Find deliciously simple food by Xavier Lacaze at this Beltline restaurant
Xavier Lacaze (left) and Darren Lexa. Photo by Ingrid Kuenzel
When I sat down to interview Brad Taylor, Xavier Lacaze and Darren Lexa at Briggs Kitchen and Bar, I have to admit I was nervous.
First of all, Lacaze has cooked in many notable Calgary kitchens such as Muse Restaurant and Home Tasting Room, as well as a top 5 finish on Top Chef Canada, season two. Then there’s Taylor, who spent 23 years at Earl’s and Joey Restaurants in roles such as director of operations, and, last, but not least Lexa, most recently a regional chef at Joey. All three have been a big part of my dining experiences at these establishments while I was growing up, and to this very day.
But when I walked into Briggs, I instantly knew I wasn’t meeting with three restaurant ‘hot shots’; I was just having a drink with the boys of Briggs. Although it was too early for beer, we settled on coffees as Taylor, Lexa and Lacaze dove into the story of how Briggs came to be and where they hope it will go.
Taylor and Lexa had worked together for many years throughout their careers at Earl’s and Joey restaurants. Of course, over time, they had jokingly talked about branching out on their own. Always focused on the task at hand, Taylor and Lexa let their independent ambitions fade to the background until 2012 when Taylor left the Joey Restaurant Group with the intention of taking a few years off to be with his son and family, and to travel.
Those few years reduced into a few months when Lexa received a call from Taylor, who was antsy to get back into the business. “He called and asked how serious I was about our previous conversations,” says Lexa. “I was in Winnipeg at the time, but wanted to get out to Calgary and do something on our own.”
Over the next few months, the two made trips to Calgary to visit sites and make concrete plans. It was in the fall of 2012, that Taylor approached Lexa about inviting Lacaze on board to be a concept chef and partner in the business.
Beef Short Rib. Photo by Ingrid Kuenzel.
Lacaze, when he was executive chef at Muse, had catered Taylor’s fortieth birthday party. Impressed by his food, even though Lacaze says he served Taylor and his guests a Dairy Queen ice cream cake, Taylor knew that “X”, as they call him, was a highly sought after chef. Simply put, Taylor says he realized he wanted to bring Lacaze’s food to the masses.
“The idea of it started to crystallize,” Taylor explains. “If we matched somebody with fine dining talent like Xavier with our abilities to run restaurants, that we could put something together that was indestructible, to a degree. Some place where people get to experience the finer things in life but they don’t have to have white linen tablecloth and big average cheques to do it.”
Appealing to a broad-spectrum of guests, being fun, energetic and approachable became Briggs’ mission statement, and the groundwork began to take place. “I never thought someone would approach me to do a restaurant like this knowing I did the frou-frou stuff at Muse and other fine dining places before,” Lacaze admits wholeheartedly. “I was excited and I just wanted to see if it was feasible. I always thought you had to have 12 components and be very complicated in a dish, where you can actually be very simple and very good.”
But first a boy’s weekend was in order. Having never met, Lexa and Lacaze joined their mutual friend Taylor on a trip to Chicago to team build, and of course, eat. The three ate in over 20 restaurants in 36 hours to get educated, inspired and bond.
This trip, and others taken by Taylor to Chicago and Bellingham, Washington, led the trio to experience how cooking over solid fuel (wood and charcoal) was becoming a bona fide method to base menus and food on. By fluke, on another business trip, Taylor came across the Josper Oven — a combination grill and oven that cooks 35 per cent faster than a traditional grill and uses charcoal. So impressed with the lunch that he was served from the oven, Taylor had Lexa and Lacaze fly in to test the food from it too. All three loved the results.
Briggs Kitchen and Bar now houses two made-in-Spain Josper Ovens that, through trial and error, the two chefs decided would run mesquite charcoal. Together, Lacaze and Lexa, began developing a menu that revolves around the oven’s capabilities to cook at high temperatures and therefore reduce the need to add on extras.
Lemon Pie. Photo by Ingrid Kuenzel.
“It was an amazing challenge,” says Lacaze. “It took me back to the roots of cooking, like cooking under a fireplace. I had never done that before. “We burnt a lot of stuff, including ourselves, but learned a lot. Personally, I learned how to simplify the food I was doing before to something more approachable, still with great flavours. It (the Josper Oven) made us trim down the extra sauces and textures. We can now take a great product, cook it nicely and finish it with salt, oil and a bit ofherbs. We don’t hide it or mask it with extra flavours on top.”
With a recently updated menu, the two chefs have perfected their Josper techniques and use it for everything from chicken wings to the side dish of smoked mushrooms. Briggs also has a large seafood contingent on its menu, with the signature paella being a satisfying comfort dish to share with friends, and a crispy flatbread that should round out any meal here. And don’t forget to leave room for dessert — I hope the meringues on their lemon pie, dusted with white chocolate shavings, are one of the last bites I eat before I die.
The restaurant has also expanded its brunch menu, serving morning classics along with breakfast perogies and house-cured salmon tartine. The New Year will bring a focus on brunch, with bowls of carefully crafted punches to accompany the eggs benedict. Anyone else feeling like a Sunday, Funday?
“We’re excited to be a part of a new direction in food and beverage in Calgary, “says Taylor. “We think that we can get great stuff on the plate at a reasonable cost. And, I think as restaurateurs we owe that to Calgary.”
“We want to be that place where people can come in, have wicked stuff, eat Xavier’s food and get out of here for around 20 bucks — and do it wearing whatever you want. Jeans and a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops, come see us.”