Yesterday flowed seamlessly from world-class jumping horses to a western-inspired evening for me. I wrapped up my shift at the Western Horse Review booth at Spruce Meadows Masters and hustled to the Hyatt Regency in downtown Calgary to take part in a special Chef\’s Tasting that I had been invited to attend at the newly renovated Thomsons restaurant.
Thomson\’s stunning new decor features the western fine art photography of Joanne Meeker – an exclusive set of pieces shot by the photographer at the Diamond 7 Ranch, which is incidentally also the seasonal naturally-raised beef supplier of Thomsons. The oversized sepia portraits of western life, ranching and horses meld beautifully with the brick and sandstone architecture of the dining room and lounge, transforming it into a warm and vintage space.
I landed a seat next to these two cowgirls – Amie Peck (right) and Laura Laing (left). They had just finished a day of riding with Glen Stewart (they clean up well, don\’t they!), and were full of inspirations and stories to tell of their journey through the five-day clinic. Laura is the Ranch Manager at the Diamond 7, and Amie is Marketing and Administrating Coordinator. To the left of Laura sits Lindsay Goldthorpe, Marketing Manager for the Hyatt – undoubtedly tweeting about the latest dish we had been served up.
Ah, yes, the food. About the food.
. . . to one of Amie\’s favorites, a house smoked Alberta double pork chop, with rosemary and garlic, a celeriac and dried apricot puree, barley, beluga lentils and white beans and finally, a pickled apple.
The dish above features the grass-fed, grain finished beef of Diamond 7. In the background is Chef Darren Keogh who spent a lot of time seriously appraising his diner\’s reactions, and asking questions like \”how\’s the density of the pasta [in the duck confit pasta]? . . . is it too thick? . . . I worry it is. . \”
No, Chef Darren, the pasta is ala-perfecto.
Being Irish, he also explained the nuances of the rivalry between Cork and Dublin (rather like Edmonton and Calgary, only bloodier), and that one wouldn\’t say \”awesome\” in Ireland, but \”sound,\” as in \”he\’s a sound character.\”
Rather like we do in horse lingo.
He also shared that his favorite cheesecake is his homemade Toblerone and Bailey\’s Cream – a no-bake version he\’s forced (grin) to make several batches of every Christmas.
And then it was indeed dessert time. As if we could stuff anymore into our already brimming tummies. But we did. No-one could resist sharing a bit of two versions of creme brulee (one with bourbon!), a flourless chocolate cake with homemade ice-cream and an amazingly sound cheesecake.
When it finally came time to roll my overflowing-with-gratitude-for-beautiful-food-self home, I was gifted with a copy of the book, The Life is Art, A Photographic Journey of Ranching in Western Alberta, again, featuring the photography of Joanne Meeker, and a jar of something labelled Bulls Blood Beet Jam, homemade by Chef Darren himself. Hmmmm, perhaps more on that later.
What I love about Thomsons? Well, in addition to the fact that I actually had the opportunity to share a Chef\’s Table with Calgary\’s food critic and author, John Gilchrist – a small thrill in itself . . . I think this: the western vibe, and the free-range creativity of the menu – the pride of the restaurant is all about local and sustainable food, and chefs source from a lot of the same producers I\’ve featured in the Food of the West column in the magazine, such as Valbella Meats, Noble Farms, Hotchkiss, Sylvan Star Cheese, Highwood Crossing and of course, Diamond 7. It\’s a trend which continues to gain traction, and one I feel very strongly about supporting, both when dining out and playing my own version of Chef at home.
Lastly, it might be argued that Calgary rarely feels very bound to its western roots in contemporary times, but last night, amidst the fantastic food, leather bound ranch chairs, rich decor and western art, chatting \”horse\” with two gals, I truly gained the sense that Cowtown had finally come home – at least to this unique corner of downtown.