Winter is a time for dormancy, for taking our time to just breathe, and tuck into warm plates of nourishing food for the body and soul. 

These comforting dishes can come in many forms, from many places and backgrounds, as we discovered in this month’s Chef’s Tips. Four chefs from Calgary and Edmonton share with us what motivates them during the winter, how we can stay inspired to cook, and the delicious result of slowing down and allowing ourselves a little comfort as the New Year unfolds.

Chef Eric Mah says the most memorable experiences of his career – presenting a dinner on a beach in Aruba, and staging in a restaurant in Romania – were stops along the way to coming full circle to work alongside his mentor as the Executive Chef and Co-Owner of Calgary’s Purlieu. 

For Mah, inspiration can come from something he sees on TV, a request from his wife, or “wanting to test something weird that popped into my head.” And, if you’re feeling less inspired by what you can find at the grocery store, Mah says to consider what the Western provinces can offer, such as apples, pears, and broccoli. “We also have great farms in Alberta for pork, chicken, lamb, and obviously beef.”

Ma attributes the flavours he explores to his training in the Caribbean and Asian heritage, and tends to complement both of those elements. “Just a smell or taste can bring back memories of warmer distant places.” Mah’s recipe for Moroccan Curry Chicken is sure to deliver.

Find Chef Eric Mah’s recipe for Moroccan Curry Chicken here

Cold weather does little to diminish Holly Holt’s inspiration – the Sous Chef of Edmonton’s OTTO Food and Beverage loves cooking during the winter months. “It’s the best time to curl up on the couch, read a cookbook, have a glass of wine, and brainstorm recipes and meal plans,” she explains. 

Holt also frequents The Italian Centre, and Asian supermarkets, and takes advantage of local walleye, thanks to her brother, an avid ice fisher. “If you’re able to sustainably source Alberta’s lake fish, I highly recommend doing so.”

And of course, we can all use a bit of warming up when we come in from the cold. “When we think of cold weather food, we think comfort,” says Holt, and her ‘Heart’y Chicken and Drop Dumpling Soup is especially good for the soul.

Find Holly Holt’s recipe for ‘Heart’y Chicken and Drop Dumpling Soup here

Amit Bangar’s experience as Executive Chef at Calgary’s Calcutta Cricket Club is one that has brought him closer to his own culture and heritage. “[It’s] helped me create my own identity through food,” says Bangar.

Bangar points out that winter is great time for seafood. “Colder waters can lend to many varieties of fish, crustaceans and shellfish to be a little fattier, and packed with amazing flavours.”

Stocks are at the top of Bangar’s winter cooking list. “A really good stock is easy to throw together and can go a long way.” Gradually filling the home with a warm aroma while cooking is an added bonus, something that is certainly achieved with Bangar’s recipe for braised lamb rib vindaloo. 

Find Chef Amit Bangar’s recipe for Braised Lamb Rib Vindaloo here

A1 Bodega & Café’s Executive Chef Mharlon Atienza says that being part of the opening team of two restaurants, and working alongside other chefs instilled in him the value of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice. “These are lessons I have carried forward in my career as a chef, but also translate into my personal life making me the teacher, husband, and father I am today.” 

Calgary born and raised, Atienza says that finding fresh ingredients during the winter is a challenge, so he hits up one of Calgary’s farmers markets. “There, you can find offerings from a lot of small greenhouses in Alberta that are operating year-round.”

During winter Atienza craves comfort, and “the stick-to-your-ribs type of cooking like Mom’s pork belly adobo.” Served with sinangag, or garlic fried rice, this is one dish that is simple to make, slow to simmer, and oh so savoury.

Find Chef Mharlon Atienza’s recipe for Pork Belly Adobo and Sinangag here

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