Sunday, November 3, 2013

From Farm to Table: Wild Sage Kitchen & Bar

What does it take to successfully open a new restaurant, particularly a hotel restaurant? Geoffrey Caswell-Murphy, Executive Chef of Wild Sage Kitchen & Bar in Regina’s newly-opened DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel and Conference Centre, David McQuinn, Vice-President, Food & Beverages, and Brigitte Diem-Guy, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, Silver Birch Hotels and Resorts, outlined for me some of the ingredients they are relying on for success.

First and foremost, the focus is on local food. “We want the restaurant to tell the story of our community by serving unique dishes made from organic products from local growers,” David says.

Local Products
Wild Sage Kitchen & Bar, which opens on November 5, will serve products from Cactus Organics, Pine View Farms, All Natural Meats, Prairie Meats, Duck Farm, Timber Creek Farm, and Living Soil Farms. Müs Knuckle beer from the District Brewing Co., Regina’s first locally owned and operated brewery, will be on tap. “We were the first people to contact District Brewing and the second to have them on tap,” David says.

Chef Geoffrey is a newcomer to Saskatchewan, so he has relied on local chefs and producers to suggest names of local food growers. The Radisson Hotel in Saskatoon is part of the Silver Birch chain, so Chef Trevor Robertson has been a valuable resource, even sharing his supply of root vegetables from Living Soil Farms.

Opening late in the season has posed a challenge as there hasn’t been time to preserve fruits and vegetables. Chef Geoffrey says that he would normally can everything from carrots and beets to caramelized onions. He’ll make his own jam in future as well.

Hotel Restaurants
Many people have a pre-conceived notion that hotel restaurants aren’t as classy as stand-alone restaurants. In order to counter this myth, Chef Geoffrey says, “We have to do such a good job that positive word of mouth spreads like wildfire. We need to really deliver on the experience because we don’t get a ton of chances.” David McQuinn emphasized that the Silver Birch chain has experience in managing high-quality, stand-alone restaurants. The Fish House in Stanley Park is part of the chain, and I can testify to its classy atmosphere and good food.

Vegetarian Dishes 
There are very few vegetarian main courses on the Wild Sage menu. However, there are lots of veggie appetizers that sound really good (Aged White Cheddar and Caramelized Shallot Perogies, Pave Truffled Potato Cubes, Edamame Beans, Vegetable Chips with Roasted Eggplant Dip) and Chef Geoffrey says that they will happily accommodate individual requests.

“We embrace the ‘our kitchen is your kitchen’ philosophy. We accommodate all of our guests’ special dietary needs. If you see it on the menu, you can have it,” he says. So don’t be afraid to order a salad without the meat or a side of Sea Salt Fries with Chipotle Mayo and Jalapeno Jack Cheese or Saskatoon Ketchup.

Wild Sage Kitchen & Bar has installed a gas-fired forno pizza oven. It’s very similar to the one in the Radisson Hotel Saskatoon but located in the kitchen. The Bruschetta Pizza with arugula and balsamic vinegar is vegetarian. Requests for gluten-free pizza can also be accommodated.

Developing the Menu 
One of the biggest tasks for a new restaurant is developing the menu. David explained that the first step is to study the demographics – who will be your primary guests and what kind of food will be most successful with this group. Then you look at what products can be obtained locally. And last, but not least, you test and test and test and test.

“We made pizza in Saskatoon at the Radisson for eight hours straight to come up with five pizza options that were representative of our customer, our market and our profile,” David explains.

The menu will be available in the restaurant, bar or in your hotel room. “Our goal is to make in-room dining special,” David explains. “What you get downstairs, you can also get upstairs.”

The Broad Street hotel and conference centre has been completely renovated, and it promises to deliver a unique conference package. “We offer a variety of all-inclusive meeting packages,” says Brigitte Diem-Guy. “The daily meeting package includes meeting rooms, built-in audiovisual equipment, internet access, buffet lunch, all service charges and access to our Connections Café® for continuous, all-day refreshments – everything for one price per person. This model is very popular in the States, but we’re pioneering it in Canada by building Silver Birch Conference Centres from coast to coast.”

All-day refreshments will include homemade healthy treats and baked goods, fresh vegetables and fruit, smoothies, lattes and cappuccinos, and 100-calorie and gluten-free options.

The hotel and restaurant open on November 5. The grand opening is scheduled for December 10, and they’ll be planting a birch tree rather than cutting a ribbon. “We do this at all our hotels,” Brigitte explains. “It’s a sign of our commitment to the environment.” There will also be entertainment with an Olympics theme as Hilton HHonors™ is a sponsor of the Canadian Olympic Committee and the official hotel supplier of the Canadian Olympic Team.

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