July 19, 2014

What's on the Menu in Calgary

I'm in the vast and varied Canadian province of Alberta now, taking in some great sights, food and drink. Our first stop was Calgary, a boom town set between the prairies and the tall peaks of the Canadian Rockies.

Perhaps predictably, in a hard-working, hard-playing town full of cowhands (this year's Calgary Stampede ended just before we hit town), ranchers and oil and gas tycoons, you'll find ambitious and adventurous chefs who are feeding them. 

At Catch, 34-year-old executive chef Kyle Groves tends to a rooftop garden, a beehive and a network of local farmers and seafood suppliers to create seasonal menus built around the daily catch. It seems foolhardy to create seafood-themed restaurant in a landlocked province, yet when it opened 12 ago under chef Michael Noble, Catch was named the best new restaurant in the country. Since then, it has retained its edge and become something of a factory for up-and-coming kitchen talent, all while weaning Calgarians off their beef-centric diets. 

Chef Groves shows off  beautiful Lethbridge shelling peas.
The night we visited, Groves, a native son of Calgary who trained in Scotland and at two Michelin-starred restaurants in London,  had on hand fresh, sweet shelling peas from a farm in nearby Lethbridge. One of his favorite ways of serving them is grilled and salted, to be eaten out of hand edamame-style. He also loves the organic Lethbridge rhubarb he gets. One favorite use is to juice them with a bit of lime, combine with sliced jalapeno, balance with a little honey, and throw in some fresh humpback shrimp, scallops and hearts of palm for a delicious ceviche.

All the seafood Catch serves is certified by the Vancouver Aquarium's Ocean Wise sustainability program, similar to America's Marine Stewardship Council's designation.  Oysters are flown in from both East and West coasts, and Catch has started to share its daily shipment of seafood with customers. Arrivals are posted each week day on Twitter, and customers can call in to place their order, which will be filleted, de-boned, or de-bearded before pick up. Like any good fishmonger, they also offer cooking suggestions and answer questions. Over the years, Groves has seen locals' growing willingness to venture beyond the safe choices of salmon and halibut to embrace more challenging sea fare like gooseneck barnacles, octopus and razor clams.


Edamame-style grilled shelling peas, smoky and delicious.

Mushrooms every which way!
Mushrooms in Alberta are some of the best we have tasted, and sous chef Jenny Kang impressed us with this dish of grilled king oysters, morels braised in clarified butter and tempura-stye deep fried shiitake, served with little orbs of Fairwinds Farm goat cheese ricotta and a fresh pea puree. 

Oh, and for a chef, here's the joy of living in these northern latitudes, where at the height of summer it can stay light until close to 11 pm: After dinner service,  Groves can go for a 10K run along the Bow River. I didn't have the heart to ask how it fares through the short days and long nights of winter! 

Stay tuned for more on Calgary and beautiful Banff...