Most ambitious home cooks know the feeling of finding an exciting and adventurous recipe in a popular chef-driven cookbook, only to find that the recipe calls for ingredients or kitchen tools that we’re not likely to find in our local Canadian grocery store (we’re looking at you, Yotam Ottolenghi). When you’re only a tablespoon of pomegranate molasses or a pinch of sumac away from the perfect meal (or need to scare up the right tagine to cook it in), Savour Fine Foods (located at 1331 9th Avenue SE) will likely be able to hook you up with whatever it is you need to take your cooking to the next level.
A gourmand’s wonderland of Le Creuset pots, microplanes of every size and description, and shelves stocked with fancy oils and vinegars, imported pastas, and fragrant spices, this little Inglewood shop is packed with brightly coloured cooking utensils and scrumptious-looking ingredients, all waiting to help customers go the extra mile with their homemade culinary creations.
“People like being adventurous and trying new things with their cooking,” says Savour owner Michelle Barby, explaining why her customers seek out the specialty items that she stocks in the store. “Cooking is a way of sharing with your family and friends. We all eat, so it’s fun and more enjoyable to make it special as opposed to just feeding ourselves for fueling purposes.”
Barby opened Savour in 2008 with her friend Jane Hammink; the two were teaching ESL at Mount Royal University, and bonded over a shared love of food. Following the cues of the small independent specialty shops that the two women remembered from their respective backgrounds on the west coast, they knew they wanted to create something that was highly curated and had the kind of atmosphere that would draw in a customer base that understood the virtues of Brassica mustard or French table linens. They chose a beautiful spot in Inglewood — which is quickly becoming the foodie district of Calgary — for its community feel and the vintage charm of the building.
“I think the reason that Savour has been successful is because we took the time to think about what we wanted to do and think about Calgary and the market,” Barby says. “And also to choose the right location and be in an area like Inglewood, and have the support of the neighbourhood and people in the city who really think small businesses are important.”
The pains that Barby and Hammink took in choosing Savour’s location (which is made even more perfect by the giant window at the front of the store that shows off all of the brightly coloured cookware) extend to the items that Barby now decides to stock. In contrast to a supermarket or a standard housewares store, the shop’s wares fit a highly specific niche, one that tried-and-true foodies will understand but more utilitarian eaters may not really get. Which fits with Barby’s plan: she doesn’t want Savour to be a catch-all for anyone who has to get a meal on the table. The idea is to carry items that loyal customers will be able to trust, whether they’re shopping for their own kitchens or for gifts to share with other home cook friends.
“We’ve always put quality at the top of the list, both in the food and the kitchenware,” Barby says. “We test, taste, try, and go with reputable suppliers and stand behind our products. If we find out something is not really living up to what we thought it was we don’t continue to sell it. We don’t believe in gadgets for the sake of gadgets, and the food we sell is all high-quality product that we’d use at home.”
Barby says that she has seen trends come and go over the years with certain products remaining eternally popular (like multi-purpose garlic twists, the ever-popular fish-shaped Gurgle Pot water pitchers, and food items like smoked salts and Indian spices) but the common thread with all of them goes back to that theme of adding a little bit of luxury to the home cooking experience. She sees the store’s success as being a combination of her own careful attention to detail and a continued interest in cooking among the general population. Watching the direction that home cooking is continuing to take, Savour’s popularity is only likely to grow in the coming years.
“Cooking at home in general has exploded,” Barby says. “I think when we opened the store there wasn’t as much of a public consciousness about cooking. It was starting but not to the extent it’s at now where people want to know where their food comes from and grow it themselves or make pasta from scratch at home.”
Elizabeth Chorney-Booth is a Calgary-based freelance writer, and co-founder/co-editor of RollingSpoon.com. She enjoys exploring the connection between music and food through interviews with musicians and chefs.
Photos by Ingrid Kuenzel