October is harvest season!
One of the best ways to take in the sights, the smells, and the tastes at this time of year is to head to local farmers markets. Alberta farmers grow some amazing produce from blue oyster mushrooms, to bok choy, to seabuckthorn, and everything in between. And, as more local restaurants are using locally sourced ingredients, we Albertans have the advantage of being able to discover new things with every meal, while supporting local restaurants and farmers. It’s a great feeling, especially at such a bountiful time of year.
Even though we’re maybe not dining out as much these days, we can still find ways to make new discoveries in our kitchens at home. This month we talked to four Alberta chefs about sourcing ingredients right here in Alberta, namely veggies (and fruit!), and how to incorporate them into a main dish.
Say goodbye to veggies at the side of the plate; these greens – and bright oranges, and vibrant reds, and mellow yellows – are the main attraction.
While the menu can change depending on the availability of an ingredient, or the kitchen staff needing to shake things up, Bar Von der Fels in Calgary has one goal according to Chef Douglas King. “We want our guests to leave the restaurant feeling like they’ve had an experience that can’t be recreated at home.”
The constant on the menu is the Hasselback Potatoes, Fogo Island Crab, and Brown Butter, combining crispy potatoes, and an addictive brown butter sauce developed by a talented former Sous Chef. When Fogo Island Fishery in Newfoundland stepped in and added the snow crab, King says it “took the dish to another level.”
Now, we can’t all get Fogo Island crab, but we can still find plenty of local goodies to incorporate into our home cooking. King is big on research, and points out that every farmer’s market in Alberta has an updated list of vendors on their websites. And, most importantly, talk to the vendors about their farming practices and what they specialize in.
It was King’s discovery of the melons from Mans Organics – based in Coaldale, Alberta, and available at Blush Lane Organics in the Calgary Farmer’s Market – that inspired this refreshing take on cantaloupe with a chilled spritz of Oolong tea served at the start of a meal. Who says fruit is just for smoothies?
Find Chef Douglas King’s recipe for Mans Organic Cantaloupe with Oolong and Lime here
Newly opened in April 2020, Edmonton’s Rosewood Foods aims to bring comfort and nostalgia to the downtown community. As Chef Noah Gado explains, the menu draws inspiration from several cultural influences and global experiences.
His time spent working and living in Melbourne exposed him to a vast array of cultural cuisine and atypical ingredients. This led to Gado developing what he calls an informal style of cooking, allowing him to “combine seasonal ingredients with past experiences to create a finished dish.”
Fresh, local, seasonal ingredients are the highlights of Rosewood’s menu, Gado explains, and using them supports local Alberta farms. “I find the best way to discover good products and to learn about the producers is by being curious. If something catches my eye, I start a dialogue with the vendor about what they suggest is best for its application or what may be available in the coming weeks.”
Gado describes Rosewood’s Verde Rice Bowl as a market-driven, west-coast inspired dish. It’s completely versatile, which allows you to incorporate seasonal vegetables and herbs from your favourite vendor market – try Gull Valley Greenhouse at Edmonton’s Callingwood Farmers’s Market – or your own backyard garden. And, because it’s adaptable, it can be served for any meal of the day, any day of the week.
Find Chef Noah Gado’s recipe for the Rosewood Verde Bowl here
“We want omnivores to know that this place will satisfy most diners whether vegan, vegetarian or omnivore,” he says.
Dishes such as Bok Choy Caesar Salad are a customer fave, swapping classic romaine for refreshing bok choy from The Basil Ranch in Calgary. The Pickled Fried Mushrooms are just that: plump, local mushrooms are pickled, then fried, and served with miso gravy, nasturtium and chili oil.
As for going local in your own kitchens, Hamilton says research is key, and urges people to be curious, and learn about the local food supply chain. He says oftentimes some of the best native produce is overlooked because something else is mainstream and ‘hyped up’ – and more often than not, it isn’t local. “The more educated the public is, the more diverse the produce will be.”
If you’re feeling adventurous, and you’re itching to fire up the grill for one last go this season, try Hamilton’s recipe for barbecued lion’s mane mushrooms, which uses this unique and aptly named fungi, available at Alberta’s Red Fox Fungi in cSpace Farmers Market in Marda Loop.
Find Chef Alex Hamilton’s recipe for Barbecued Lion’s Mane Mushroom with Charred Brassica Slaw here
When Kasim Kasim, owner and operator of Padmanadi Restaurant in Edmonton, moved his family from Indonesia to Canada in 2002, his goal was to recreate the successful restaurant he and his family had run in Jakarta.
During the last 18 years, Padmanadi has established itself as one of the best eateries for vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores seeking casual fine dining with Indonesian, Indian, Chinese, and Thai cuisine. “We want everyone to come enjoy themselves at our table and feel happy. We don’t try to get customers, we try to make friends,” explains Kasim. Portraits of their regular customers adorn the walls of their downtown location.
Dishes like Singapore Noodles are a favourite in Kasim’s family, inspired by their former home in South East Asia. With farmers markets readily available in Edmonton, it’s easy to find the fresh ingredients used in the dish such as bok choy and carrots. Try Peas on Earth in the Old Strathcona Farmers Market for both domestic and Asian varieties of veggies, and find what inspires you.
Serving solely plant-based meals means that when it comes to seeking ingredients, there’s a lot to consider. Kasim emphasizes the importance of freshness, not just for taste, but for presentation, too. You might not always be able to find the best of what you need, but for Kasim, “It’s better to make something different that is beautiful.”
There’s also a danger of getting into a rut, and sticking to what you’re familiar with. “People get used to eating the same fruits and vegetables, but maybe try and find one new thing every time you go shopping,” says Kasim. “Lots of items can be substituted into the food you are already making and will change the dish.” Lastly, Kasim says, “Have fun and don’t be scared! The best way to learn what to do is to slowly learn what not to do!”