Where Is It Good To Eat In Canada—Would You Believe, In Calgary?
When thinking about the food scene in Canada, Vancouver comes to mind for its bountiful seafood and produce; Toronto for its vibrant, immigrant-led multiethnic vibe; and Montreal for its French-inflected cuisine. So what about Calgary? As Alberta province’s largest city with more than one million inhabitants, there’s bound to be something interesting about the local food scene. After all, Calgary was recently voted the 4th most livable city in the world according to The Economist Intelligence Unit, beating out Vancouver and Toronto. I was soon to find out as I jetted to Calgary for a one-week visit with Metro Channel’s FoodPrints team and host Sandy Daza to explore its culinary treats and agricultural bounty.
With Canada’s population increasingly multicultural, it’s no wonder that the country’s top restaurants span the gamut of world cuisines. That’s the case in Calgary as well, says Megan Zimmerman, Business Development Manager of Calgary Economic Development. She explains that Calgary currently has 3,100 restaurants, including 200 food trucks and 45 micro-breweries, offering all kinds of cuisines that reflect the cultural diversity of its population.
SAIT Culinary Campus
While the city’s food scene may not be as well developed as that of Toronto or Vancouver, according to restaurant industry veteran Chef Duncan Ly of modern Pan-Asian restaurant, Foreign Concept, he considers Calgary’s food scene to be “very vibrant and young.”
Yellow Door Bistro
Co-owner of neighborhood eatery Donna Mac, Amy Turner, shares, “The scene here has exploded in the past seven years.” She further adds that Calgary has more chef and restaurateur-driven concepts rather than big corporate chains, giving the city’s food scene a distinctly indie vibe.
Amy Turner at Donna Mac
During our week-long stay in Calgary, we got the chance to visit several of the city’s top restaurants that show just how the thriving food scene—and its embrace of local Alberta produce—is certainly one important factor in making Calgary the world’s 4th most livable city.
The vibe at Donna Mac is more comforting than experimental, named for Donna “Grandma Mac” McMullen, the grandmother of co-owner Amy Turner. Inspired by Grandma Mac’s values of resourcefulness and seasonality, the menu reimagines the comfort food of yesteryear, paired with an extensive wine/beer/craft cocktail list that keeps things forward thinking without losing its no-pretensions vibe.
“Come as you are any time,” invites Turner. And extending the notion of being a good neighbor, Donna Mac lets nearby residents drop by to pick up an ingredient or two, whether it’s the in-house bread, or a cup of sugar or milk. We enjoyed a sampling of Donna Mac’s fresh-made dishes that make full use of Alberta’s seasonal produce.
Heirloom tomato salad with cashew mousse, BC plums, dukkah, and mint
Braised beef brisket with pearl onions, Parmesan, and housemade pappardelle using Alberta rye flour
Housemade Kielbasa pork sausage with red pepper polenta, leek, and fennel salad
SAIT Culinary Campus and The Tastemarket by SAIT
To get an inkling of where a city’s dining scene is heading, we dropped by the Culinary Campus of SAIT (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology) in the heart of downtown Calgary. It’s an honest-to-goodness restaurant where SAIT culinary students get the chance to train in a real work environment under the guidance of the school’s chef-instructors.
FoodPrints host Sandy Daza with Chef Michael Dekker
Chef-instructor Michael Dekker was on hand to tour us around the facility, and even cooked us a Vegetable Frittata using fresh Alberta produce as our morning treat. The place offers breakfast and lunch for takeout to an office crowd, with bestsellers like the Prime Rib Sandwich and Chicken Avocado Sandwich, plus specials that span the globe—including Filipino dishes—reflecting the multicultural makeup of SAIT’s faculty and students. Special mention should be made of the tempting collection of pastries, including danishes, sticky buns, and these “deadly” Double Chocolate Pecan Cookies.
SAIT also operates a sit-down restaurant called The Tastemarket by SAIT just a few blocks away, with the same goal of teaching students the rudiments of running a successful operation in the real world. The Tastemarket offers a charcuterie selection, woodstone flatbreads, goods from the bakery, and a cocktail and wine bar.
Yellow Door Bistro
Yellow Door brings yet another complexion to the Calgary dining scene with its French-European menu and quirky, modernist interiors set in the boutique Hotel Arts. Chef de Cuisine Katarina Edwards brings flair to classic dishes, getting inspiration from Alberta’s local ingredients.
Pastrami cured albacore tuna, with pickled daikon, sweet mustard emulsion, rye and quinoa crisp, baby frisée and baby kale
Lavender honey glazed duck breast with English peas, morel mushrooms, and fingerling potatoes
Seared beef tenderloin with mushroom and shortrib ravioli, summer squash, golden beet purée, mint goat cheese, and lemon thyme jus
Notably, Yellow Door has two Filipino-Canadian chefs, sous chef Jose Batad and pastry chef Ely Salar, who are both active in promoting Filipino food in the Calgary area. To welcome our group, Chef Ely successfully deconstructed Pinoys’ perennial favorite halo-halo in gorgeous fashion. On the plate, he assembled milk granite and ube ice cream on white chocolate bamboo, layered with sago, leche flan, coconut strips, jackfruit, and pinipig.
A Fil-Canadian halo-halo decorated with a strawberry-and-blueberry purée Philippine flag
Little did we expect the culinary diversity that we sampled—a melding of the best Alberta produce, topnotch culinary talent, and an inclusive and multicultural approach to cooking that knows no boundaries.
Watch Sandy Daza tour Alberta, Canada on FoodPrints Season 6, airing October 29 and November 2 on Metro Channel (Channel 52 on SkyCable and channel 174 on HD). Catch replays throughout the week.
Special thanks to Alberta Agriculture and Forestry at www.agrifoodalberta.ca and Canadian Beef Centre for Excellence at canadabeef.ca