Snowy peaks might not bring to mind abundant local produce, but many Canadian Rockies chefs incorporate the bounty of Alberta’s agriculture year-round. From free-range meats to relish made from fall squash, conscientious diners can choose cuisine made with ingredients grown nearby.
Alberta beef may be our most famous regional offering, but you might be surprised by what else the province has to offer. Mike Day, owner of Evil Dave’s Grill in Jasper, loves the bison that is “native to Alberta and a delicious alternative to beef.” Local farms also raise the Berkshire hogs and heritage chickens found on the menu at Canmore’s Sage Bistro. “The flavour of the meat is more complex than conventional breeds,” notes Sage owner Todd Kunst.
Products from local dairy producers like Sylvan Star Cheese and Fairwinds Farm are increasingly popular. “Fairwinds goat cheese is a real treat,” says Shane Katsuno, chef at Banff’s Juniper Bistro. Originally from Ontario, Katsuno is impressed by the quality of Alberta produce. Day from Evil Dave’s agrees: “It was a rainy summer, so the onions and shallots we’re serving this winter are tasty and huge!”
Indeed, many summer-grown ingredients are used in winter. Sage’s Kunst says careful planning and organization is key. “We stock our kitchen with produce that lasts like carrots, turnips, beets and squash. Our menu becomes more compact and we focus on heartier flavours such as those in our squash risotto and slow-cooked chicken.”
Katsuno from the Juniper also loves “creating satisfying, homey dishes that people enjoy when they come in from the cold.” He even enjoys cooking in winter more than summer. Traditional stews, braised meats and homemade pastas are
“winter-style fare that make it easy to feature local and seasonal ingredients,” says Katsuno. Outdoor enthusiasts are tempted by his hand-made squash tortellini and bison gnocchi (above).
Day isn’t daunted by Alberta’s long winter either. “Cooking seasonally allows us to be creative with what we have,” he says. Evil Dave dishes like Malevolent Meatloaf incorporate local bison and wild boar bacon, and prove that “we’re definitely not stuck with root vegetables.” After a visit to a nearby farm Day was inspired to make 40 jars of zucchini relish that are now put to good use as a winter garnish.
Katsuno also finds farm visits motivating: “Seeing how a vegetable grows in the field inspires me on how I’ll use it when it’s in my kitchen.” And Kunst likes knowing that chickens procured from Alberta artisan farms are free-range. “Each bird has its own little house,” he says. “Smaller producers care about their animals.”
Passionate Canadian Rockies chefs capture the essence of the land and the distinct flavours of Alberta. They buy locally to increase quality, and in the process connect diners with natural rhythms of the growing season. It’s no coincidence that seasonal Alberta ingredients make dishes that perfectly match our winter weather.—Meredith Bailey