Local Lovin’ in the Kitchen
When it comes to cooking, there’s nothing better than using local products. They’re fresh, they’re easy to source, they’re sustainable, and it feels pretty good to support our producers. And let’s be honest: Alberta has some incredible producers making incredible edible things, and while they’ve always had a home at farmer’s markets, they’re popping up in grocery stores, too. Face it, we’re spoiled – and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
So, let’s celebrate Alberta, with local talent sharing their favourite local ingredients as well as flavours right off local menus. From burger sauce to BBQ lamb, to pork belly and burgers, we’ve got you covered whether you’re grilling in the sunshine or cooking low and slow on a rainy afternoon.
From mushrooms to lamb to haskap berries and more, all the dishes on the menu at Edmonton’s May Restaurant use local ingredients. “I am inspired by the ingredients our farmers grow,” explains Chef Doreen Prei. “Alberta has some amazing products I love to work with. There’s a translation from the farmer, to me, to the customer.”
She connects emotionally with food and is always thinking about it in some capacity. When it comes to the farmer’s market she says, “Everyone is very knowledgeable and passionate about their products. It makes me happy to see people there, supporting our community.”
The May Pork Burger is an East-meets-West situation: Vietnamese flavours combined with Alberta pork, topped with spicy mayo made with hot sauce from Lacombe cayenne peppers. It’s a dish Prei makes at home, and encourages you to try, too. “Go with the flow,” she says, “Prepare all of your ingredients first before cooking, and make sure you know what cooks the longest.”
At Calgary’s NOtaBLE, chef de cuisine Stefan Gusztak creates dishes combining classic technique with original flavours. “There is a reason why some recipes have lasted as long as they have,” he says. “The experience they give is something everyone should be able to have at least once.”
While customers crave the calamari, ahi tuna crudo, and Peruvian fried chicken, Gusztak’s current go-to is the Alberta bison carpaccio, made with a Szechuan and black pepper rub, and seared in beef fat. “All of the ingredients and techniques are used to enhance the flavour of the bison.”
Lamb tops his list of favourite Alberta products, but he points out that research is key when it comes to sourcing local ingredients. “There are many great local suppliers, but it’s important to try everything and find what you like.”
And, when it comes to the recipe for lamb shank, the key is time. “Some things can’t be rushed,” Gusztak points out. “If you enjoy cooking, dedicate time to it. Trying to rush something, or not completely understanding something, will only result in a subpar dish.”
“I am inspired by eating, tasting, living and travelling,” says Chef Michelle ‘Mish’ Hobbs Lee of Calgary’s Maven. “I love food that connects people across distance and time.” Her favourite dish from the menu is the Tembling Road Noodles, and for good reason. “It connects me immediately to where I come from, to my childhood and to hot days spent in the shade of my popo’s veranda waiting for the noodle hawkers to come by.”
While farmer’s markets are always a good bet when it comes to sourcing local ingredients, Chef Mish adds, “Most grocery stores are now highlighting Alberta products and making it easy for consumers to buy local.” Her favourite local ingredient is Alberta pork. “It’s versatile, affordable, and very easy to source.”
Now that you know it’s easy to source, make Chef Mish’s recipe for Peruvian style pork belly your next kitchen adventure. Inspired by her brother who lived in Peru for over 20 years, Chef Mish says the key is to be patient. “If you try to rush any part of the brining or braising or frying, the magic will not happen!”
Mark Bellows of Edmonton’s Gravy Burger and Fries is inspired by global culinary traditions, and Gravy’s menu boasts picks like the Double Dragon, a serious burger with East Asian influences, and the Halifax, a whopping burger with a donair twist – more eastern influences, but these a little closer to home. Bellows’ favourite is the Incredible Burger, vegan style. “I love how it increases our accessibility to new people,” he explains.
These days you’d be hard pressed to find a restaurant in Alberta that isn’t using local ingredients to some capacity, and Gravy is no slouch: Alberta beef brisket is the star of the show. And if you’re looking to put more Alberta on your plate at home, Bellows says, “Visit your local farmer’s market. It’s a great way to start learning about new local things in your area.”
And the Double Dragon burger we mentioned earlier? It uses the house-made Dragon Sauce, which Bellows shares with us here. “It’s a Western Pacific culinary inspired sauce that goes great with the Alberta brisket,” he explains. “The key to recreating it is to whisk the final components together to get a consistent product.”