One Great Culinary Weekend
by Dan Clapson
It’s a strange thing, really, having to pack your suitcase to stay in a hotel in your own city. No, I wasn’t broken up with and thrown out of my apartment to fend for myself, although, that would be ‘just like in the movies’ wouldn’t it? I was getting to tag along and co-host a culinary weekend put on by Tourism Calgary.
In addition to having some stellar media in town like Alexandra Gill (Globe and Mail food critic), and Tammy Burns and Stacey Mcleod (Travel and Escape editors), we were joined by winners of the Top Chef Canada Ultimate Culinary Weekend contest. Hailing anywhere from Regina to Toronto, everyone seemed excited to eat their way through the culinary festivities of the next few days.
The initial meet and greet for the whole gang at Hotel Arts’ Raw Bar was not without its surprises. Two of the winners of the contest, a lovely couple from Saskatoon, turned out to be the aunt and uncle of a person I went to elementary school with in Saskatchewan. Always a small world, isn’t it?
After a solid mingle and craft cocktails, courtesy of the always-talented mixologist, Christina Mah, the group was given a lift down to one of the city’s newest restaurants, Briggs Kitchen and Bar. With Top Chef Canada season two alumnus, Xavier Lacaze running the kitchen in this slick space, everyone was definitely in for a treat. Using their impressive charcoal oven to provide a unique char and smokiness to many of the dishes there, we sampled everything from crispy goat cheese and walnut flatbread to seared scallops with charred leeks and vanilla oil (a real stand out), and a maple-glazed bone-in pork belly that was definitely the favourite at my table.
As full as we were, one of the trip attendees, Vancouver writer Mijune Pak, was determined to further investigate the city’s food scene, so I put my tour guide cap on and took her for a late night stroll. Since I have no problem with doing things in excess, we popped into Taste, Model Milk, MARKET, Milk Tiger Lounge and ended the evening at Local 510. Although our stomachs didn’t stretch quite enough to allow us to eat at every place we stopped by, Pak was definitely impressed with the variety of Saturday night hot spots within such a short radius.
Needless to say, I was a tad tired the following morning when we were whisked down to SAIT’s downtown Culinary Campus for a cooking class with chefs Michael Dekker and Chris Shaften. If you’ve never met Chef Shaften, he is a ball of energy (to say the least!) which always seems to serve him well in a kitchen setting.
Luckily, the media folks were not put to work in the kitchen, rather the contest winners were set-up Top Chef-style to prepare their take on a classic eggs benedict for the culinary experts to judge.
Like any cooking competition, there were some misses, but judging from all of the laughing and general camaraderie taking place at the Culinary Campus, I think everyone had one hell of a time!
Our Sunday finished with a stunning Top Chef Canada-themed collaborative dinner at River Cafe. Working alongside the Andrew Winfield restaurant’s chef, were familiar faces Xavier Lacaze, Chris Shaften and Nicole Gomes. Connie Desousa had her hands full with out-of-town obligations, but Charcut remained well represented by their chef de cuisine, Mike Batke.
If you’ve never dined at River Cafe, it is nothing short of breathtaking along the Bow River, with an ambient warm-toned room and a gorgeous patio facing the Eau Claire Market. Our visiting food and travel writers were impressed by the quality of courses that showcased some fantastic Alberta ingredients like heirloom tomatoes, lamb and much, much more.
With only one day left and still a lot of ground to cover, we met up with the lovely Karen Anderson. Owner of Calgary Food Tours, Anderson is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the history of the city’s food scene, an authority on all things food. The group happily strolled up and down 17th Avenue, making stops at CRMR at Home, Ox and Angela, Janice Beaton and Cibo before wrapping up for the day.
Last, but certainly not least, it was time for the Really, Really Long Table Dinner down Stephen Avenue. So, what is a really, really long table dinner to be exact? Well, it is 240 sitting happily down the longest table I’ll likely ever see in my life being served a five course dinner from an array of Stephen Avenue’s restaurants. From Charcut’s signature pig’s head mortadella and pickles to the amazing parmesan polenta and seared albacore tuna a la Blink, I am nearly positive that every single diner left the experience with a satisfied smile on their face.
Waking up on Tuesday morning (still full from the dinner the evening prior), I packed up my things, grabbed a bite at Yellow Door Bistro, which is pretty stellar for a continental hotel breakfast by the way, checked out and headed home. I didn’t have much time to contemplate the culinary experience in my mind on the short cab ride home, but I did realize one thing...
Every time you think you’ve tasted everything, tried it all, there’s always one more place to discover, a new person to meet and, of course, something else to eat. Here’s to many more experiences in this city that I have yet to uncover. There’s a lot to eat in this town and someone’s got to do it, right?
Dan Clapson is a food writer and columnist based out of Calgary, Alberta. His published works include restaurant features and chef profiles as well as articles about creating recipes and hands-on culinary experiences. In addition to writing for Food Network Canada and for Avenue and WestJet’s up! magazine, Dan spends time with some of western Canada’s top chefs in professional kitchens to better appreciate the craft of cooking. In fall 2013, he co-founded Eat North, a food-focused media outlet specializing in Canadian cuisine.
Dan has appeared on the Food Network Canada shows Eat St. and You Gotta Eat Here and contributes to FNC online in his popular blog series, Top Chef Canada: Taking The Challenge Home. He believes culinary culture can be truly appreciated by approaching food from every angle, and his own appreciation of this is reflected in his writing and on his popular blog, Dan's Good Side.
When he’s not writing or eating, which is rare, Dan can be found teaching university students how to cook through his free cooking program Start From Scratch. He believes that the food he eats is only as good as the company that surrounds him, which is why he is lucky to have some the best friends in the whole, wide world. If you want to know what Dan’s up to, right this very moment, check him out on Twitter.