A destination in its own right

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Liza Weisstuch

THE WASHINGTON POST – There is a black steel box near the entrance to the Derrick. It’s about the height of a pool table and rather unremarkable. But when the bartender lifted the heavy blanket, several people seated nearby turned their heads, captivated by the lavender light it emitted.

The bartender picked cilantro from fresh bunches lying in very shallow water in the box. UV light keeps greens fresher longer, he told me. Moments later, he cut them into pieces and used them to garnish my drink – a celebration of the garden’s spring freshness.

The Harvest Box, as it is called, is supplied and stocked weekly by Garden Collective, a group of five entrepreneurs who grow herbs and vegetables in a 2,200 square foot walled garden on the second floor of a hybrid apartment building. offices and shopping centers.

My bartender said I could go see it for myself, so the next morning I did. It’s at the end of a Plus 15, the Calgarian term for more than 60 walkways, each about 15 feet above the street, that connect buildings across the city. They constitute one of the largest networks of pedestrian bridges in the world. The Garden Collective space sits behind floor-to-ceiling windows and across from a boutique that sells diamonds. Passers-by often stop to take photos.

It was co-founded by Zishan Kassam, a Calgary, Alberta native and software product manager by day. “We have the modern technology to be able to grow in a city, so why are we so dependent on supply chains that start overseas?” he said, noting how the pandemic made the situation all the more urgent.

At the Granary Road aquaponics farm, leafy greens, herbs and tomatoes are among the produce grown through a system in which bacteria convert fish waste into nutrients that nourish plants. PHOTOS: WASHINGTON POST
The Calgary Tower, a major tourist attraction, was completed in 1968

He explained how, within the limited confines of space, he has unlimited ability to adjust temperature, light, and nutrient levels in the earth to alter the flavor and character of herbs and leafy greens, which he sells to at least 10 restaurants. whenever.

The city has long been known for the Calgary Stampede, the century-old rodeo event that takes place every summer and usually attracts over a million visitors. But this seasonal event doesn’t define Calgary all year round.

It is also a popular stopover for people traveling to the beautiful nature of Lake Louise and Banff National Park, which is close to the Canadian Rockies. And in recent years, thanks to a vibrant culinary scene fueled by chefs who have managed to create local menus, despite the prairie city’s extreme weather, Calgary has become a destination in its own right.

It welcomes around 7.7 million visitors a year and is preparing to welcome more in the years to come. Two new boutique hotels – the Westley, which opened last year, and the Dorian, due to open later this month – will feature local chefs and art. This is part of preparation for the increased appeal the city expects when the reimagined Glenbow, the city’s arts and culture hub, opens in 2024, the same year as the BMO Center. from Stampede Park. The expansion will make the BMO Center the second largest convention center in Canada.

Major Tom is one of the restaurants that uses the Garden Collective bounty. The glamorous yet laid-back spot is on the 40th floor of an office tower. If you face west and squint, you can make out, in the distance, a ski jump-turned-zipline in Canada Olympic Park (or WinSport, as it’s known today), site of the Games. 1988 Winter Olympics.

The Calgary Tower, a major tourist attraction, is just a few blocks away. On a Thursday in May, the city below shimmered to the horizon, but the brightest part of the evening was the baked Pacific lingcod, served with charred eggplant, olives and virgin of green tomatoes, a French interpretation of marinara sauce. Marigold petals from Zishan and the crew were strewn over it.

Culinary Director Garrett Martin told me he visited Garden Collective that afternoon for a tasting and walked me through the process.

“If we think something doesn’t have enough flavor or needs sweetness, they just manipulate water content, light or heat exposure to get different results. They did a lot of tweaking for us, and it went well,” he said. The team once grew dill, but it didn’t pack much of a punch, Garrett recalls. A few weeks later they brought back a dill plus dill. “I like to support the locals, but it has to be good,” he said.

“Locally grown” is a common priority these days. More and more chefs, restaurateurs and bartenders are focusing on regional specialties in an effort to showcase regional riches, reduce carbon footprints and support local farmers and manufacturers.

But it’s tough in some places, like Calgary, where the growing season is short and plagued by out-of-season hail, wind and snow and frost.

But during the week that I spent there in May, I found a city that functions like a solid Möbius strip, a system closed in on itself, but fascinating in its functioning.

It’s something I saw in high definition at Rouge, which serves modern dishes in a historic house with creaky floors and Victorian flourishes.

The restaurant was widely acclaimed when it landed a spot on San Pellegrino’s 100 Best Restaurants in the World list in 2010. But more recently, one of its claims to fame is as co-founder and chief culinary officer Paul Rogalski in Wild Harvest, an outdoor adventure and cooking show airing on PBS stations across the United States. He co-stars with producer Les “Survivorman” Stroud. The fodder, Paul cooks. He lit up the dishes served at Le Rouge.

He offered to show me around the back garden, where he has a beehive, greenhouse, and herb and vegetable beds.

As we walked, he told me about the rewards of experimenting with spruce tips in the kitchen and the abundant medium chickweed – whose name is tragic to him. (“Nothing is a weed.

It’s either prolific and invasive or not. He picked the sweetest asparagus I have ever known, as well as sorrel, which I would later have in a hot sauce in a fish dish. He pointed to crabapple blossoms, which have been popping up in desserts.

River Café owner Sal Howell has a similar philosophy. The River Café is located in small and peaceful Prince’s Island Park on the Bow River, a 365-mile body of water fed by glacial runoff from the Canadian Rockies.

The island is about a mile from downtown, but it feels a universe away. Sal started the cafe in 1991 as a concession stand, but transformed it into a fishing lodge-inspired wonderland, complete with a suspended birchbark canoe and hickory furniture. The place serves Canadian cuisine from the Rockies.

“Rhubarb is coming. And I see lovage and chives – lots and lots of chives,” she said, pointing to the various greens that come out of the garden that surrounds the building. She bent down and picked a few lovage leaves for each of us. It struck me as the alter ego of celery, its feathery leaves slightly peppery with a hint of anise.

Howell’s kitchen staff cleverly use what most people would throw away, resulting in creations like vinegar.

Local sourcing here is an extreme sport. Lamb, grains, and seafood are pretty easy to get, but when it comes to citrus fruits, olive oil, and other staples that don’t belong in Canadian prairies, it is more difficult. But they pull it off beautifully.

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