By 2 p.m., I realized that I probably didn’t need the grilled cheese sandwich I’d made myself for lunch.
But since it was the first time I’d ever attended an afternoon meeting of the Edmonton Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m not a chef or a restaurateur, but when I found out that this event was going to feature food producers from around Alberta, I knew I had to go. As a part of my new business, Wise Woman Travel, I’m looking for culinary destinations for women’s tours, so I thought I might meet some people who’d be interested in hosting us.
The event took place at Chartier Restaurant, a delightful little place in the town of Beaumont, just half an hour south of Edmonton.
They’d cleared back their tables for the afternoon to make way for the producers to show off their goods and make connections with those of us who were interested in knowing more. And, of course, this being a gathering of culinary professionals, Chartier also provided food- lots and lots of delicious, locally produced, artfully arranged food.
When I arrived just a few minutes after the event got underway, the restaurant was already alive with conversation. I decided to ask as many producers as possible who they were, where they were, what they did, and whether they’d roll out the welcome mat for a group of fascinated female travellers.
The owner of the romantically named Winding Road Artisan Cheese, located just outside of Smoky Lake in northeastern Alberta, was happy to tell me the story behind each of his cheeses – how they were made and how he had named them. Two of the cheeses honored his grandfathers and another – a creamy delicacy rolled in edible ash- was named for Highland Hall, a Smoky Lake County historic site. I also stopped at the product table of the Old School Cheesery in Vermilion, located east of Edmonton, close to the Saskatchewan border, and chatted with the owner’s daughter. Since the family has Quebecois heritage, the Cheesery specializes in cheese curds, the authentic kind that are so hard for us to find in Alberta. “We love to host tours,”she said. “Come out in the springtime. It’s so beautiful at our place then.”
I received another enthusiastic invitation from Bear and the Flower Farm near Airdrie, a free range pork farm. Both husband and wife had left white collar jobs to start their business two years before – and business was already booming. I sampled one of the best sausages I’d ever tasted, juicy and studded with blueberries. I need to find out the name of the restaurant in Calgary that features this sausage wrapped in a pancake and drizzled in maple syrup.
It was time to wash down the sausage and cheese samples so I visited a young man pouring tastes of Ribstone Creek beer from a brewery in Edgerton, an eastern Alberta village of 400 people featured on CBC TV’s Still Standing. The exposure brought by this episode resulted in hundreds of new orders for the brewery from across Canada.
Next up on the beverage list was Righand Distillery located in Nisku, near the Edmonton International Airport. At the suggestion of Joanne O’Hara, one of Righand’s bartenders and also its resident marriage commissioner (some people do more than sample product out there, apparently), I tried a swallow of their Double Double, a creamy coffee liqueur similar to Bailey’s, but much smoother because it’s rum- rather than whiskey-based. “It’s also great on ice cream,” said O’Hara. “No wonder it’s one of our top sellers. And by the way, our tours and tastings for groups of fewer than 10 people are free.”
I finished off my tastings with a coffee from Roasti, a roastery in the hamlet of Sherwood Park, east of Edmonton. The beans that made the dark brew they served me were grown on an entirely female-owned and operated plantation in Sumatra. No wonder it tasted so good.
By this time, I was thoroughly stuffed with food samples and stories. On the drive back home, my imagination danced with possibilities for tours that would help women to experience the processes, products, and people whose food passions inspire some of the best cuisine Alberta has to offer.