When Gail Norton and Karen Ralph were first approached about writing a sequel to their bestselling cookbook Calgary Cooks: Recipes from the City’s Top Chefs, they were curious to see how much the Calgary food scene had changed and what new trends would emerge. As they delved into developing the cookbook, they were happily surprised to see that the food industry within Calgary had indeed changed quite a bit.
“We thought we were going to be hitting up the same people, yet 80% of the book ended up being new restaurants,” says Norton. “Changes in the restaurant scene happen without you noticing, yet when you quantify it by putting it together in a chef community cookbook, you realize how much it has progressed.”
The ever-changing and vibrant Calgary food community is beautifully showcased in their highly anticipated cookbook Calgary Eats: Signature Recipes from the City’s Best Restaurants. Featuring 80 signature dishes created by 40 of the city’s leading chefs, mixologist, bakers, brewers, and bartenders, the cookbook enables home cooks of all skill levels to recreate their favourite restaurant dishes at home.
The authors, Gail Norton and Karen Ralph are no strangers to the Calgary food scene. Norton is the co-owner of Calgary’s culinary hub The Cookbook Co. Cooks, a speciality cookbook, food, and kitchenware store and cooking school that has been in business for over 20 years. She is the former publisher of the long running City Palate Magazine, and co-author of an additional four cookbooks: Calgary Cooks, Dishing, Double Dishing and Cooks in My Kitchen.
Ralph is a freelance writer, a food and wine instructor at The Cookbook Co. Cooks where she organizes wine and food tours in France. She is a long-time contributor to City Palate Magazine and co-author of Calgary Cooks. Recently she has also started a gluten free bakery company called Grassland.
Both authors share vivid memories of home cooked food, Norton learning to cook from her mother. “She was an excellent cook. I was one of those kids where I could never understand why my friends didn’t want to go home for dinner.” Ralph grew up on a farm where “when we were harvesting, we would eat at 1:00 a.m. in the morning and it would be something like smelts fried in butter or whatever we had on hand. It was fantastic. I remember everyone would gather around the table and we had this huge sauerkraut container which was my chair.”
The pair were brought together by their mutual interest in all things food related and the intimate Calgary food scene which both authors describe as very supportive – “it’s in everybody’s interest to see everybody succeed,” says Ralph. Norton agrees: “What we found when writing Calgary Cooks was that everyone was game for a project. Everyone knows what the other person is doing and supportive. I think that’s the beauty – the sheer community of it.”
They also noticed that a “young guard” has come on in the last 10 years, keen to maintain Calgary’s diversity. “Calgary chefs are well travelled, globally aware and embrace internationally inspired dishes made with local ingredients,” says Ralph. This is demonstrated through recipes such as the Lamb Shank Kosha Mangsho from Chef Rene Bhullar at the Calcutta Cricket Club or Karen’s Pork Adobo from Karen Kho and Chef Dave Sturies at Empire Provisions.
Adds Ralph, “I think sometimes we’re still seen as a bunch of cowboy-hat wearing farmers, but when you’re actually here, it’s a big diverse city and there’s so many different restaurants and so many different cultures and cuisines to choose from – it’s really an exciting time to go out and eat in Calgary. However, when it comes to steak – we still do have the most amazing beef!” A few years ago, Modern Steak, often considered Alberta’s best steakhouse, partnered up with an Alberta rancher to purchase an $80,000 Black Angus bull and are currently raising their own beef. Now beef from the bull’s progeny is being used in Chef Dustin Schafer’s Steak with Peppercorn Sauce recipe, which includes instructions on how to perfectly cook a steak.
Other recent shifts noted by both authors include a real bend towards Mediterranean cuisine – as seen with the Roasted Beets with Feta, Lemon, Dill and Pistachio Dukkha recipe from Chef Steve Smee at Ten Foot Henry – and a trend towards plant-based menus. “Lots of really good, plant-based dishes are on every menu no matter where you go – it’s important that restaurants are inclusive and ensure customers feel comfortable and welcomed into their space, says Ralph.
Norton and Ralph used their connections in the Calgary food scene to recruit participants for the book and were overwhelmed by how many restaurants and chefs were interested in participating. They spent countless hours testing each recipe and adapting the recipes for the home cook. “The chefs really understand what the home cook needs,” says Ralph. “They gave us recipes that anyone can cook, you don’t need any special equipment, and you can just start cooking.”
The home cook is the audience they had in mind when writing the book but as Gail indicates, “it was also about having a piece of that restaurant experience in your hand and your home. It’s the cult of the chef right now and everyone wants to read about the chefs of the establishments they really admire.”
Ralph wrote introductions for each of the featured chefs, allowing readers to gain insight into their personal and professional lives. Readers will learn that Chef Liana Robberecht of WinSport was the first female executive chef at Calgary’s Petroleum Club and that Chef Rogelio Herrera from Alloy Dining has partnered with SAIT (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology) to develop a mentorship program where culinary students can spend a few hours learning in his kitchen.
The passion from the chefs and their desire to feed and inspire is what resonates most within the pages of Calgary Eats. And it’s around a table full of food surrounded by family and friends that some of the best moments in life are experienced – whether at the restaurants featured in the cookbook or if you choose to celebrate food at your very own dinner table.