Hicks' Weekly Dish: Edmonton's food future all about the chefs BY GRAHAM HICKS, first published Edmonton Sun, December 19, 2017
Matilda, the kudos coming Edmonton’s way for its restaurant renaissance are for real.
The facts speak for themselves: City restaurants earned three of Canada’s Top 10 new restaurants in enRoute Magazine, five of Open Table’s 100 Best Canadian Restaurants for 2017, five of Canada’s 100 best restaurants as chosen by Canada100Best.com.
Edmonton came out of nowhere to jump onto Resonance Consultancy’s Top 100 World Cities annual rating for this year – at number 60. Our culinary smorgasbord was a “quality of life” factor.
The Toronto Sun ran a culinary travel story under the headline “Why your next foodie trip should be Edmonton.”
When Air Canada announced non-stop Edmonton-to-San Francisco service (in the spring), the EnRoute Top 10 awards were cited by an Air Canada executive as an example of our city’s “considerable, young, entrepreneurial demographic.”
By my count, some 50 young (or young-at-heart) exciting chefs have emerged as owners or partners in must-dine restaurant destinations.
The reasons are multiple, but it comes down to individuals – individuals who organized Alberta’s first teams in world Culinary Olympic events, who took NAIT student chefs to international competitions, individual chefs who, back in the ’90s,hired and mentored promising apprentices.
Let’s start with the “pioneers”, chefs who have been creating interesting, high-quality and unusual menus since the early ’90s.
Sunny Sung raised the bar for all the Sorrentino restaurants, but particularly Bistecca on the south side. Today, Alberto Alboreggia is doing beautiful things at Sorrentino’s Downtown.
Sorrentino’s Downtown executive chef Alberto Alboreggia
For 19 years, Shonn Oborowky has produced uniqueness at Characters. About the same time, Frank Olsen opened the fine-dining Red Ox Inn – hidden away at the top of Connors Hill. Frank has since added Canteen to his holdings.
Normand Campbell was the first restaurant owner in town to go all in on exotic meats – bison, elk, ostrich – at the enduring Normand’s.
Larry Stewart’s Hardware Grill still defines high-end dining in this town. Just as important, it was in Chef Stewart’s kitchen that so many of today’s owner-operators honed their cooking skills.
A DECADE OF GROWTH
By 2008-2009, the first wave of young, confident chefs had found the investors to open their own restaurants, investors giving them the freedom to create.
Andrew Fung opened XIX, and has since expanded to St. Albert. David Omar was hired to run Zinc in the new Art Gallery of Alberta building in 2010. Patrick Saurette opened The Marc, finding chefs to realize his French-inspired bistro vision.
At the Tzin Wine Bar on 104 Street, Glenn Haugh and Kelsey Danyluk were the first back in 2008 or so to specialize in tapas. Around the same time, Lino Oliveira left his seaside restaurant in Portugal to come home. Sabor – Edmonton’s finest seafood restaurant – was born.
In 2010, the brilliant young Daniel Costa chef opened Corso 32 with its roots deep in Italy, but his own style defining every dish. Today, Costa has added the equally lauded Bar Bricco and Uccellino to the Corso stable.
After Corso 32’s success, the floodgates opened.
Mike Scorgie at Woodwork, Brayden Kozak at Three Boars/Wishbone, Rosario Caputo at Cibo, Rob Filipchuk at Glass Monkey.
Giselle Courteau and Garner Beggs’ Duchess Bake Shop has inspired a wave of excellent new patisseries.
From this generation, Sage’s Shane Chartrand and Blair Lebsack at RGE RD leapt into prominence.
Locally and nationally, Chartrand is turning aboriginal cooking into haute cuisine. Shane’s influence is bringing contemporary aboriginal dishes into mainstream Edmonton cuisine.
Lebsack was one of the first chef-owners to define his restaurant through an unwavering commitment to local farm suppliers. REG RD’s famous “questionable bits” – transforming odd bits of butchered animals into daily specials – has changed customers’ attitude to organ and offal meats from yuk to yum.
The last two years have seen yet another explosion of new chef-driven restaurants.
Ben Staley at Alder Room, Kelsey Johnson at Café Linnea, Roger Letourneau at Clementine, Steve Brochu at Beaumont’s marvellous Chartier, Paul Shufelt’s Workshop Eatery, Scott Downey at Butternut Tree, Tony Krause at Revel, Lindsay Porter at London Local, Jesse Morrison Gauthier at The Common, Christine Sandford at Biera, Alexei Boldireff at Baiju, Ryan Hotchkiss at Bundok.
Nathin Bye is re-defining bar food at the Crash Hotel. While Vivo Downtown closed due to an investor’s bankruptcy, its fine chef Medi Tabtoub carries on at the original west-end Vivo.
Eric Hanson at Prairie Noodle Shop, Nick Crudo’s Black Pearl Seafood, the acclaimed Solstice Seasonal with Jan Trittenbach at the helm, Mexican roast chicken and pork at Edgar Gutierrez’s Rostizado, crazy sandwiches by The Local Omnivore’s Mark Bellows and Ryan Brodziak: This column’s latest discovery has been chef Shon Vichitvorakul’s Thai-inspired fusion dishes at LOFT Thai Eatery.
Some of the bigger hotel/casino restaurants are accommodating “name” chefs doing interesting things, like Andrew Ihasz at the Airport Renaissance’s HALO, or Shelley Robinson, the executive chef at the Grand Villa Casino’s ATLAS.
Even now, at least four or five chef-inspired-and-owned restaurants, such as Pip in Old Strathcona or Levi Biddlecombe’s Why Not, are opening their doors. Hopefully the downtown Ice District will feature a few chef-owned bistros.
Truly it is an astounding list of chef-owned, interesting eateries – and a tribute to both chefs and customers advancing hand-in-hand. (In all likelihood, I have left out several names that should be on this list – there are so many.)
As Edmonton emerges as a culinary capital of Canada, let the accomplishment be a tribute to all these men and women so dedicated to their craft.