Chef in Residence

Recap: NAIT Hokanson Chef in Residence Luncheon With Amanda Cohen

March 29, 2017

I've said it before and I'll say it again - Edmonton's Northen Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) has one of the top culinary arts programs in the country. There is incredible talent that comes out of the kitchens and every year the students have the opportunity to learn first-hand from a renowned chef. This year's Hokanson Chef in Residence program welcomed Chef Amanda Cohen of New York City's Dirt Candy.

Image courtesy of NAIT

The Hokanson Chef in Residence program, now in it's ninth year, welcomed Chef Amanda into the teaching kitchens from March 6-10. At the end of each residency the culinary arts students work with the chef to prepare a three-course luncheon highlighting the different dishes and techniques learned throughout the week. With the current shift towards vegetable-centric menus and urban agriculture, it didn't come to me as a surprise that Chef Cohen was featured this year. What did surprise me though was that Chef Cohen herself is not a vegetarian.

Chef Cohen was a vegetarian in her early years and noticed a gap in the market for a restaurant that put vegetables first. With her love for vegetables and ability to transform them, she opened Dirt Candy in 2008 and hasn't looked back. Although labelled as a vegetarian restaurant, Chef Cohen loving describes Dirt Candy as a 'vegetable restaurant,' where she comes to work to play and have fun transforming vegetables.

Beet Juice

Since opening, Dirt Candy has become the first vegetarian restaurant in 17 years to receive 2 stars from the New York Times. It was also recognized by the Michelin Guide 5 years in a row and won awards from Gourmet Magazine, the Village Voice, and many others. Chef Cohen was also the first vegetarian chef to compete on Iron Chef America, so it was exciting to see her in action at NAIT!

The first course at the luncheon was Chef Cohen's take on the popular pork belly bao. Roasted carrot buns filled with carrots and a carrot hoisin sauce were accompanied by a rainbow carrot, cucumber, and ginger salad. I really enjoyed how the sharp flavours in the salad contrasted against the sweetness of the buns!

Our entree was a celebration of Chef Cohen's love for corn, and what better than with stone ground grits? Chef Cohen really wanted to highlight the natural sweetness of corn, a flavour that almost always disappears in the preparation of grits. The creamy dish was mixed with pickled shiitake mushrooms and served with a tempura poached egg, making the dish full of varying textures and punches of flavour. Little dots of huitlacoche, a corn fungus known as the 'Mexican truffle,' also brought forward an earthy umami flavour. But overall, the dish had a beautiful sweet flavour that I won't be forgetting anytime soon. Grits will never be the same!

At Dirt Candy the vegetable-centered dishes don't stop when it comes to desserts. Celery Cheesecake and Cucumber Semifreddo are just some of the unique dishes you'll find on the menu. To finish off the luncheon, Chef Amanda paid homage to her Canadian roots with a sweet pea and mint Nanaimo bar. I find Nanaimo bars can be very sweet, but this version was refreshing and a lovely end to the meal.

I always assumed that a vegetarian meal would leave me wanting more, but I found myself pretty full at the end of the meal! I personally enjoy vegetables, but I'm not the type to deviate much from their original form. Chef Amanda's meal was definitely an eye-opening experience for me as I now realize there are so many possibilities when it comes to vegetables. NAIT continues to raise the bar to bring in world-renowned chefs for their Chef in Residence program, and Chef Amanda Cohen was an excellent choice to mentor the culinary arts students. I'm already looking forward to seeing who comes in next year!

Edmonton food

Greek to Go: Little Village Opens it's Brick & Mortar

March 23, 2017

When Edmonton's food trucks started to appear in and around the city in 2011 everyone was pretty excited to see that the trend had finally reached our city. If you were anything like me, you were determined to try every single food truck. That quickly became a difficult task when more and more trucks emerged onto the scene.

Little Village - 14816 Stony Plain Road - Edmonton AB

Fast forward a few years and there are still many food trucks parked curbside in the warmer months, but some of Edmonton's favourites have shifted toward opening up brick and mortar spaces. Filistix and The Local Omnivore are a couple examples, and the latest food truck to join them is Little Village.

If you've ever had the food from Little Village food truck you've met owner/operator Theo Psalios - the guy inside the truck that always greets you with a smile on his face. Theo brought Little Village to life in 2012 and has been serving up his take on Greek dishes ever since. Operating out of a food truck means food service is dictated by the weather, but now that Theo has a storefront where you can get a taste of Little Village any time of the year.

Located along the hustle and bustle of Stony Plain Road, Little Village occupies a small, brightly lit space in a strip mall. A few seats are available for those who wish to dine-in, but Little Village primarily offers ready-made meals for take out.

As you walk in you're greeted by large chalkboards and two glass displays with food ready for consumption. While the offerings have some overlap with the food truck (like the lamb sandwich and lemon potatoes), there are also a variety of classic Greek offerings like moussaka, pasticchio, and dolmades.

The chalkboards outline the grilled/rotisserie meat, sandwich, and salad options, while the glass display cases are stocked full of cold side dishes and hot Greek classics. Prices are very reasonable given the quality of ingredients and convenience, so I may just find myself here quite often given the close proximity to my home.

I stopped by with a friend on opening day and I knew I couldn't leave without my favourites - the roasted lamb and lemon roasted potatoes - so we picked up a 1/3 Lamb Shoulder ($14.75). All the rotisserie meats are served with a side of potatoes and tzatziki, rounding out the meal. The lamb had a beautiful crust, was well seasoned, and was fall-off-the-bone tender. The potatoes were soft and packed full of flavour, and everything together was a killer combination.

The Lamb Gyro ($10.50) was also on my radar, stuffed with roasted lamb, vegetables, and herbs. The pita held up well to the combination of ingredients and was fairly filling, but I found myself wanting a side with it.

Last but not least we picked up a portion of Moussaka ($6.50/slice), which I lovingly refer to as lasagna's eggplant cousin. The Little Village Moussaka is loaded with eggplant, tomato, ground beef, and creamy bechamel sauce. The mild flavours blend well together, and makes for pretty good comfort food.

The food truck will still be found at the 124 Street Grand Market and various events around the city in the summer months, but now that Little Village is open, lemon roasted potato lovers can get their fix year round. Trust me, they're that good. Stop by and grab a bite Tuesday through Saturday, 11am - 6pm (530pm on Saturdays!).

Little Village Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Port to Prairie: Grandin Fish 'N' Chips

March 07, 2017

For months Edmontonians have been teased by five little words on the window of the space beside The Common: Fish 'N' Chips Coming Soon. Finally the coverings are off the windows and Chef Jesse Morrison Gauthier's second restaurant is ready to serve his take on a British classic.

Grandin Fish 'N' Chips - 9902 109 Street - Edmonton AB

Located right next door to it's older sister, Grandin Fish 'N' Chips is a fast-casual restaurant serving up fish 'n' chips with a prairie twist. Taking inspiration from dishes in London and the East Coast of Canada, the restaurant hopes to be a modern, sustainable, and health conscious seafood option in Edmonton.

As you walk through the door you'll find yourself below framed chalkboard menus outlining all the restaurant's offerings. When it comes to the fish 'n' chips at Grandin, the classic version features fresh fish coated in tempura batter and served with a side of fries, coleslaw, and tartar sauce. Haddock, Cod, and Basa are always available, and the 'fish of the day' is an additional option. Alternatively, you can ask for your fish to be pan-fried or cooked using a gluten-free batter, both of which are gluten-free options.

As the restaurant is fast-casual there is the option to dine in or ask for your order to go. The dining room can seat roughly 25-30 people and can get quite busy during the lunch rush from 11am-1pm. Dinner time is slightly different with sit-down service, so the pace of your dining experience is more dependent on your server.

The best thing about the restaurant space is the use of nautical-themed decor. I love the contrast between the stark white and blue, especially in the whimsical wallpaper designed by local tattoo artist Heath Smith. There's some fish bait in one corner, a fishing line in another, and there's even a cheesy collage of children and adults with their biggest smiles sharing some of their best catches. The space has a fun, casual vibe, and is a great space for a casual date or to meet with friends for a quick meal.

I met with a friend for lunch and we ordered a couple items to share. First up came the Cod + Chips ($16) with the standard accompaniments. We were surprised to find that for the price there was only one piece of fish, but it was perfectly cooked and flaky inside of the light tempura crust. The cod itself wasn't seasoned, which allowed for the sweetness of the fish to come through, and the fried batter was barely greasy. A quick squeeze of lemon and a dip into the slightly tangy tartar sauce gave the dish all the flavour it needed.

The Haddock + Chips ($14) came next with two pieces of fish and felt like better value given the portion size. It was cooked just like the cod - flaky and coated by a crisp batter. The coleslaw with both orders wasn't much to write home about, and the fries were pretty standard. We ordered a side of Jalapeno Mayo ($1.50) sauce for our fish, but found the kick of heat to pair better with our fries.

In addition to our fish 'n' chips we ordered a side of the Fried Brussel Sprout Bubble and Squeak ($5). I must admit I mostly wanted it just because the name was intriguing, but also because brussel sprouts are delicious! Bubble and Squeak is a traditional English dish made with leftover roasted vegetables fried together with mashed/crushed roasted potatoes. The name comes from the bubbling/squeaking sound that cabbage makes when cooked. This version at Grandin Fish 'N' Chips brings together roasted and caramelized brussel sprouts, parsnips, and potatoes to give you a unique side to accompany your main.

Flaky fish!

Using products from suppliers like Fins Select and Effing Seafoods, you can be assured that your meals at Grandin Fish 'N' Chips are responsibly sourced and sustainable. There is even the option to purchase fresh seafood to take home from the retail case by the entrance of the restaurant. While there are endless dining options in the downtown core, Grandin Fish 'N' Chips is a great addition as a seafood option, so check them out when you're nearby.

Grandin Fish 'N' Chips Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


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