CHARCUT Roast House, Calgary

Even before Connie DeSousa appeared on Top Chef Canada, CHARCUT Roast House has created a lot of buzz. An enRoute Canada’s Best New Restaurant for 2010, their charcuterie and alley burgers (served in the back alley at various times announced on Twitter) has kept their name on the lips of people in Calgary and beyond.

I ate there with a friend back in February, coincidentally just 10 days before the names of the Top Chef Canada contestants were released. We ended up getting the same entrée, but different sides.

For an entrée we had the Spring Creek Butcher Steak, with arugula, fried matchstick potatoes, and chimichurri. It was probably one of the best steaks I’ve ever had. The meat was so tender that it practically melted in your mouth.

My friend also ordered the duck fat fried poutine served with cheese curds and truffle gravy. It was delicious and so very rich. So rich in fact that we couldn’t finish it even though I ended up trying to help her eat the dish. We were stuffed silly. I could easily see this dish being a good appetizer for 3 to 4 people. It’s definitely something that you need to share. I was sad that they cut out Connie’s Top Chef Canada’s poutine Quickfire challenge because I wanted to know if she had made this version for the competition or not.

Butcher steak and poutine

Butcher steak and poutine

The other side that we ordered was the slow roasted heirloom beets served with house-made soft goat cheese and arugula. The beets were tender and slightly sweet, but to me the star of this dish was the goat cheese. It was creamy and fluffy, and had a light tang instead of a strong tang that you find in many goat cheeses.

Butcher steak, heirloom beets and goat cheese

Butcher steak, heirloom beets and goat cheese

For dessert my friend had cheesecake in a jar. I think they were preserved saskatoon berries, but my memory is a little hazy. The cheesecake was light and fluffy.

cheesecake

cheesecake

I had the flourless chocolate cake with graham crackers and ice cream. It was dense and chocolately, with a brownie-like texture. I ended up having to bring some of it away with me because of being much too full from all the good food.

flourless chocolate cake

flourless chocolate cake

Our receipt was delivered with a postcard and the cutest little pig paper clip.

The bill and the pig

The bill and the pig

Alley burgers were actually being served later that night but I was too stuffed to even think about eating them. I had a great meal and would definitely come back again.

P.S. Did you know that I’m doing interviews with the Top Chef contestants? You can read all the other past interviews by using this Top Chef Canada list.

CHARCUT Roast House
101, 899 Centre Street SW
Calgary, AB
www.charcut.com

CHARCUT Roast House on Urbanspoon

Sweet talk with Top Chef Canada contestant Rebekah Pearse

Here’s my interview with eliminated Top Chef Canada contestant and Alberta chef Rebekah Pearse.

Top Chef Canada – Rebekah Pearse (photo courtesy of Food Network Canada/Insight Productions)

Top Chef Canada – Rebekah Pearse (photo courtesy of Food Network Canada/Insight Productions)

Why did you decide to apply to be on Top Chef Canada?

I’m a HUGE fan of Top Chef, mainly because I’ve always felt that the challenges (while extreme) reflected the unique skills that professional chefs need to have in their bag of tricks.  Of course, getting some exposure for my business and the chance to win $100,000 was a big part of my motivation as well.

What surprised you most about the competition?

The judging.  Of course, it’s TV, and it needs to be interesting, but I got the feeling that Mark McEwan approached the judging as if we were all raw apprentices and the prize was a job at his restaurant.  I was also pretty surprised that we were shopping at Loblaw’s given that the US competitors all shop at Whole Foods. (Lots of chefs shop there, though, it’s where I would most often get to chat with other chef/owners when I was shopping for my own restaurant!)

Did you learn anything from your experience?

If anything, it was an affirmation of what I knew already… that I make the best desserts of anyone I know, it’s what sets me apart from other chefs, and marching to the beat of my own drum is the only way to go.

What special items did you bring from home to help you in the competition?

We were all allowed to bring 10 ingredients with a combined value of no more than $200 with us from home (hence Todd’s seal flipper).  I brought tartaric acid, gelatin, citric acid, fromage blanc cultures, espelette pepper, cranberry honey mustard from Brassica Mustard, rose petal harissa, pickled cattail hearts, pickled spruce tips, Joel Robuchon instant stock sachets and organic Japanese matcha.  As far as tools go, I didn’t bring anything crazy, just my favourite tongs and a quilting ruler.

You were told to paint a picture of your partner with cheese. Other than the Quebec cheese, what did the rest of your dish say about Derek? It was hard to tell from the shots on the show was the cheese underneath the meat and fruit?

For starters, at this point in the competition I had made two simple, very cheese-focused dishes.  I had received no feedback for them, and was worrying that I needed to show that I could branch out in order to get some recognition.  On top of those silly head games, I over conceptualized the dish… I tried to make every component reflect my partner.  First, I chose a Quebec cheese (Guillaume Tell, a gorgeous washed-rind cheese) and then chose to use veal as it was the only Quebec protein available.  I asked Derek about his favourite flavours to cook with, and he mentioned cranberries and mustard, which made me think of the delicious Brassica mustard that I’d brought from home.  Last, I needed a way to serve it, and I thought of the yummy buckwheat pancakes he’d made for his first challenge, so I decided to make a buckwheat blini as the base.  All in all, there were some good ideas there, but to try to force them all to work together was not the best idea I’ve ever had.

Your ability to make savory dishes was questioned in the competition. Was this dish a good example of savoury dishes that you make? Why or why not?

I felt those comments were poorly thought-out, and were particularly galling to me as a classically trained chef and certified sommelier.  Critiquing a flawed dish is fair.  Saying you think it means someone doesn’t know how to cook or worse, taste?  Rediculous.  I think those comments were badly phrased sound-bites.

As for whether it was a good example of how I tend to cook savoury… well, I hope not!  As I said above, the dish had too many dissonant ideas going on, it had no focus.  I like to think my signature style is simplicity, and I totally abandoned it for this dish.  It did, however, have elements of the way I cook: veal blanquette is one of my favourite things to cook (and eat).  Washed rind cheeses scooped out right at the table?  I’m so there!

You addressed the closure of Nectar Desserts in your blog (http://rebekahpearse.blogspot.com/2011/04/bankrupt.html), so Im not going to ask you about that. In hindsight, did this issue happening at home affect your ability to properly compete?

Absolutely.  I was jet-lagged, exhausted and underprepared when I got there, then continuously distracted the whole time I was on the show.  My head was only half in the game, and looking back on that time, if I hadn’t been kicked off the show I would have needed to drop out.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of applying to be a contestant on Top Chef?

Do it!  Despite the fact that it didn’t turn out as I’d hoped, I got so much out of the experience, particularly the chance to meet so many cool people and participate in creating some pretty wicked TV!  As far as how to get on the show?  Be yourself.

What are you doing now? Any future plans that you’d like to share? Will you be opening another business anytime soon?

I just accepted a position as the pastry chef at a high-profile winery in the Okanagan.  I’m SO excited about it!  I’ve never spent a summer in a growing region (even when I worked in Europe it was in the winter and spring).

I’m working on a follow up to “SWEET Seasonal Desserts” called “SWEET Chocolate Desserts”.  The title is pretty self-explanatory and I hope to have it published this fall.

I have no doubt that I’ll be opening other businesses in the future, but right now it’s just about waiting for the right opportunity and the right time.

Other than where you are currently working, name one of your favorite places to eat.

This isn’t a plug, I honestly LOVE Connie’s restaurant, Charcut [in Calgary].  She feeds me up good there on a regular basis.  If you haven’t been, you need to go.

Any last comments?

A huge thank-you to my friends and family, but most of all to the crew at Nectar.  I would never have been able to go on the show without them, and their love and support made everything not only possible, but worth it.

You can read past interviews by using this Top Chef Canada list.

Beware of sharp objects: my visit to Knifewear

Two things on my food bucket list have been to 1. take a class on proper knife techniques and 2. buy myself a good quality, wickedly sharp knife.

I have been eyeing the sharp and pointy goods at Calgary’s Knifewear ever since I heard about them way back when they first opened inside Bite Grocerteria. They have since moved into their own location and – if the crowd of people I saw in the store was any indication – are successfully growing their business.

Knifewear display case

Knifewear display case

Knifewear, founded by Chef Kevin Kent, specializes in high quality Japanese chef knives. They regularly hold classes on knife sharpening with waterstones, as well as a basic knife cutting class.

I happened to be in Calgary over the Family Day long weekend and took advantage of my visit by signing up for Knifewear’s Cut Like a Chef class. For about two and a half hours, we learned how to slice, dice and not cut our fingers off. Kevin and Rob, another talented knife artiste, tag teamed the class. We covered varied techniques such as dice, julienne and brunoise, as well as some more “exotic” cuts like tourne. Other useful things that we learned included the proper way to use a honing rod, cut up an onion, and slice up a pineapple.

Cut Like a Chef class

Cut Like a Chef class

Taking this class also gives you the chance to try out a selection of their knives. I started out using a Shun knife, and eventually ended up with two more knives on my cutting board. At the end of the class, all the attendees are offered a 10% discount on any knives in the store if they were bought that day.

You can test out knives before you buy them.

You can test out knives before you buy them.

I had good intentions of only buying one knife and of sticking to a pre-set budget. But the knives seduced me, and I couldn’t stop myself. A gift card from some friends helped to defray some of the costs (I have the bestest friends ever!!) but I left the shop much poorer and spent way more than I had originally planned.

The shop, filled with partly people from my class but also with many walk-ins.

The shop, filled with partly people from my class but also with many walk-ins.

There were many, many knives to choose from. Hand forged knives, factory forged knives, long knives, short knives – the choices were overwhelming. I was especially drawn to the Fujiwara knives, which have a finger notch in the blade that makes holding these knives especially comfortable, and the Konosuke knives, which have these gorgeous cherry blossoms polished onto each blade and also felt very comfortable in my hand.

A bunch of the knives I was considering.

A bunch of the knives I was considering.

There were some other knives that I liked as well, and in the end my decision was based on either buying one knife out of the two I mentioned, or buying two knives at a lower price point. In the end I felt that it made more sense for me to buy two different knives than to blow all my money on one knife.

Here are the sexy beasts that I came home with:

My new sharp and pointy toys!

My new sharp and pointy toys!

From left to right: one ceramic honing rod (smooth), one Masakage Kumo Gyuto 180 mm knife, and one Masakage Asai Masami VG10 Petty 120 mm. Both knives are hand forged from VG10 stainless steel and laminated with layered nickel Damascus stainless steel.

From the Knifewear website:

“Asai Masami, born in 1948, works in Takefu Village, Echizen in Fukui Prefecture. His blades are known for a refined and long lived edge. In 1980, Echizen was the first production centre for forged blades to be awarded the nationally recognized Traditional Craft Product accolade. Blades have been hand forged here since Muromachi period (1392-1573).”

“[The Kumo knife] series is named Kumo (cloud) because the blades look like clouds on a really cool day. The Damascus steel is manipulated by hand to give this great dreamy look. The rosewood and pakka wood octagon handle give the blades a nice light feel and forward balance. Katsushige Anryu san is a 70 year old blacksmith with 52 years experience who works in Takefu Village.”

My knives will get their first sharpening for free. I haven’t cut myself yet, but I have to admit that I have thought about stocking up on bandages. I’ll let you know if I nick any major arteries.

Knifewear
1316-9 Ave SE, Calgary
www.knifewear.com

 

News and events, and the Tostitos contest winner!

Congratulations to Kelly, who won the draw for the 2 bags of blue corn Tostitos and a lovely chip basket! I will be sending you an e-mail. I hope you enjoy them; personally, I find that blue corn chips have a slightly different taste than yellow corn tortilla chips and go really well with salsa, but doesn’t fit as well with cheese.

And now, here’s some news for you:

News and events

  • I recently stopped at Famoso for a meal (lots of photos over at my review from 2009). The pizza was great as usual, but they’ve recently changed their gelato supplier from Edmonton’s Bueno Gelato to Calgary’s Fiasco Gelato. I tried two flavours – the blood orange sorbet and the banana chocolate gelato, and was disappointed. The sorbet was a little too icy and grainy, and didn’t have much blood orange flavour. The gelato, while creamy and smooth, had no banana taste whatsoever and I wasn’t crazy about the chocolate flavouring. This really surprised me; while I haven’t tried them in any of their Calgary locations, Fiasco ordinarily gets pretty good reviews from what I can tell.
  • Superstore is now selling bread made with Red Fife. There’s a $1 coupon that you can get if you want to try it out (expires July 16). When you click on the link, just skip to page 4 of their baking booklet. There are also coupons for other breads and cinnamon buns on that same page.
  • Liane Faulder at the Edmonton Journal has a blog post about a food writer’s tour of Alberta.
  • Gary at travel blog Everything Everywhere has started up Project Pringles – his effort to document every flavour of Pringles from all over the world. If you have a picture of a Pringles flavour, you should send it his way. (And yes, he’s right. They are everywhere. I even found Pringles in Morocco, but unfortunately I didn’t take a photo of them.)
  • World Cup fever – did you know that the Dutch wear orange because of purple carrots?
  • And more on the World Cup – the “Oracle Octopus” could end up as dinner if German fans have any say.
  • Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko is in hot water after spending a lot of money on breakfasts during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. Maybe he’s a hobbit who needs breakfast, second breakfast and elevenses?
  • Jeffrey Steingarten interviewed Gwyneth Paltrow for Vogue magazine – she’s coming out with a “cooking for families” cookbook later this year. The best line from the article has to be “Our conversation was not much different from what it would have been if Gwyneth were a longtime food friend, except that Gwyneth is nicer than most of my food friends.” You can see a bunch of photos of Gwyneth’s kitchen(s) and read an edited version of the article on the Vogue website.
  • Fast Company did a feature on innovative U.S. cities, and a couple of cities caught my eye – New York’s urban farms and Portland’s farm-fresh food.
  • And lastly, check out Beer and Butter Tarts, a Canadian food and drink blog aggregator. I recently added my blog to the list!

Momofuku cookbook – fresh oysters and pickled Asian pears

Gong hay fat choy! Happy Chinese New Year! And happy Valentine’s Day to you as well! I’ve got a special treat for you today as a present from me to you, with help from Valerie and Beavie over at A Canadian Foodie. When Valerie found out that I got a copy of the Momofuku cookbook by David Chang and Peter Meehan for Christmas, she had a great idea for us to pick out recipes and do them at the same time in order to compare our experiences.

Momofuku cookbook

Momofuku cookbook

A quick flip through the cookbook told me one thing – David Chang doesn’t do simple recipes. At first glance they may seem simple but this initial impression is deceptive as most of his main recipes comprise of 2+ recipes combined together. Some of them can take days.

I had first choice, and I wanted to start with something simple, so I picked fresh oysters with a pickled Asian pear and black pepper mignonette.

The book has a fairly detailed section on how to choose, clean and open fresh oysters (pages 131-133). I was already familiar with most of these rules, but I thought one rule was a great reminder for myself: smell the oyster before you serve it and see if it smells clean and fresh and sweet – of the sea but not fishy.

I chose some lovely (but small) Malpeque oysters from Prince Edward Island. I gave them a good scrub under cold water, and kept them in the fridge until I was ready to shuck them.

Freshly scrubbed oysters

Freshly scrubbed oysters

Continue reading

South St. Burger Co., Balzac (Calgary)

During my visit to CrossIron Mills I also stopped for a meal at South St. Burger Co. Owned by the same company that owns New York Fries, this location is the first to appear outside of Ontario.

South St. Burger Co.

South St. Burger Co.

I wasn’t terribly hungry, so I a small burger with monterey pepper jack cheese and onion rings. The beef patties at this location are made with Spring Creek Ranch beef. There are four cheese to choose from – cheddar, swiss, the jack I had, and goat cheese. You could also get free toppings for your burger – everything from guacamole and mango chutney to cucumbers and jalapeno peppers.

South St. Burger Co. burger and onion rings

South St. Burger Co. burger and onion rings

Their onion rings are made with fresh cut red onions, and you can also order New York Fries’ fries and poutine if you so desire. The red onions gave the rings a pleasant bite and I would happily eat these again. My small burger was tiny; their normal burger has 1/3 lb of beef and in contrast my burger looked like an oversized slider. The taste was good and the meat was cooked nicely, although I would have liked a greater ratio of patty to bun. I think the onion rings made a greater impression on me though.

Is it worth going all the way to this mall just to have these burgers? Probably not. But if you’re stuck in there, the South St. Burger Co. is a good option where you can to rest your feet and fill your stomach.

South St. Burger Co.
CrossIron Mills Mall, Balzac – just outside of Calgary next to Highway 2
www.southstburger.com