Fat Guy Eats Canada
Posted 11 July 2002 - 08:49 PM
Wednesday, May 29, 2002
The surest way to annoy people in Calgary is to tell them there's nothing here but cattle and oil. The surest way to annoy people in Edmonton is to tell them the town's entire cultural heritage consists of hockey and pierogies.
While in Calgary and Edmonton, I annoyed a lot of people.
"Oh come now," protested John Gilchrist, Calgary Herald columnist and author of My Favourite Restaurants in Calgary and Banff. "That's like saying there's nothing to eat in New York but deli and pizza."
There are, to be sure, some steak houses in Calgary. But it also seems there's a brand-spanking-new sushi bar on every corner, right next door to a Southeast Asian restaurant, an Irish pub, a bagel-coffee-pastry shop, and two or three fiercely competing smokey vendors (a smokey is basically a hot dog, but fatter and with even more chemicals).
And the next big thing in Calgary is going to be fish.
Panic must have struck the undersea world when Calgary-born chef Michael Noble broke ground on his mega-restaurant, Catch, which has three dining rooms (each with its own kitchen) all devoted to seafood. He's gambling - big time (they don't do anything small in Calgary) - that the city is ready to get serious about fish.
Noble's high-concept, multi-tiered restaurant is scheduled to open tomorrow in the old Imperial Bank building adjacent to the Hyatt.
Calgary's rivers offer a few freshwater fish - the two major rivers are called the Bow and the Elbow, and nobody in town finds that the least bit funny - but chef Noble also plans to fly in every imaginable variety of seafood from the four corners of the globe, from Nova Scotia lobster to Patagonian toothfish.
This attitude of entrepreneurial risk-taking and insatiable sense of "if you build it, they will come" feels totally in line with Calgary's freewheeling and capitalistic (at least by Canadian standards) heritage and culture.
It's a city that is growing rapidly, with new buildings and "plus-15s" springing up all the time and whole neighbourhoods seemingly arising since I was last there just a couple of years ago. (The overpasses connecting many of Calgary's downtown buildings are called plus-15s, which refers to their height above the street - though given the weather they should probably be called minus-15s.) The pace of Calgary's growth is shocking even to this New Yorker.
That attitude of expansion extends to cuisine, with Calgary's residents energetically embracing hot, new and unusual restaurants. In Edmonton, the dining public is a little more conservative.
Fat Guy prepares to savor some Alberta beef at Calgary's River Cafe
Digging into another steak, at Barclay's in Calgary
I had never been to Edmonton, and given how extensive its outskirts are (when you enter the city, the first road sign you see says 23 km to downtown - and that's all on local streets) for a while I wasn't sure I'd ever get there.
Does Edmonton live up to its blue-collar, pierogi-guzzling reputation?
"Well sure, Edmonton is a bit blue-collar. Somebody's got to do the work to support the fancy lifestyle of Calgary executives," chides Normand Campbell, owner of Normand's restaurant downtown. "But Edmonton isn't just about manual labour: it's also the political, intellectual and arts capital of Alberta."
A feast of wild game at Normand's, Edmonton
As with many stereotypes, there might be a grain or two of truth, but they don't tell the whole story. Though Edmonton is the pierogi capital of Canada, and they're a popular home-cooked item, I had substantial difficulty finding pierogies in Edmonton restaurants. (For the uninitiated, these are Eastern European dumplings with cheese, potatoes, sauerkraut and other fillings.)
There is only one restaurant I could unearth, the Pyrogy House, that is truly devoted to this product. I stopped in for a few pierogies after a multi-course game dinner at Normand's, and then I ordered a few more, and also wound up trying some cabbage rolls (filled with rice and spices) and ham sausage (a local delicacy of ham chunks stuffed into a sausage casing).
Edmonton's Ukrainian-style pierogies are about four times the size of the little ones I've had back in New York's Russian neighbourhoods ("As big as your head!" as the locals are fond of describing anything large). I hope someday to make it to Glendon, Alta., home of the world's largest fibreglass pierogi: 25 feet tall, 12 feet wide, and weighing 6,000 pounds.
Outside the Pyrogy House, Edmonton
Judging by the number of art galleries and musical performances, Edmonton's arts and culture scenes are formidable. And though Calgary has the reputation for big-business thinking, it is after all Edmonton that boasts the world's largest shopping mall: the West Edmonton Mall, for better or worse Canada's No. 1 tourist attraction.
Stereotypes continued to shatter as I wandered through Calgary and Edmonton's lively Chinatowns, and Chinese and other Asian restaurants can be found all over both cities, their outskirts, and the province in general. Calgary's Chinese-restaurant community - specifically the Silver Inn restaurant - even takes credit for popularizing the ranch-meets-wok favourite "ginger beef" (also called chili beef) across much of Canada.
Moreover, Alberta over-all is no slouch when it comes to raw ingredients. There is of course that wonderful beef, which I met face-to-face at Ladywells Farms, in Ardrossan, where George Ramsay maintains one of the world's largest herds of Galloway cattle. The Galloway breed, which produces what many (including me) believe to be Alberta's finest beef, is near-rhinoceros-size and has a wild-looking double-thick hair coat. This shaggy insulation means the Galloways need less outer-layer fat to keep them warm, so their fat is more evenly distributed throughout their meat, leading to superior tenderness and flavour.
Galloway cattle at Ladywells Farms in Ardrossan, Alberta
But it's not all about cattle. As I learned on a visit to Sunterra Market in Edmonton, just about everything you'd ever want to eat can be and is produced in Alberta, and much of it organically - from red ripe tomatoes and fresh herbs to artisan cheeses and honeys.
Made in Alberta
Alberta's excellent meat
But don't count stereotypes out just yet. The most memorable thing I tasted in Calgary was an Alberta beef tenderloin at the River Café (and also a nearly-as-good one at Barclay's), and in Edmonton it was a tie between Normand's feast of wild game and those Pyrogy House pierogies. Despite all the new trends in fine dining, you'd be silly to leave either city without sampling its traditional cuisine.
Under no circumstances, however, should you eat a bagel in either city. Though Albertans - especially Edmontonians - are proud of their bagels, they're nonetheless subject to the incontrovertible Canadian Bagel Axiom: the farther you travel from Montreal, the worse the bagels get. In Alberta, what they call a bagel is pretty much a piece of white bread with a hole in it.
So which city do I like better, and which has better food - bagels aside? Well, Edmonton isn't as shiny or energetic as Calgary, but it has a certain salt-of-the-earth grittiness that I love. When it comes to upscale and creative restaurants, Calgary has it hands-down, but Edmonton has an abundance of honest cuisine and good value.
Given the choice I think I'd live in Edmonton, but I'd do most of my fine dining in Calgary.
And I'd spend my winters in Florida.
Fat Guy digs into a sandwich at Crazyweed Kitchen in Canmore, Alberta
Top 5 differences between Calgary and Edmonton
5. The average Calgary waiter couldn't lift the average plate of food in an Edmonton restaurant.
4. If you tell people in Edmonton you're from New York, they think you're exotic. People in Calgary ask you where they should eat next time they go there.
3. Nobody in Edmonton wants to visit a restaurant until it has been in business for at least a year. In Calgary, nobody would go to such an old restaurant.
2. When it snows in Calgary, they celebrate in Edmonton. When it snows in Edmonton, nobody in Calgary knows.
1. If the Oilers play in Calgary, Edmonton hockey fans drive down to jeer at the Flames. When the Flames play in Edmonton, Calgary fans go out to dinner. In any event, Edmonton usually wins. Fat Guy
The Fat Guy's special [url=http://www.canada.com/national/features/fatguy]Canada.com Web page[/url[ has gotten thousands of visits. But some of the attention in the discussion forum is going to his English bulldog, Momo. Here is one exchange:
Keetgi: Dear Fat Guy, Forget about you. What I really want to know is how Momo likes Canadian food.
MomoTheDog: I like to eat cake. Good cakes mostly. But I'll eat bad cakes, too. Cake is always good to eat.
Keetgi: Dear Momo, You are a wise and witty dog of impeccable taste and discerning palate. Your yen for cake is legendary in these parts. We are preparing for your triumphant return with a cake festival worthy of your stature.
Fat Guy: Bad dog. I told you not to use the computer when we're out of the hotel room.
Fat Guy with Constable Rick Skolrood and a colleague in Banff, Alberta
Recipe: Coconut Thai broth with grilled local squid
Michael Noble, Catch Restaurant, Calgary
Yield 1.2 liters or 8 portions
For the soup
700ml Coconut milk
300ml Stock, chicken or fish
50g Galangal root, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 stalks lemon grass, sliced
4pc kafir lime leaves, chopped
1 bunch cilantro stem, chopped
1 bunch green onion stem, sliced
100 ml fish sauce
100 ml lime juice
2 tsp sambal bajak
1 tbsp palm sugar
Separate coconut fat from milk and reserve. Gently cook galangal, kefir lime leaves, garlic, lemon grass, and sambal in coconut fat for about 10 minutes until fragrant. Then add coconut milk and continue to cook on moderate heat until it begins to simmer again. Add the stock and cook 10 minutes. Then add cilantro and green onion stem, palm sugar and fish sauce. Simmer for another 10 minutes and strain. Adjust seasoning with sambal for heat and lime juice for acidity.
400 gr neon squid
30 gr Galangal, chopped
1 pc Kefir lime leaf, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp lemon grass, minced
1 1/2 tsp Sambal badjak
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tbsp lime juice
3 tbsp grapeseed oil
1 tsp cilantro, chopped
1 tsp green onion, chopped
1 tbsp fish sauce
Slash squid in a criss cross fashion and cut into squares for grilling. Build a paste with the garlic, galangal, kefir lime, lemon grass, sambal, lime juice and fish sauce. Rub squid with the paste generously and grill over a moderately hot grill. While still warm slice the squid and toss in vinaigrette of lime juice, oil, fish sauce and herbs. Place the squid in a warm bowl and ladle hot soup over - serve and enjoy!
Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, firstname.lastname@example.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)
Posted 12 July 2002 - 03:10 AM
"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.
"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."
Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM