Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Evolution of Saskatoon Cuisine

artisan cheese, organic bread, specialty wine stores and much, much more

This article was written for and published in the Winter 2010 issue of Fine Lifestyles Saskatoon.

Growing up in Saskatoon in the ‘60s and ‘70s, my idea of a fine dining experience was pancakes at Smitty’s or Tahiti Treat with my fish and chips from Gibson’s. Two and a half years in France in the late '70s changed my expectations, but Saskatoon hadn’t caught up. I longed for good-quality cheese and a full range of deli products, but I was out of luck. That’s no longer the case. Saskatoon’s food scene is expanding rapidly in many different directions.

Embracing Diversity
It used to be difficult to find sushi in Saskatoon; not any longer. The archetypal prairie restaurant offering Asian and Canadian food has been replaced by restaurants specializing in Szechuan, Cantonese, Laotian or Thai food. “People are travelling more,” says Beemal Vasani, co-owner of Saskatoon Sous Chef. “They want authentic international cuisine.”

Souleio is a fascinating combination of restaurant, deli, wine bar and grocery store. They offer local food with European flavours. Artisan cheeses from Quebec sit side by side huge wheels of Comté from France. There is fresh seafood every Thursday, and Chefs Rémi and Uwe plan to expand their meat counter to include housemade pâtés, sausages, ham, and rillettes.

Souleio sources as much as possible locally, with foragers supplying unexpected delights – wild strawberries, pine mushrooms, lingonberries, and more. The chefs are also making a wide range of products on site, including roasted and pickled cauliflower, crème fraiche, and green tomato and cardamom jam.

Supporting the Local Economy
More and more consumers want to know what they are eating and where it came from. People take pleasure in shopping at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market where they can develop a relationship with the person who grew or made the food.

Trent Loewen of Earth Bound Bakery buys almost all his certified organic ingredients from just two local suppliers. “There is nobody in between,” says Trent. “I like to maintain that conversation with the local producer and support them.”

Local chefs, like Lee Helman of Truffles and Daniel Walker of Weczeria’s, purchase as many ingredients as possible locally. Chef Simon Reynolds, who is originally from England, believes that the trend will continue. “In England, the menus are now like a geography lesson,” he says.

Food and Wine
“Wine was created for food,” says Cameron Rizos, Managing Partner of Cava Wines & Spirits. “As we expand our food, we want the wine to go with it.” As Saskatoon’s first private liquor store, Cava has two key missions. The first is to demystify wine. “Wine isn’t complicated,” says Rizos. “It’s what you like. It should be fun.” The store offers frequent tastings and dinners so that people can explore what is available and define their tastes.

Secondly, Cava works closely with restaurants to provide training and help them enhance their offerings. Rizos believes that the food scene is ahead of the wine scene in Saskatoon, but that’s changing. In September, Saskatoon Station Place received an Award of Excellence in the Wine Spectator 2010 Restaurant Awards, the first restaurant in Saskatoon to be recognized in this way. The restaurant’s wine list includes 150 wines stocked by Cava Wine & Spirits, including many different wines by the glass.

Celebrity Chefs
“In the UK, the chef is a highly-respected professional,” says Simon Reynolds. “Food is trendy, and chefs are like rock stars.” That’s not yet the case in Saskatoon where students pay their way through school by working in restaurants but don’t see the restaurant industry as a career option. This frustrates Reynolds who has 22 years experience running kitchens with four million dollar budgets. “It takes a lot of skill and responsibility to cook food properly,” says Reynolds. “If I cook for 50,000 people a year, I’m responsible for that many people’s health.”

Rizos agrees and looks forward to the day when young people are inspired to choose the food industry as their chosen career. They will become professional sommeliers because they want to learn and talk about wine, or they’ll become professional servers, providing increasingly knowledgeable and inspired service to their customers.

High-End Dining at Home
Operating out of Wild Serendipity Foods, Chefs Simon Reynolds and Brent Lloyd, along with Michelle Zimmer, offer a wide range of popular cooking classes. The chefs emphasize how much they enjoy sharing their knowledge. “If I teach someone how to make bread or soup, I’ve given them a gift for life,” says Reynolds. “So few people cook at home, and that’s sad. In England, the Sunday roast is a big thing with good food and the family around you. It’s the one time you’ll all be home together.”

Lloyd and Reynolds are also noticing a growing demand for personal dining, particularly for special events. The menu is completely customizable, and you can dine in the comfort of your home without being interrupted by waiters, but a professional is taking care of the preparation and clean-up.

Saskatoon Sous Chef offers ready-made gourmet meals for busy professionals. With one chef from Peru and another grounded in local comfort food, they supply an endless variety of salads and meals in a bag. McKeown’s Ready Made Meals and Catering has just started offering weekly specials using local foods, putting an upscale spin on old favourites. Each dish is a generous helping for two people, and you can pick it up or have it delivered.

As Saskatoon grows, so does its food scene. What a feast!

See Also:
     Earth Bound Bakery

1 comment:

Jen said...

Ugh! Now I'm starving! Great article!