Forged By Fire

Chef Jinhee Lee at JinBar
Credit: C. Van Brunschot

A global pandemic is hardly an optimal scenario for opening a new restaurant venture.  But many Calgary chefs did exactly that – proving that where passion and ingenuity ignite, there’s no putting out the flame.

What does it take to be a chef-entrepreneur during times of adversity? I sat down with Chef Jinhee Lee, Chef Connie DeSousa, and Chef Jenny Kang to find out.

You can read what they had to say here – or in the March/April issue of Savour Calgary magazine.  Some of their comments may surprise you!

Jasper Revelations

Picnic near Angel Glacier

IT’S A GOOD TIME FOR EXPLORING OUR OWN BACKYARD.

That’s been my approach for the past ten months – and  what brought me (and my husband) to Jasper in September for a beautiful end-of-season camping trip.

We hiked.  We biked.  We sat by the fire, while elk bugled into the night sky.

And under the capable guidance of Estelle Blanchette from Jasper Food Tours, we explored Canadian cuisine with four “pods” of Alberta travellers.

You can read about our food tour in the Winter issue of Taste & Travel International  –  here or here.

The folks of Jasper have worked hard through the pandemic to welcome visitors in a safe, responsible – and always engaging – way.

And now that it’s winter, Jasper is MAGICAL.

Skating, skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing are just the beginning.  There’s ice walks in Maligne Canyon.  Winter wildlife tours.  And Dark Sky gazing in the world’s largest astronomy park.

Starting next week, you can enjoy in-restaurant dining with your family once more – and Jasper Food Tours will be gearing up again to introduce you to some of the best.

(Note that things are booking up quickly for the Family Day/Valentine’s Day/Lunar New Year weekend ahead).

Here’s hoping that you can take time to get out and explore.  There’s so much to love in our own backyard.

(In case you’re wondering  – this was not a sponsored post nor did I receive any discounts, gifts, etc. from any Jasper tours or venues.  I just like to share great people and places.)

Text and photos © 2021 Catherine Van Brunschot

Lighting Up Christmas 2020

From “DOUGHNUTS TO DOSAS: A Christmas Tale
(Story: C. Van Brunschot; Photo credit: S. Dunk)

“It was 2003 and time for the talk.  Like many propositions put forward to tweens, it might not go well.

 And the proposition we were making to our son and daughter?  We wanted to take them travelling at Christmas…” 

Say, what?

Travel?

Christmas?

What fantasy world is this?

In the Year of the Pandemic, travel feels like a distant dream – and carving the usual Christmas traditions out of 2020 is looking as possible as returning to 2003.

Christmas parties?  Gone from the calendar.  Community celebrations?  Better get the laptop going.  Family gatherings? Uh-uh – not if we want to keep Grandma & Grandpa healthy, the kids in school come January, and our own workplaces and businesses open.

Keeping our collective chin up seems to take a little more energy each day.

Enter Savour Calgary magazine, whose holiday issue just hit the stands last week.  It isn’t going to flatten the second curve or generate a new covid vaccine.  It won’t bring distant family members home for the holidays.  It won’t bring us any closer to that light at the tunnel’s end.

But it just might offer a wee bit of first aid.  Call it a thin string of lights to brighten up that tunnel wall.

The November/December issue is unabashedly Christmas focused.  Dishes up big sides of nostalgia.  Brings global experiences to Calgary and points to ways we can enjoy them right here at home.

And among its stories are different slants on what it means to celebrate Christmas – and a reminder of the joy found in solitude, too.

So if you’re looking for escape, fresh inspiration, that fruitcake recipe you lost, or just a small smile, check out this digital copy of the new issue or look here for where you can find a free paper copy to thumb through with your glass of mulled wine.

Me, I’m a sucker for all of those things – and happy to contribute a story to Savour Calgary, too.  (That’s an excerpt at the top of this page.  You can read the full text of “DOUGHNUTS TO DOSAS:  A Christmas Tale” here).

My strategy this year is to set aside what I’ll be missing and focus instead on how to make “different” into something good.

Best wishes to everyone for the holiday season – no matter how or what you celebrate.  This, too, will be just a memory some day.  There’s still some choice to be had in what that memory might be.

Text © 2020 Catherine Van Brunschot

Meet the Producers

Craig Sanok and Paul Chambers of Dancing Goats Farm

Spend some time with modern farmers and you’ll find they’re a thoughtful bunch. Especially these Calgary-area producers, who are getting noticed for doing things differently.

Jessica and Christopher Fasoli of Bear and The Flower Farm

Kye Kocher of Grand Trunk Veggies

Some even call themselves “nerdy”.

They’re focused on building community around quality local food – and on mindful stewardship of the planet’s resources.

Here’s a peek at why they’re turning heads…

Read more on my conversations with these local producers here – or in the new issue of Savour Calgary magazine. On newstands now at all of your favourite food purveyors.

 

Cultivating an Urban Grower

Urban Farm School garden
Photo credit: C. Lamoureux and C. Van Schepen

Spend just ten minutes with Carmen Lamoureux, founder of the Urban Farm School in Calgary, and you’ll want to dash home to plant some food.

In your flowerbed.  In a pot.  In a patch of dirt next to your condo building, even.

Her passion is that contagious…

Read the full story here, or check out the complete March/April issue of Savour Calgary magazine online here.  

Meet the Producer: Trail’s End Beef

Trail's End Beef Historic Ranch
Photo credit: C. Van Brunschot

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A LONG-TIME VEGETARIAN TAKES THE REINS OF AN HISTORIC CATTLE RANCH?

At a century-old farmhouse tucked in a fold of Alberta’s Porcupine Hills, I’m about to find out…

Read more here or in the new issue of Savour Calgary, available now on newstands at all your favourite food-loving businesses in Calgary and area.

Talking Adventure Travel and Cycling in Provence on Global News Radio’s “The Informed Traveler”

Cycling past sunflower field, Provence

Adventure tourism is one of the fastest-growing segments of the travel market – climbing by a whopping 65% a year from 2009 to 2013, and projected to grow by more than 17% annually through 2023.

According to a 2018 survey by Travel Leaders Group, it’s the top specialty travel choice among North American travellers, and sought out by men and women of every age group.

Outside the Fortress in UzesWhat exactly IS adventure travel?  According to the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), it’s travel that combines at least 2 out of the following three elements:  physical activity; connection with nature; interaction with culture.

“Soft” adventure activities like hiking, cycling, and kayaking are among the most popular, driven by travellers’ increased desire to include hands-on, authentic , and off-the-beaten-path experiences while out exploring the world.

I’m certainly no athlete,  but by this definition I’ve been a soft adventure traveller for two decades.  Given the statistics, you’ve likely done some, too, or are seriously considering it for future forays around the globe.

Listen to this week’s INFORMED TRAVELER podcast, as host Randy Sharman explores why I like to include a bit of active travel in my holiday plans.  You’ll hear some adventures from my multi-day cycling trip in France – through one of the most interesting corners of Provence – and learn tips about choosing a cycling tour that’s right for you.

The INFORMED TRAVELER is heard every Sunday at 8 am on NewsTalk770 Calgary , at 6 pm on Edmonton’s 630CHED, and at 3 pm on NewsTalk980 CKNW Vancouver.  Listen to it on your mobile device through CuriousCast.

Text and photos © 2019 Catherine Van Brunschot

 

Radio Interview on THE INFORMED TRAVELER: Talking about Tuscany

Thanks so much to Randy Sharman for inviting me to chat about Tuscany on the May 5 episode of his radio show, THE INFORMED TRAVELER.

I love the relaxed, conversational way that Randy’s show brings the latest in travel news and tips to his listeners.  Like me, he believes that “there’s no better learning experience than traveling the world and meeting the people who inhabit it”, and he’s dedicated to teasing out stories and insights from his on-air guests.

The INFORMED TRAVELER is heard Sunday’s on 770CHQR in Calgary, 630CHED in Edmonton and on 980 CKNW in Vancouver.

You can also listen to free podcast episodes on curiouscast.ca and omny.fm by searching Google Podcasts,  Apple Podcasts, or Spotify on your electronic device.

In the May 5 segment, Randy uses my City Palate article “Late to the Table: a Culinary Walk Through Italy” as a springboard for discussing why food is special in Tuscany and how best to explore the region’s culinary treasures.

You can listen to my segment here – or hear the full episode (including info on celebrating Cinco de Mayo in Los Cabos or volunteering abroad) on THE INFORMED TRAVELER website.  If you like what you hear, you’ll find past episodes available on the website, too.

I’m looking forward to chatting with Randy again sometime in the future!

Text and photos © 2019 Catherine Van Brunschot

Deep November

November Sunrise - Calgary

NOVEMBER IN CALGARY: it’s the perfect juxtaposition of dwindling daylight hours and increasing social expectations that’s destined to wreak havoc with your serenity.

Still, the silver lining of this time of year is witnessing a stunning prairie sunrise as you grab that first (or second!) morning coffee at work – and a mountain sunset as you make your commute home.

Those rose-hued skies of late have put me in mind of a couple of my favourite things to lighten the holiday season.

November Sky cocktail (Cirque Restaurant, Fernie, BC)
My rendition of the November Sky (Cirque’s is much prettier)

The first is the November Sky – a warming combination of brown spirits and red wine that is one of Aileen Shipley’s gifts to the cocktail-sipping community.  Shipley conjured it up for her apres-ski guests at Cirque Restaurant & Bar in Fernie’s Lizard Creek Lodge (and allowed me to share the recipe in my basil column last winter).  The cocktail’s evocative sweet and sour layers are up to the dual tasks of pleasing your holiday guests or lifting your spirits as you work through your seasonal checklist.

And my second favourite go-to? Broiled Feta Crumbles & Fennel on Mixed Micro-Greens – a quick and delicious topper for crostini or crackers that was taught to me by Chef Crystal McKenzie of Peasant Cheese Shop in Kensington.  The recipe for this appetizer inspiration has recently made its way to the website of Taste & Travel International where you can access it for yourself.

[You’ll notice T&T’s photo presents it plated like a salad – a delicious option – but Crystal likes to spread a thick layer of tiny sprouts (pea shoots are terrific!) across a small platter, then sprinkle the toasted cheese crumbles and roasted fennel bits across the top, for a layered ensemble that guests can simply scoop onto their bread].

Mmmm – warm, salty cheese and greens, together with an elevated whisky sour.  For me there’s no better combination for easy entertaining or a little self-care in the midst of holiday chaos.

Or for simply curling up and looking ahead to powder ski days in the Rockies.

Text and photos © 2018 Catherine Van Brunschot

A BeakerEats Preview

Toasted Canola Hay Gelato Profiterole

When your thoughts swing to gelato flavours, how often does canola appear on your  radar?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess:  never.

Fortunately, the mind of gelato guru Chef Mario Spina of Burger 320 holds no such limitations.

When the team behind Beakerhead – Calgary’s annual smash up of art, science, and engineering – dropped a load of canola hay, seeds, meal, and oil on his stoop, and asked him to produce an entry to this year’s BeakerEats program, he took up the challenge with gusto.  Notwithstanding a dramatic confrontation between his convection oven and the canola hay, Chef Spina came through with a toasted-canola-hay-infused gelato profiterole, topped with honey-chocolate sauce and a dusting of canola meal; a dessert that – judging by the moans of rapture emanating from my fellow diners – was right on the mark.

Canola sheafIt was the crowning finish to the BeakerEats Chefs’ Collaborative Dinner, a public event that previews some of the delights awaiting diners at participating restaurants throughout Beakerhead.  BeakerEats launches today, while the 2018 festival’s full lineup of activities, installations, talks and workshops – including a handful of culinary chemistry sessions – runs September 19 to 23.

Each year under its BeakerEats banner, the festival team selects a theme ingredient from Canadian farmers and producers, puts together a science kit of local products for Calgary chefs and mixologists, and challenges them to do what they do best:  apply their creativity to the fullest expression of outstanding ingredients.  The theme for 2018 is canola in all its forms – oil, seeds, meal, hay, and sprouts – a true prairie product grown by some 14,000 Alberta farmers.

As Beakerhead’s Paul Gordon noted at the outset of Wednesday’s dinner, canola itself has a long and interesting scientific history.  From its lowly origins as an inedible lubricant for the steam engines that powered Canada’s WWII navy, to its current position as one of the world’s healthiest edible oils (whose spent grain has also become a top-grade feed for dairy cattle), canola is a Canadian success story that speaks to the best of health-friendly science and to research both collaborative and tenacious.

Our BeakerEats walk through canola history was fueled by a Bloody Airdrie created by Spirit of the Wench, Wendy Peters.  It was a tasty tipple  that combined summer tomatoes, cucumbers, and red peppers with blended canola seed and Absolut Lemon vodka.

Bison Tataki

Then it was on to the tasting menu – and what a menu it was!

River Cafe‘s Chef Matthias Fong started us off with bison tataki, tucked cozily with Highwood Crossing canola oil sorbet and canola hay infused cream, and laced with Fallen Timbers mead, honey-crystallized canola seed,  and charred kohlrabi.

Brassica Family Salad

 

 

 

It was the perfect prelude to Chef Mitchell Carey’s Instagram-worthy salad of brassica-family vegetables, arranged with a cracker of spent canola & grains and honeycomb sponge toffee among pools of colourful canola infusions created by his Winebar Kensington team.

Spiced Canola Cake

 

Next up were spicy morsels of canola seed cake, created by Chef Liana Robberecht of WinSport, with bitey Highwood Crossing confit tomatoes, ninja radish, tomato skin petals, and canola shoots.

Chef Mike Pigot brought his Home and Away crafting style to popcorn-and-canola-meal tempura shrimp, with drizzles of canola seed caramel and a brilliant canola aioli.

Beef Bavette

 

 

The main course was provided by the dinner’s host venue, Brasserie Kensington, and featured a canola-hay-smoked sous vide beef bavette created by Chef Jorel  Zielke, sided with ABC Farms honey & parsnip saute and cold-pressed canola hollandaise.

And finally, that dessert:  Chef Spina’s toasted-hay gelato, sandwiched between choux pastry layers made from a canola oil/butter blend.

I could wax endlessly about the tastes, textures, and stylings of the night’s creative offerings – but go try them yourself instead.  You’ll find each dish on the menu of its creator’s home restaurant, from now until the end of Beakerhead 2018.

Be sure to ask Chef Spina about his canola hay tribulations.

****************

Sample more BeakerEats cocktails and food features at these other participating restaurants:  The Coup, Deane House, Oxbow, Yellow Door Bistro, and Shokunin.  Two dollars is donated to Beakerhead for every BeakerEats dish and cocktail sold.

Find the full line-up of Beakerhead events here.

For insight into canola’s fascinating scientific history, check out this overview at wdm.ca or the resources at albertacanola.com

Text and photos © 2018 Catherine Van Brunschot