One of Twenty 20th Anniversary Celebration Events for the City Palate’s Year Long Anniversary Party
Gail Norton, below left, is one of the grand mavens of Calgary’s thriving local food scene as she started her Cookbook Store in Calgary, The Cookbook Co., 30 years ago, in 1984, upstairs in a building on 17th Avenue SW, then came to publish her iconic local food magazine, the City Palate in 1993. I have been a fan since the very early days due to my good friend, Rae Wyshynski, taking me there is the early days to sample the Saturday morning goodies Gail would prepare from the latest cookbooks on sale. The name was changed to The Cookbook Co. Cooks when they moved to their current location and offered cooking classes. Last Monday was not the culmination of the 20th year the magazine has been in publication, it was only one of 20 events planned by Gail and team for her year long party. And, oh, what a night it was. It really was.
I attended on behalf of Alberta Culinary Tourism Alliance as I am one of the Directors. I would have been there, anyway. The profit from this $150 dollar a plate dinner went to the Red Cross Flood Relief Fund. My table partner, Karlynn from The Kitchen Magpie accompanied me to write about the event. Our team was seated at table one…. waaayyy down there by the white tent at the other end. The lucite chairs sparkled in the late afternoon sun. The black tablecloth with white linen napkins provided the perfect reserved and formal foil for the street party while cheery Gerber daisies grinned a welcome above the bright orange City Palate placemats. Sparkling rose in hand upon registration, we purposefully arrived in time to savour the setting.
Stephen Avenue in downtown Calgary is a pedestrian only street for a few blocks until 6 pm every evening. This particular block along the avenue is lined with several outstanding independent restaurants which participated in the event. Some of the restaurants were not so near. Washroom facilities were stunning as the restaurants participating also offered the use of their full facilities. The area was blocked off with red rope and several Calgary Police officers were also milling about, making their presence known in their approachable black Stetsons.
There’s always someone at the end of the evening who gathers up the center pieces and snorffles them off home. At the end of this evening, one was a very tall, stunningly gorgeous, long blond haired leggy beauty, burgeoning bouquet in hand as her handsome group of suitors gathered remaining Gerbers as she strolled in smooth long-legged strides toward her taxi on the corner of Stephen Avenue and Centre Street. (Volunteers like Gerbers, too.)
Below, left, is my good friend (and a good friend of many). Janet Henderson with her handsome date. Janet works for the City Palate Magazine and has spearheaded this event. Perfectly, I will add. Karlynn is on the far right.
A little goody that the City of Calgary’s Downtown Business Association provided to dinner guests was a Downtown Parking Coupon. Apparently, these are incredibly rare and coveted little treasures. You can see that Fraser Abbot (owner of Hotel Arts, Senior Director of Marketing with the Calgary Hotel Association, and our newly appointed Vice Chair at Alberta Culinary Tourism Alliance) holds this little ditty in high esteem as he redeems it to park his preferred mode of transportation very close to our dinner table.
The Local jazz band, The Polyjesters, were the roving entertainment and got the lonnnngg community table actively engaged at various intervals within the evening and juxtaposed the formality with a sense of humor with just a pinch of spunk.
Good for you, Calgary! These hats add just the giggle that makes your city police approachable. And, did Karlynn approach. She had so much fun with these officers. You will read about this on her site sometime soon. I had no idea the affect a man in uniform has on some people.
Enough schmoozing. Time for dinner. Who would have thought: Oysters in the middle of the Alberta Prairies? Not I, however it just so happens that there is this incredible fresh fish and seafood restaurant participating in the event: Catch and The Oyster Bar. (Kyle Groves – Executive Chef)
A variety of fresh oysters and housemade mignonettes were served, family style, in unison, to each table. The gorgeous presentation was accompanied with an apple cider vinegar mignonette and a spicy pepper citrus mignonette. Each delectable, yet the oysters needed nothing; they were so fresh. The sweet, briny slurry slipped onto the tongue with ease and the delicate shellfish was the perfect first bite on this warm, sunny, late September afternoon. I ate 5. Or was it 6. I think 5.
Next up, can you guess the participating restaurant? I know any central Alberta food lover will recognize this charcuterie platter immediately as the CharCut Special. Connie de Sousa makes the best Pistachio Mortadella inside of a pigs head (which you can see here) and various other equally as addictive cured meats, pickles and munchies. Tonight, we get Bison Heart Kielbasa with Pumpkin Seed Crackers, house made pickles and saurkraut with the Pig’s Head Mortadella.
The third course was a little slow, we guessed, as the fourth one came in its place, tickety-boo: Elk Wellington with Foie Gras and Dried Cherries from Trib Steakhouse (Chef Ian Smith). The Parsnip Apple Purée was the perfect accompaniment and the splash of the somethin-somethin’ sticky sweet on the plate was platter lickin’ good, too.
This was a really hearty plate: beefy and bursting with the flavours of Alberta. Odd that the elk would be so beefy in taste. It was just a darn good dish that was extremely satisfying. There was little talk and a lot of lip smackin’ during this course.
The coordination of the service was a pleasure to watch as it was synchronized simplicity. Servers lined up at the restaurant of service, received their platters hot (or cold) and marched out down the table to the end, each stopping at the predesignated point, a moment to wait for all to be in place, a nod from the lead, and then all trays were raised above the heads of the dining table and place in the middle of each, in unison. I remember reading an article in Bon Appetite Magazine a few years ago about a long table dinner in the South of France and seeing servers laden with trays of Pissaladière headed for the table in exactly the same fashion.
And the third course, served as our fourth: Oven Roasted Bacon Wrapped Veal Sweetbreads with Madiera Glazed Wild Mushrooms from The Belvedere. This course was not for every one. I have had the most surreal sweetbreads at The French Laundry, and at The Hardware Grill in Edmonton, so was actually looking forward to this course. It was a risky choice for The Belvedere. The mushrooms were deadly delicious. Sadly, the texture of the sweetbreads was too spongy to even grasp the flavour. It was that off putting and this was the one plate that was not cleaned by most. Such a beautiful presentation and the Madiera Mushrooms were addictive.A little tip for saving cutlery and not soiling the table cloth too much. As the sun goes down the comradery of the guests heightens down the long table, and “The Wave” finds its way to the middle of the table, unbeknownst to those of us at the other end.
A group of food writers had been brought to the city for a four day junket at this time, and were seated at the other end of the table, hosted by Dan Clapson. I had heard Amy Jo Ehman was one of the food writers attending and on a quest to find her and meet her as she is one of the participants of The Canadian Food Experience Project and the big hug I had to give her was driving my search. I found her! Meeting a fellow food blogger that you have “met” and worked with on-line is an ultimate pleasure. Amy Jo was even more effervescent that I expected. Meeting her was one of the highlights of the evening for me.And getting my photo with Mayor Naheed Nenshi was another. There I am, right beside him, with the contingent of food writers brought in for the Press Junket. I am fairly certain that the photographer will be wondering, “Who is that woman to the Mayor’s right?” As the other faces will be completely familiar to those hosting these gals. Oops! Amy Jo Ehman, me, Mayor Naheed Kurban Nenshi, Stacey McLeod, Tammy Burns, Nikki Fotheringham and Mijune Pak from Follow Me Foodie.One of my Alberta Food Heroes, Julie van Rosendaal, a prolific Canadian food writer and book author, also an active and enthusiastic supporter and participant of The Canadian Food Experience Project, which I most sincerely appreciate. She is in the process of writing another book right now with Jan Scott. John Gilchrist is seated to her left and his latest book is just out: My Favourite Restaurants Calgary, Canmore and Beyond.Janet Henderson with the Conductor Supreme, Cathy Cuthbertson, of the Service for this event.Karlynn with the Calgary City Police Officers. Love the “I am Downtown” hashtag stand that photo framed the long table throughout the evening. Brilliant. Course Five was from Blink: (Executive Chef Chris Dewling) perfectly seared delicate British Columbia Albacore Tuna with a sumptuous Vegetable Ratatouille and crisp pillowy Parmesan Polenta. The polenta paired with the pesto was deadly. I was not hungry. I was lapping it up. Kevin Kossowan with one of his home fangled contraptions for the camera doing one of the many things he does well. Clean plates appeared often, and before you even realized that it would be nice to have one. The soft glow of the candles warmed the relationships as the chatter around each table, and from table to table, extended and flourished. Alberta Beef. No important Alberta meal would be complete without it. Slow Roasted Alberta Beef Ribeye with Poplar Bluff Potato Lorette, Okanagan Heirloom Carrots and Beets with Roasted Pepper Aioli all from Divino (Chef John Donovan). And what is a potato lorette, you may ask, as we did. Our instantaneous iphone research told us that these are a mashed potato batter made in a very similar fashion to choux pastry and then deep fried. All I can say is eyeballs were rolling all over after one bite of this crisp, dreamy velvet textured wonder. The beef was seasoned perfectly, fragrant, so flavourful and warm and as it moaned “Alberta”. Oh, my. What a crescendo. The vegetables and aoili were equally as bold. There was no background singer in this ensemble. Each bite was a burst of the bounty of our prairie harvest. Standing ovation, Divino! As if on cue, the sun tucked behind the scrapers and the clear blue sky shifted into evening hue. Lights glittered. Guests soaked it all up: each bite, each aroma, every single memorable moment. And this was a memorable moment. Teatro is apparently famous for their desserts (Pastry Chef Gary Dong). After all that food, who needs it? I do! I do! How I love one (or two) sweet bites after a savoury feast. The platter didn’t offer each guest one of each of the four bites and they were bites. Of course, I just happened to acquire one of each “for the photo”. The Lemon Strawberry Chiffon Cake stole the show. It was moist and left everyone wanting. All too often restaurant cakes have little substance, but this one was light, yet dense and moist all at once, clearly made with love.The Mini Tiramisu was a misnomer, but I make a slammin’ Tiramisu, so I may be a harsh critic on that one. The Berry Pavlova was perfection: crisp, creamy, and sparkling with tart fruit. The Orange White Chocolate Truffle was a dense intense very sweet bite that punctuated the evening perfectly for me. A small group stood, then everyone stood in unison and started clapping. The standing ovation warmed my hands, my heart and expressed my exuberance for this exceptional Alberta dining experience. It could no longer be contained. I am still clapping.No one sat back down. There were hugs, and hand shakes and kisses and prolonged farewells, but the evening was over and people were gone in fairly short order. Oh, what a night it was. It really was.Thanks to the volunteers, the organizers, the workers, and the wonderful guests who came with the warm spirit of the city and spread it up and down the table the entire evening. And to Gail Norton and her superb team. I read the City Palate from cover to cover whenever I get to Calgary. Below are the group of people that made this happen: City Palate proudly partnered with the Downtown Association, Alberta Culinary Tourism Alliance, and the merchants of Stephen Avenue for this event.I raise my glass to you. Here’s to 20 more exceptional years and more of the same. Below, a video of “The Wave” that finally did make it all of the way down to our end of the really long table dinner Calgary more than a couple of times.