Executive chef Duncan Ly and pastry chef Karine Moulin create memorable meals from start to finish

I distinctly remember my first time dining at Yellow Door Bistro. I had just managed to shake off jetlag from a six-week trip down under and was stopping by for lunch with a friend. While I was away, five new restaurants had opened for business. Five! Feeling determined to play ‘catch up’ throughout the week, Hotel Arts’ new concept restaurant was at the top of my list.

The meal was great; nice, clean flavours. Debating, as most diners do, after finishing up our savoury dishes whether or not we had room for dessert, we leaned towards the ‘more is more’ philosophy, and settled on the Classic Lemon Curd Tart.

Bright as the ‘Yellow Door’ out front, the dessert contrasted with our slick, white tabletop as sunshine does on a snowy day. Bright notes of citrus in the curd played well with the rich, buttery crust. It was my first restaurant meal in Calgary since I had returned from traveling and it’s still in my mind close to a year later. Now, that’s saying something.

Since the dessert course is the last impression a restaurant can leave on a guest’s dining experience, it’s important to make it a memorable one, not unlike my aforementioned lemon tart. Having said that, many restaurants in this city may not have the operational budget to have a dedicated pastry chef on the payroll, so it’s important that the ones that do, use them to the best of their abilities.

Yellow Door’s pastry chef Karine Moulin and executive chef, Duncan Ly, go way back. Before coming on-board with the Hotel Arts team, Ly headed up the kitchen at The Elbow River Casino years ago.

“I remember she came in [to the casino kitchen] and she was just this wonderful pastry chef! I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep her motivated there, we just weren’t at that level yet.” explains Ly on his first time meeting Moulin. “We had this great pastry chef that could create all of these beautiful desserts and our clientele was wanting poptarts. Ha, ha.”

Ly’s prediction was correct and Moulin left her position at the casino, spending several years working at Saint Germain (the space which Yellow Door now occupies) before a stint at a larger-scale operation, The Hyatt, and then teaching at ATCO Blue Flame, which was a ‘dangling in front of a rabbit’ sort of position, as she describes. Good salary, good hours, but she eventually began to yearn for more kitchen creativity.

“I guess I’ve actually hired Karine twice! Ha, ha, ha.” jokes Ly.

“It was nice to come back here where it’s more boutique. It’s a bit of a different emphasis. Hotel Arts is definitely geared more towards quality as opposed to quantity,” points out Moulin on finding her sweet freedom again in the Yellow Door kitchen.

She continues, “I’ve never heard ‘No, that’s too expensive!’ here when it comes to ordering. So, I can use Valrhona chocolate, 24 karat gold as accents…I’m pretty privileged that I can source out and use the best ingredients; really, very fortunate in that aspect.”

Keeping the dessert menu current and inspired at Yellow Door is not all Moulin has to handle throughout the week. She’s also in charge of the newly reconceived Raw Bar’s sweet offerings as well as all the custom cakes and sugary edibles to go along with the full spectrum of events that the hotel hosts over the course of the year.

Ly explains, “One of the markets we’ve been able to capture at Hotel Arts is that we don’t do cookie cutter sort of functions. Every one is different and unique…on the dessert side of things, we do a ton of bar mitzvahs, weddings…so Karine is always customising her desserts.”

From well-detailed cakes shaped like soccer fields or Louis Vuitton purses (really!) to a giant Valrhona white chocolate mousse pyramid, Moulin’s artful hand knows no limits when it comes to her work on the banquet side of things. It’s the seasonal focus that Yellow Door puts on their menu, though, that the pastry chef especially loves.

“It plays in our favour that I am here for all of our outlets. I started out as a trained chef that wanted to learn more pastry skills, so I moved in that direction and then stayed in that direction.”

Desserts like Moulin’s now-signature L’île Flotante, although a mainstay on the dessert roster, evolve with the changing seasons. To stay warm and cosy in the late fall, one can dip into this rich dessert of light meringue, warm vanilla crème anglaise and a fresh madeleine on the side. Then there are the hand-painted chocolates that truly are little works of art.

The deep colours of her take on a ‘Macaroon’ also work well with the late fall season, with an Okanagan stone fruit compote finished with Chantilly cream and a touch of bergamot (think earl grey tea) sorbet. After all, it is December, so what’s the ‘ying’ of comfort without a subtle ‘yang’ of some chill?

The savoury side here is also deserving of some limelight, seeing comforting, but elevated dishes like Duncan Ly’s rich Duck Cassoulet or Orange Cardamom-glazed Chicken with cauliflower and almonds, both make a warming choice for dinner on a cold autumn evening.

The interior, not to be ignored – or rather, can’t be – lends itself to adding a little extra character into all aspects of the Yellow Door menu. A white, black and yellow colour scheme, coupled with design elements like rabbit-shaped lamps and a window shutter accent wall help exude a sort of playfulness that Moulin and Ly both aim to extend onto their plates.

“The foundation of the desserts here is classical French, and because it is so whimsical in here, I try to have pulled sugar or some kind of fun element. The beauty of this restaurant is that I can be a little bit more playful on my menu, so I do try to push the envelope a little bit…bright, glitter sauces on the plate and other things that I can get away with because of this room.”

“We start off together with a vision of where we want the menu to be…then I let Karine use her skills and creativity and really tweak it to where she wants to go. Ultimately, they’re her desserts.” adds Ly.

Yellow Door is still a hotel restaurant, and while many hotel establishments are not necessarily front of mind for diners, Ly is determined to stay on the top of his game in Calgary’s competitive restaurant market.

“It’s very challenging because we are in a hotel and we always have to keep our guests in mind, but we have to find that balance, as we are a restaurant too.” he admits before elaborating. “Making sure that we stay true to what we are as a restaurant, the quality of ingredients that we use, being sustainable. Just making sure that we’re competing with the other restaurants in the city.”

Moulin gets the last word in, proudly pointing to the chefs’ kitchen team that help her and Ly execute their menu successfully, “I think it’s really authentic, not because I work here, but these are my favourite restaurants in the city because I know the cooks are skilled and I know the kind of products they’re using. I really do think what we’re doing together here is fantastic.”

Photo by Ingrid Kuenzel

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