Alberta’s about more than beef!Wednesday, November 14
When the average outsider thinks of Alberta, their first thoughts are typically of the big ticket items like our oil or our beef.
Sadly, there are so many great ingredients that grow in Alberta that get overlooked.
Unfortunately, to the outside world, Edmonton isn’t thought of as the culinary holy land. The misconception is that we are still a cowboy town, and maybe we can cook a good steak, but that’s about where the culinary accolades stop.
If only they knew the truth. Edmonton’s food scene continues to grow in leaps and bounds each and every year, and local chefs continue to answer the bell time and time again. Young chefs are opening independent restaurants void of steak sandwiches, chicken wings and all the other customary crap found on so many overdone menus. They are introducing new ingredients and cooking influences to the local palate. Not only are these restaurants surviving, some of them are thriving.
How did we get here though? In my humble opinion, it starts with good education.
We are fortunate to live in a city that has one of Canada’s best culinary arts schools. The culinary arts program at NAIT has been one of this country’s top producers of talented chefs for several years now. Their program is full of passionate and skilled chefs who relish the opportunity to teach and mentor each and every group of students who are fortunate enough to make it into their program. They also take great pride in the future success of their young graduates, often keeping tabs on how they are growing and developing. These leaders have also become great advocates for the local food scene and encourage their young students to work within it and help it grow.
The program also offers the young students an opportunity to test their skills against others within the culinary community. From competitive groups like Team NAIT, which leads to Team Alberta and Team Canada, or cooking competitions like Skills Canada or the Toque Demagny, there are so many chances for these young cooks to develop and grow.
Last year I was invited to take part in judging The Toque Demagny and when they invited me back this year I couldn’t say no. Joining me on the judging panel this year were Shane Chartrand of Murrieta’s and Nathin Bye of Wildflower Grill, the silver and gold medal winners from our recent Gold Medal Plates competition. All three of us are alumni from NAIT — further proof that the culinary program is working well.
The cooking competition provides NAIT’s young chefs an opportunity to showcase some of the province’s great fare while putting their talents to the test. From using locally grown pulses and grains, to working with the freshwater favourite, pickerel, or working with game animals, like bison and elk, raised in Alberta, this event really allows us to strut our stuff.
The competitive teams consist of one first-year student and one second-year student competing together against 11 other teams to prepare a three-course meal, highlighting the above ingredients. The young cooks only have eight hours to prepare the meal, using techniques like poaching, sauteing, and braising.
In all over $3,500 was handed out in various prizes and scholarships to help these young chefs with their education.
In honour of showcasing our great Alberta fare, I thought I would prepare a recipe that fits perfectly into the fold. I prepared a Great White Northern Bean soup, featuring the beans found right in our backyard, and complimented it with some delicious and subtly smoky Irvings Farm bacon. This is the perfect dish to enjoy with old man winter making an early arrival this year. It’s sure to warm your body and your soul.
Great White Northern Bean & Bacon Soup
Makes: 4 litres
Soaking Time: minimum 1 hour, but overnight will do
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 45-60 minutes
500 grams Great White Northern beans (you can substitute navy beans if necessary)
large onion, julienned
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
4 slices Irving’s Farm Fresh smoked bacon, chopped
2 Tbsp. canola oil
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
3 litres chicken stock (or ham stock if you can find it)
1 litre heavy cream
Salt and Pepper to taste
White truffle oil to taste
Place the beans in a large tub and generously immerse in water, keeping in mind the beans will absorb a great deal of water, set aside minimum 1 hour, but this can be done overnight in a pot on medium high heat, add the cooking oil, chopped bacon, onions, and minced garlic, saute until the bacon is cooked, but not crispy, 4-5 minutes
Drain the excess water from the beans and quickly add them to the pot, followed by the chicken stock
Bring to a simmer and then add the bay leaves, thyme sprigs
Simmer until the beans are soft and tender, 40 minutes or so
Add the heavy cream and bring it back to a simmer
Remove from the heat, pull out the bay leaves and thyme sprigs
Using a hand mixer or blender, carefully puree the soup, keeping in mind that the soup is very hot and can burn you easily!
Strain the soup through a fine strainer
Pour the soup into a bowl and drizzle generously with white truffle oil
This is the perfect hearty bowl of soup that will warm the soul on even the coldest of winter days.