“The very best conversations happen around the table; whether it’s the dinner table, the boardroom table,
or just a coffee table…It’s where ideas come to life, relationships are built, and connections are made. Because
it’s not what’s on the table that matters, but who’s at the table” Julie Van Rosendaal, A Seat at Our Table trailer.
No words rang truer on the night when I dined with 100 other Albertans, all strangers with one common bond, on the rooftop patio at Charbar. A Seat at Our Table was a culinary event over a year in the making attended by people from all walks of life…and everyone had an Alberta story.
We began with introductions that were essentially four of the five profile questions that were emailed along with our invitations:
- Who are you?
- Who are you connected to? (company or organization)
- Who brought you to the table?
- If you could be seated next to anyone (living or dead), who would it be and what would your conversation be about?
It was a great way to start a thoughtful evening, which celebrated all Alberta has to offer Canada and the world. We are more than oil and gas, we have farmers and producers that do their very best every day to produce a product that they are proud to call their own. From humanely raised and ethically slaughtered grass fed beef to creating creamy gelato, every product that comes from Alberta has an impact on the land, the consumer, and the farmer/producer. As Albertans we can’t lose sight of how important it is to treat our land with respect so that future generations can continue to proudly call Alberta home.
Truthfully, I was a bit unsure of what the evening would be like. I’m not the best at meeting new people in such a large environment but I went to the event with an open mind and a few conversation starters ‘up my sleeve’. I also had a couple of questions that I wanted answered and the length between courses allowed everyone to get up from their table and mingle with other diners. I spoke to Kent and Kassie O’Brien from 4KFarms about their farm and how they differ from large scale pig producers. What I gained from the conversation was more than just ‘yes, we ethically raise pork for your table’, it was an understanding of how much they love what they do and how knowing a real producer can give you an immediate Alberta connection. It makes me want to dig out my rubber boots for a visit to their farm to see the pigs someday soon!
I also spoke with Tony Marshall from Highwood Crossing, a fourth generation Alberta farmer who has been producing organic grains, cereals, and cold-pressed flax, canola oil and granola on his family’s land near Aldersyde for over 30 years. I love that his passion for farming never faltered during the devastating 2013 floods which flooded the fields and ruined their brand new production facility. During that time he never lost a customer but instead, received help and support from the local Alberta community. The family chose to take the positive energy of the community and rebuild and now their bond with Alberta is stronger than ever.
Those are just a couple of the great conversations I had last night. At our table, (which we fondly nicknamed ‘the roulette table’ due all of us having various food allergies and intolerances) there were producers (Rod & Lara Olsen from Leaf & Lyre Urban Farms), passionate healthy food advocates (Amber Romaniuk from Amber Approved), small business advocates (Stephanie Jackman of Reap Calgary), Michael Brown (the CEO of CMLC), and shallow gas producer Quinton Rafuse (Ember Resources). Even though we all came from various backgrounds our conversation contained very few lulls, except those that were a result of us enjoying our food.
Oh, yes. The food. It all began with this delicious cocktail from Christina Mah of Raw Bar. It featured Spring Equinox spirits from Eau Claire Distillery, a Highwood Crossing oats and honey directly from Rouge restaurant’s urban bee hives. Christina kept us from getting thirsty all night with several cocktail pairings, including the ATB Long Table Sour (using Eau Claire vodka) and the Gin & Timber (with Eau Claire Parlour Gin and local Porter’s Tonic). We also had pairings from local breweries; Village Brewery, Tool Shed Brewery, and Big Rock Brewery.
Course one came courtesy of Chef Andrew Winfield of River Café. It was a gorgeous purple asparagus salad with some of the very last Edgar Farms asparagus. This is one of the first crops of purple asparagus and it’s still in the ‘experimental growth’ phase as it takes about 5 years to really get growing. The brown butter egg was a perfect contrast in texture…and flavour. It was a real treat to have all of that fresh goodness perched on top of a very thinly sliced piece of lardo. If you’d like to try Edgar farms asparagus you’ll have to wait a whole year for it to come back into season and you can buy it directly from the farm or at the Crossroads Market from Innisfail Growers.
We were off to an amazing start but this second course was really unique. I knew as soon as it was placed in front of me that it could only be the work of Duncan Ly, also from Raw Bar (and Hotel Arts). Leaf and Lyre Rhubarb Hot and Sour Soup with Citrus cured Rainbow Trout, Soya Cured Roe and Fragrant Herbs. The beverage pairing in this case was Village Triplet from Village Brewery. I thought the slightly sweet berry tones in the beer went nicely with the sour rhubarb. In this photo you can also see part of the Alberta Table, artfully crafted by woodworker Martinus Poole.
The next course featured 4KFarms Tambuta pork. It’s pork with an outstanding flavour due to the special diet of hazelnuts and barley mash. I’m not kidding, these are some well fed and very happy pigs. I kind of wish there weren’t any other flavours on the plate but then we wouldn’t have had a preview of things to come from Chef Darren MacLean’s new venture, Shokunin. The kombu and miso flavours actually went really well with the pork.Next up was my very first taste of Charbar featuring the cooking of Chef Jessica Pelland. This Asador Platter is featured on their menu and contains some mighty find meat based food, grilled right on the Charbar rooftop using an authentic Argentine Parrilla. 7K Panorama Ranch Grassfed Longhorn Beef Striploin with house made chorizo, empanadas, grilled peppers, and some crispy fried tripe with chimichurri. I had a couple of pieces of tripe before I recognized the tell tale texture and you know what? It was pretty okay. Not bad at all. And finally a uniquely prairie finish to our Alberta Table dinner with Fiasco Gelato Saskatoon Berry Gelato with Highwood Crossing Oat Crumble and house made caramel. No matter where I am, the taste of Saskatoon berries brings me back to my days of berry picking with Grandma. The gelato course was paired with a unique Big Rock Brewery White Stout called Mind Bender. It had a lovely aroma of espresso and cocoa nibs which was sweetened with honey directly from Big Rock’s own apiary.
Julie Van Rosendaal was an excellent emcee for the evening; entertaining us with stories, introducing each producer, dish, and chef as required. She’s hilarious and was really great at thinking on her feet when the chefs needed a bit more time to plate up. The service was outstanding considering most of the food was prepared in the basement kitchen three floors down and plated up on the roof. I spoke with one of the servers at the end of the night and she was absolutely wiped out. If you’re looking for a ‘get in shape quick’ job, Charbar is definitely for you.
It was certainly a night I won’t soon forget. I’d love to thank Terry Andryo for extending the official invitation to me and for all his hard work with this year long project. It would also have been an impossible evening without the generosity of event sponsors ATB Financial, AMA Alberta, Tourism Calgary, and of course the Alberta Tourism and Culinary Alliance.
If you would like to learn more about the Alberta Table head to the A Seat At Our Table website or check out the great producer videos on their YouTube channel. They were all filmed on location by local film company Ramble Ritual.
Oh…and my answers to those four questions (if you’re curious) were:
Who are you? Bernice Hill: Former farm girl, Stay at home mom, wife, food blogger (Dish ‘n’ the Kitchen), travel junkie, and Calgary food enthusiast
Who are you connected to? I am independent writer, Food Bloggers of Canada Member, friends with local foodies.
Who brought you to the table (your connection) Terry Andryo after the Social Media Breakfast
What are you bringing to the table? (What is your Alberta story and what is your reason for wanting a seat at the table) I believe that my contribution at your table would be unique. Conversations are great when there are many ideas and values being discussed but the other side of a conversation is thoughtful listening. I can bring my experiences growing up on a mixed farm (grains +beef, then later all bison) among people who celebrated what our hard work provided. Hunting, fishing, butchering, preserving via fermenting and smoking provided the bulk of our food to get us through the winter…even to this day!
What saddens me is that so many people have lost touch of where their food comes from even here in Alberta, so close to where the food is raised/grown. They buy things like pre shucked corn in plastic and prefer not to think of how their gorgeous t bone steak dinner was raised and butchered. I think people need to know…the difference between a mass produced feedlot steak and one that came from a cow who was treated with respect. It think if consumers were better informed they could make decisions that make huge differences in the industry.
If you could be seated next to anyone (living or dead) who would it be and what would your conversation be about? Easy. My grandmother who passed away while we were living in Australia. If only I could have one more day with her. I think we would talk about baking because it was her love of baking (and butter) that has greatly influenced my food passion.
If you are looking for someone more local…I’m going to have to go with Ralph Klein. Never got to meet him and I bet we could talk about everything from the current orange crush to branding cattle. That conversation would never be boring!