of this British tradition is happening in and around our city. High Tea has been available at both Fairmont Banff Spring and the Fairmont Palliser for some time, but this year they received the ‘Royal treatment’ to celebrate the Canadian visit of Their Royal Highness’s the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, as well as Edward and Sophie, the Earl and Countess of Wessex. This surge in High Tea’s popularity has prompted other local restaurants to include it on their weekend menus, with several more to follow suit.
Tomorrow will be the first official seating of High Tea at Brasserie Kensington with service beginning at 2:15 and running until 4:30 pm. This time in the afternoon is generally very quiet for most restaurants, but rather than closing in between brunch and dinner services, chef Cam wanted to offer something a little bit different; and different it is! In the most traditional sense, afternoon High Tea can be quite stuffy and formal, and though there’s a time and place for this sort of dining adventure, the Brasserie Kensington is not it. Chef Cam has taken the best parts of high tea (vintage fine tea cups, piping hot Earl Grey, finger sandwiches, clotted cream and scones) and redefined them according to Brasserie Kensington’s relaxed style. Instead of cucumber sandwiches, you’ll find Duck Confit Banh Mi finger sandwiches and Truffle Deviled Eggs.
This new Brasserie Kensington offering has also become a vehicle for local collaboration between Chef Cam and Jonathan owner of The Naked Leaf, a tea shop located right across the street. Learning about teas and how they pair with food has been an eye opening experience for Chef Cam and he’s looking forward to many more collaborations to come. Of course, when I order tea, 98% of the time it just has to be Earl Grey so I’m not sure what it would take to get me to try another with my High Tea.
Of course, High Tea would not be complete without bite sized sweets. For the month of December, Chef Cam has created a stunning array of holiday themed dainties, including Gingerbread Cake, Snowflake Sugar Cookies, and Hazelnut Mousse. There is also a selection of specially created tea-based cocktails for sharing or drinking all on your own.
High Tea at Brasserie Kensington will be $35 per person, with $1 from every high tea purchase donated to a local charity. For the month of December, donations will be made to the Veteran’s Food Bank, but a new charity will be selected each month.
Brasserie Kensington 1131 Kensington Rd. NW; 403-457-4148
The Naked Leaf #4 1126 Kensington Rd. NW; 403-283-3555
Have you ever taken part in a Christmas cookie exchange? It is the absolute best way to sneak in some holiday time with friends and fill your freezer with a nice assortment of goodies. All day bake-a-thons are fun too…I used to get together with three other ladies every year where we would each bring the ingredients for two recipes and bake all day. We would blast the tunes, open the wine (or shake up some cocktails), gossip, and by the end of the day we would have eight different kinds of goodies to bring home. Those were back in the days when our kids were small and we all lived in the same area, now they’ve all grown up and we’ve scattered across the city (and Canada) like spilled nonpareils.
For the last couple of years, I’ve donated my pre-Christmas baking frenzies to bake sales…but this year, sadly those seem to have disappeared too. Luckily, I am part of a casual cooking group here in Calgary called ‘Bite Club’. Yes, I know the first rule about ‘Bite Club’ is you do not talk about Bite Club*, but humour me for a moment. It’s comprised of a lovely bunch of talented ladies, with a couple of men including Pierre Lamielle, a personal chef for hire, Chopped Canada champion, illustrator, and all around funny guy. Meetups usually occur on a monthly basis at a different home and there’s usually some sort of theme involved, whether it’s a particular chef, theme, or a specific cookbook. In the past, we’ve had ‘bring your favourite family recipe’, Rick Bayless, an ‘Haute Dog’ party, an Indian feast based on recipes from A Spicy Touch and even a ‘church lady’ wake for David Bowie. It’s so much fun to see how creative everyone can be and the variety of food is usually pretty impressive. The smart ones among us bring containers so they can bring leftovers home.
Last night was our first Christmas cookie exchange based upon Dorie Greenspan’s new cookbook, Dorie’s Cookies. Since there were around 30 of us packed into Julie van Rosendaal’s tiny little turn of the century home, we didn’t aim to bring 30 dozen cookies to swap. Thank goodness!! Instead we just brought as many as we wanted to trade for (plus some for snacking on). I didn’t have a chance to buy the cook book yet and I needed to create some content for the blog so I came up with a Christmas treat of my own. What if I took the ingredients that I would use to make a Nanaimo Bar and shape it into a truffle? A soft yellow centre flavoured with Bird’s Custard Powder, surrounded by the coconut chocolate layer, and dipped in chocolate…
Well I am telling you it is possible!! It was very time consuming and probably slightly more time than I would spend on a cookie exchange, but the results were worth it. Would you believe I’ve never actually made Nanaimo Bars before? Despite the pleas from my family, it’s never happened. I think they are going to be happy this year because I doubled up the recipe and only brought half to the cookie exchange. The rest will be waiting in the freezer, ready to be placed on Christmas dainty trays.
I did learn something last night at the cookie exchange. Julie’s sister, Anne, is a chocolatier and she told me that I could just leave the coconut oil out of the melted chocolate. If you do leave it in, these truffles should be kept chilled at all times. They will be solid at room temperature, but will melt quickly in your hand.
I bought the little chocolate covered quinoa puffs at Bulk Barn. If you get a chance, and you have one nearby you should definitely stop by for a great selection of baking ingredients and decorations. I could spend a lot of dough in that place!
Lastly, it was such a fun night. I came home with 3 dozen interesting cookies to share with my family, such as Chocolate Chili Sablés, Lemon Crinkles, Chocolate Crinkles, Lemon Brulée Cookies, Chocolate Tahini Cookies, and a few really tasty savoury cookies. It was a great way to sample so many cookies from one book and now I think I have a cookie hangover!
*Bite Club = Fight Club…you know, with Brad Pitt! Sadly he does not belong to our Bite Club.
Once again, I’m delighted to join a group of talented Canadian Bloggers in the #CANRecipe Challenge with December’s theme “Christmas Classics”.
Find more #CANRecipe Christmas Classics here:
Dipped Oreos @ The Inspired Home
Mulled Wine @ Maple and Marigold
Bacon Fried Rice @ Allergy Girl Eats
Coles Pudding @ Off The Porch
Chocolate covered Whiskey-Soaked Figs @ Everday Allergen Free
Shortbread Cookies @ Mommydo
I didn’t grow up with a Baba to teach me how to make cabbage rolls, but I did grow up eating them. I think local Babas (Ukrainian grandmothers) took pity on us, because once in a while a tray full of home made, hand rolled goodness showed up on our counter. My Grandmas were of French, German and Hungarian backgrounds, so their cooking came with it’s own special perks, like home made tourtière, sauerkraut and poppy seed roll. My Hungarian Grandma did actually make a casserole she called ‘lazy cabbage rolls’ which she seasoned with a liberal amount of paprika! I suspect that my mom ‘had no time’ for such time consuming dishes, though she would spend all day making a batch of her fabulous home baked bread and sewing.
When I was finally ready to begin rolling my own cabbage rolls, I asked for instructions from some Ukrainian relatives and friends but I never really found a recipe that contained the flavours that I liked. Since many of them suggested using canned tomato soup as a sauce base (and I am morally opposed to cooking with a can of soup), I knew that it was up to me to experiment on my own. One bit of advice that found very helpful was to boil the whole cabbage (core removed) in a large, salted stockpot of water. The cabbage leaves separate and soften, making it much easier to roll them over the filling and ensures that they are soft and tender in the final dish.
These cabbage rolls feature a good amount of dill, an herb which grows abundantly in my mother’s garden. There’s dill in the filling and in the tomato sauce not only because it tastes great, but because my mom is always drying and giving me jars of her dill. I’m expecting another jar of it to show up in my Christmas stocking again this year…
There’s really no need to include the roasted red peppers, I just added them because I had some in the fridge that I needed to use up. You can omit them from the sauce, if you wish. What really makes a difference in taste though, is using a high quality tomato sauce or passata (not tomato soup!). I make my passata every fall, it’s one of my least favourite but most rewarding three days of preserving because enables us to enjoy the taste of summer tomatoes all winter long.
Times are tough and I’ve come to realize that besides death and taxes, the only true industry that survives and thrives is brewing. Beer has been constant throughout human history, it’s one of the oldest beverages produced dating back to at least the fifth millennium BC, according to Wikipedia. So, it’s no wonder that when the economy tanks (and doesn’t look like it’s rebounding any time soon) people turn to what is familiar and comfortable. This doesn’t mean that everyone is going to start a microbrewery but surprise, surprise…beer consumption is up these days as well. Beer is (relatively) cheap to drink and acts as a social lubricant. These days it’s less about ‘drowning your sorrows’ at a lonely bar with a glass of scotch on the rocks, and more about commiserations and ideas…uniting against a common problem and most importantly, supporting local.
This thriving ‘beer economy’ has attracted others to our city as well and that’s okay. Friendly competition is always a good thing, it keeps the brewer’s honest, provides jobs, and helps our local economy. Our local brewers are a tight group, who gather quite frequently for collaborations and cask tappings. A few them have told me that there’s room for everyone’s brews here in Calgary, though for the most part the arrival of Mill Street Brewery has created a mixed response. Toronto’s Mill Street Brewery has arrived and opened a Calgary brew pub in a prime location on 17th Avenue SE. It’s a great place to hang out with friends before a Calgary Flames game or concert because it is literally blocks from the Scotiabank Saddledome. Even though everything inside is new and shiny, the brewery building has a bit of a history and is known among Calgarians as ‘The Costigan House’. This 100+ year old mansion was home to several prominent Calgarians (the first of which were John Ryan and Ada Costigan), before being utilized as a boarding home, and finally as a series of nightclubs (ending as The Republik). The significant renovation on this historic home kept most of the exterior feature characteristics, while completely changing the interior. Along the east side, there is a ‘garage-like’ addition which houses a retail store and a brewery, boasting all Canadian made Stainless Steel vessels which are visible from the street and through the large windows on the lowest floor. The muli-level pub has seating for 225, with another 160 seats added during patio season.
Mill Street Brewery’s first location opened up in Toronto’s Distillery District in 2002 serving their Original Organic Lager which continues to be their biggest seller, making up 60% of their beer sales. Four years later they expanded the brewery to include a brew pub, then opened an Ottawa brew pub in 2012. 2016 was their biggest year yet with brew pubs opening in St. John’s and Calgary. Each location has a selection of year round core brews (Original Organic Lager, 100th Meridian Organic Amber Lager, Tankhouse Ale, West Coast Style IPA, Cobblestone Stout, and Stock Ale) in addition to seasonal brews (Lemon Tea Beer), Special Brews (like the Belgian Tripel, Betelgeuse), and location-specific brews. In Calgary that means the Chuckwagon Wheat, Basecamp Stout, Twin Tips IPA, Honest Bucker Pale Ale (among others) on a rotating/seasonal basis. While the core brews are produced in Toronto under the direction of brewmaster Joel Manning and shipped to all other locations, the Calgary microbrewery (overseen by brewmaster Bennie Dingemanse) produces roughly 30-40 kegs per week in house.
But this is a FOOD BLOG so you probably want to know about the food at Mill Street Brew Pub. I’ve been a couple times already and I’ve been quite impressed with the food. It is definitely not your regular ‘pub grub’ as it is much more refined and regional than you would expect. Executive Chef Glen Manzer also creates some of the dishes using beer brewed on location, which I always love to see. So far the stand outs for me have been the Wedge Salad, Barley Mushroom Risotto, Wild Rice Pudding (with 100th Meridian Caramel), Mushroom Bruschetta and the Nanaimo Bars!
In all, I think Mill Street Brew Pub is a welcome addition to the Calgary beer scene and will add value to 17th Avenue SW scene. Brewery tours are available daily after 4 pm, though I would call ahead to double check availability. If you want to take some swag home or fill a growler full of your favourite Mill Street Brewery beer, both are available at the retail store from noon to 9 pm daily.
Mill Street Brew Pub219 17th Avenue SW; (403) 454-6871
For those of you wrinkling your foreheads at this post title, allow me to explain. Cookinotti is the ultimate indulgence. It’s basically ginger spice cookies crushed up and made into a spreadable paste, similar in texture to smooth peanut butter. Yep, spreadable cookies.
Cookinotti is but one brand of this wonderful, spreadable cookie indulgence that originated in Belgium and spread in popularity across Europe, eventually landing on North American shores a few short years ago. At one time, Belgians began to crush spice cookies (Speculoos) and sprinkle them on top of buttered toast. Eventually some genius had the bright idea that they should combine the two and speculoos spread was born. Since spice cookies contain any combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and lots of butter…the logical conclusion that any cookie (or gingerbread) lover would make is that they are perfect for the holiday season. And so I present to you…Cookinotti Biscotti.
For the second year in row now I’ve been privileged to attend the prestigious Gold Medal Plates evening in support some of my favourite Calgary chefs and Canadian Olympians. The net proceeds from the event are given to the Canadian Olympic Foundation to support high performance programs such as Own the Podium. The foundation makes it possible for Canadian athletes to live their Olympic dreams, supporting them while they train and prepare for Olympic competition.The evening is a great mix of entertainment, elevated cuisine, and charity; with the funds raised through both a silent auction and regular auction. Some of the auction items include trips such as ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’; where the winning bidder is wined and dined along with Canadian Olympians and celebrities like Jim Cuddy (Blue Rodeo), Barney Bentall, Anne Lindsay, Devin Cuddy, and Sam Polley. New this year was an Iceland trip with Ed Robertson (Barenaked Ladies)…imagine hanging out in Iceland with Ed and Catriona LeMay Doan (Olympic double gold and bronze medallist in long track speed skating). It would be so surreal! There always are quite a few athletes in attendance and it’s a great opportunity to meet them and find out exactly where they get their inspiration and drive from. Training for the Olympics is often quite a lonely journey and I think it’s comforting for them to know that their fellow Canadians appreciate all their hard work and dedication.
For me though, it’s mostly about the food. I’m going to be honest here and say that my favourite part of GMP is supporting my favourite chefs and seeing them achieve greatness. Often, a parallel can be drawn between the training a chef goes through and the life of an athlete, because it takes just as much hard work and dedication to be the very best. Add talent to the mix and greatness, through Gold Medal Plates, can be achieved. Calgary is but one stop in the Gold Medal Plates country-wide circuit, with the fundraising competition taking place in 12 Canadian cities: Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, St. John’s, and Halifax. The winners from each city travel to the final competition in Kelowna (February 3-4, 2016) where the Canadian Gold Medal Plate Champion is crowned. We haven’t had a GMP podium finisher from Calgary yet, so here’s hoping 2016 is our year!
I like to arrive early to get photos of them in ‘action’ while they finish the final preparations for the 600-700 plates that they will assemble in just under two hours. Believe me, it’s no small feat and there seems to always be a last minute adjustments or crises. The photos I took last year were mostly action shots, but this year I was able to get most of the teams to stand still for a group shot. Many faces show exhaustion mixed with anticipation and hope…a reflection that I’ve also seen on our Canadian athlete’s faces during Olympic competition. Above all, what I see is desire to win gold.
Calgary’s podium chefs and their dishes for 2016 were:
3 – Chef Michel Nop – Redwater Rustic Grille (Vintage Group)
Chef Michel is a young, bright guy with a talent for plating and annoying people for fun. I’m not sure why he left Paris for Calgary, but I am glad he did. His dish was a combination of intriguing flavours; both new and classic. The combination of the rich Foie Gras & Unagi Pressé with Granny Smith Apple Gel, buttery brioche purée, and sweet pistachio praline was a huge success with the judges. This gorgeous plate earned him a bronze medal in the competition. 2 – Chef John Michael MacNeil – The Belvedere
All great chefs grow and evolve through experiences and Chef John Michael MacNeil is no exception. His love for Spanish cuisine led to several trips to this exciting country where he became even more inspired. A brief stage with Chef Antonio Park of Park Resto in Montreal (a chef known for creating absolutely gorgeous dishes with influences from all over the globe) also broadened Chef John’s scope of influence. Now back in Calgary, he’s in charge of The Belvedere, a plush fine dining restaurant in the heart of Calgary. His dish, Sous vide bison cheek, la Ratte potato, apple wood smoked chanterelles, brined carrots, and parsley purée earned him the Silver medal at the Calgary event. I thought it was an amazing example of how a dish with fairly simple ‘meat and potatoes’ ingredients could be elevated into the highest cuisine using culinary technique.
1 – Chef Jinhee Lee – Vintage Chophouse (Vintage Group)
Chef Jinhee Lee has made a lasting culinary impression on our city. Her artfully skilled plating matches the subtle, yet harmonized flavours of her dishes that she has served at various Calgary restaurants, including Raw Bar (located in Hotel Arts) and most recently at Vintage Chophouse. Her dish ‘Cha ca la Vong’, a turmeric fish mosaic, was inspired by her travels in Asia and a particular restaurant that she loved in Hanoi. Her beautiful dish was full of contrasts in texture and flavour and it was most definitely a gold medal dish.
The other Calgary chefs selected to compete were:
Chef James Waters – KLEIN / HARRIS Restaurant
The dishes were judged by several prominent Calgary chefs and previous Gold Medal Plate Calgary winners; Senior Chef Judge Michael Allemier (Instructor at SAIT), Chef Matthew Batey (GMP Calgary, 2015), Chef Ryan O’Flynn (Canadian Culinary Champion, 2015), Chef Dave Bohati (GMP Calgary 2014), alongside Kathy Richardier (Publisher and Editor Calgary’s City Palate Magazine), national GMP head judge James Chatto. Each dish was judged out of 100 points, based on visual presentation (20%), texture (10%), technical achievement (10%), taste (40%), wine compatibility (10%), and wow factor (10%).