Back to Basics and Loving It!

On April 23, we hosted Eat Alberta 2017: Back to Basics at the NAIT Hokasan Centre for Culinary Arts. So much good food was made, shared and enjoyed, while attendees learned more about the history of Alberta foods.

Since we were coming back after taking a year off with a new format, we were hoping to return stronger than ever, so it was so encouraging to see so many people looking forward to our sixth conference. However, we were most proud to see how full everyone’s tote bags were at the end of the day and we hope that everyone enjoyed what they made at Eat Alberta 2017.

The atmosphere was buzzing early on Sunday morning, as the line-ups started to form at registration before everyone headed into Ernest’s for brunch. Along with an excellent selection of breakfast foods made by Ernest’s, brunch also included bacon and sausage from Valbella Gourmet Foods and smoked salmon from Sgambaro’s Signature Seafoods.

However, food comas were short-lived as our MC, Mark Connolly, opened the conference and invited our keynote speaker, Jon Hall, to the stage. Hall’s presentation, “Food is a Four Letter Word” took us on a journey to show us how food used to be simple, how food production has evolved, how we can get back to our roots and lessons learned from culinary tours. Following Jon’s presentation, we were excited to have Cowboy Smithx, Founder of Redx Talks, provide his "Frequencies of the Land" presentation to conference attendees.

Once Mark Connolly gave the closing remarks for the plenary sessions, everyone knew that it was time to get cooking, so attendees went into their first cooking session ready to learn how to make dishes from chefs in the Edmonton area. Especially with Canada 150 approaching, it was important to us to have a variety of cultures represented in our sessions this year and we were often reminded of Jon Hall’s presentation throughout the day, as attendees learned a lot about multiple cultures through the dishes they cooked.

Kitty Poon led “Chop Suey on the Prairies,” a session sponsored by Alberta Chicken Producers that focused on classic Chinese-Canadian foods. While Kitty taught attendees how to make kung pao chicken and chicken spring rolls, the resulting smells were so enticing that they attracted attendees from other kitchens to check it out. Luckily for session attendees, they got to take recipe cards for the dishes home along with their food.

Over in “Just Like Your Baba Used to Make,” Allan Suddaby started his session with an overview of the history of Ukrainian foods in Alberta, including various forms of preservation, while handing out pickles and sauerkraut for everyone to sample. Participants even got a chance to help make a new batch of sauerkraut before Suddaby showed the secrets behind making perogies, a Ukrainian food staple.

Not to be outdone, Sage Restaurant’s Shane Chartrand walked participants through classic Indigenous foods, bannock and bison stew. While the session relied on collaboration at times, it wasn’t without a bit of competition, as there was a informal contest for best or fluffiest bannock.  However, Shane also reminded participants to take their time and to be gentle with the dough, as treating the dough with a certain reverence leads to better bannock. Based on the bannock we saw, it looked like everyone was a winner.

Finally, considering how well-known Chartier’s tourtière has become, it was only fitting that tourtière was the focus of Steven Brochu’s session that focused on French-Canadian cuisine. As the smell of the bison, ground pork and vegetables filled the air, one can only imagine the will power of each participant to let us put their tourtière in the blast chiller.  However, we are confident that it will be delicious when they cook it and eat it at home alongside the rhubarb relish they also made during the session.

Closing out Eat Alberta 2017 was the reception, which included a silent auction with items ranging from an Oyster Bar and Caviar Seafood experience with Effing Seafoods to Oilers regular season tickets. Attendees were also able to enjoy meats from Valbella Gourmet Foods and drinks from Alley Kat Brewing Company and Strathcona Spirits. We also got to reward our "Best Apron" contest winner, Linda Ladouceur, with a subscription to Archive magazine. All in all, Eat Alberta 2017: Back to Basics was a full day with many exciting moments and stomachs full of great local foods.

At this time, Eat Alberta would like to thank our attendees, session presenters, speakers, sponsors and everyone at NAIT for helping us make Eat Alberta 2017 a success. It was an honour to host the event again and we can’t wait to start working on Eat Alberta 2018! Stay tuned to our blog and social media for updates.