Friday, November 12, 2010

Souleio Foods, Saskatoon

“a creative collaboration between farmers, producers, chefs and consumers – with European flair”

Souleio (265 3rd Avenue South) is a complex, fascinating place. It combines restaurant, bakery, deli and wine bar. Every time I go in, there are more products and more options to explore.

I have a much better understanding of what the owners and staff are trying to achieve after visiting with Chef Uwe.

European Flavour
Chef Uwe is from Germany. He has been part of Souleio for almost a year, and before that, he was the head chef at Calories for two years.

Chefs in Europe undergo a rigorous three-year apprenticeship with theoretical and practical training in every aspect of the restaurant business. Uwe says that he and Chef Rémi speak the same language as they have the same European training and background.

And Souleio certainly has a European flavour. The deli is stocked with housemade sausages, prosciutto and rillettes. They have an outstanding selection of cheeses as well as all sorts of European delicacies – Uwe’s carrotkraut, housemade aioli, crème fraîche and quark. “Quark is used a lot in Germany for cheesecakes,” says Uwe. “It’s less heavy than cream cheese. Crème fraîche is used in France to finish a cream sauce or as a topping for strawberries.”

Healthy Food
But the most important aspect of the food at Souleio is that it’s healthy. “My grandma and grandpa survived two world wars but lived to 92 and 95,” says Uwe. “Healthy food is good for your health and may extend your life. It’s organic, with no chemicals. It’s knowing what we eat, serve and where it comes from.”

Souleio sources as many products as possible locally. The day I visited there were local jalapeno peppers, organic ginger root and elephant garlic, and carrots from a Hutterite colony near Milden. “They’re the best I’ve had in my whole life,” exclaims Chef Uwe.

The chefs at Souleio are always eager to meet and talk with local farmers and to visit their farms. “We work closely with the farmers to give them a chance to match our market and to give us something unique on the shelf,” says Uwe. Souleio and Calories restaurant combine orders to make it more profitable for the farmer and the store. Both parties are willing to experiment. They tried black garlic this past summer, but it was too wet to be successful.

Foragers provide Souleio with seasonal surprises from northern Saskatchewan: wild strawberries, lingonberries, chanterelle and pine mushrooms, fiddleheads.

The focus on Thursdays is on sustainable, wild seafood. Only a shortage of time stopped Uwe from going out with the fisherman when he was on Vancouver Island. “There are no secrets,” says Uwe. “It comes from building a relationship between the farmer, the butcher and the consumer. There is a basis of trust.”

If a local, organic product isn’t available, Souleio aims for the best possible quality. And they are trying to produce as much as possible in-house – from charcuterie to dairy products to jams and pickles and sauces.

The creativity displayed by the chefs is amazing – and really, really tasty. I love Chef Rémi’s jams – green tomato and cardamom, pear and fig, caramelized plum, apricot/vanilla/licorice and many, many more! There is also an amazing range of pickles – roasted pickled cauliflower, pickled cupid’s sour cherries, oriental pickled wild pine mushrooms. There’s house ketchup and barbeque sauce, lentil hummus, olives, and peach and raisin moustarda.

“Everything brought to perfection is a challenge,” says Uwe. “We’re always looking for a better technique or spices to bring out the flavour of the fruit.” But the central ingredient is always the fruit or the vegetable; “everything else is just the frame,” Uwe says.

Mutual respect and collaboration are underlying principles for all Souleio’s activities. They have a huge amount of respect for the farmers and producers. They respect their staff’s skills and specialties.

And they respect their customers. “One of the reasons I came down here was to give customers advice and ideas on how to use things,” says Uwe. “We want them to have someone to talk to and to help them experience food in a new way.”

The combination of store and restaurant is unique. “We don’t want customers to feel insulted by a formal atmosphere,” says Uwe. “It’s more casual. You can walk around with your drink and browse.”

And browse you must, because Souleio stocks such a wide variety of products. There’s a full-scale kitchen and bakery in the basement, so you can enjoy fresh bread or pastries every day. There is focaccia and ciabatta on Saturday, German pretzels and sourdough bread that Uwe says he really loves (my personal favourite is still the wild rice bread that I’ve enjoyed for years at Calories).

Every Friday you can enjoy a wine tasting, and you can buy bottles of wine when you eat a meal. You can eat lunch or dinner in the restaurant or take a full supper home with you (from chicken on Monday to ribs on Friday). You can also rent Souleio for a birthday or Christmas party.

Come explore Souleio. Sample the cheeses. Ask Uwe to show you around. Take home some bread and jam or pickles. Enjoy. I know I do.

See Also: Cheese, Glorious Cheese

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