Chef Paul Shufelt: A glance again at 2017 in Edmonton’s meals scene

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02/01/20182nd January 2018Read for 5 minutes Join the conversation A new restaurant with a great view called The Butternut Tree, by Chef / Owner Scott Downey, in Edmonton, September 29, 2017. Ed Kaiser / Postmedia A new restaurant with a great view called The Butternut Tree, by Chef / Owner Scott Downey, in Edmonton, September 29, 2017. Ed Kaiser / Postmedia

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When the page turns another year and we’re looking forward to 2018, it’s hard not to look back on the past year.

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Last year the Edmonton culinary landscape exploded with some phenomenal new restaurants and bakeries. It also saw the further rise of the next generation of young chefs who helped make our beautiful city known nationwide.

We saw Chef Scott Downey return to Edmonton after years of work and traveling to hone his skills and open up Butternut Tree. Its menu focused on only locally grown and collected ingredients, using advanced techniques and coatings.

Another young chef who tried to push the culinary frontier was Chef Ben Staley, who opened both the Alta and Alder Rooms this year after great anticipation. Unfortunately, Edmonton may not have been quite ready for Ben’s unique culinary concept as Alta closed its doors just a few months after opening.

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Chef and co-owner of the Alder Room, Ben Staley, prepares his beetroot, blueberry, and hay cream dish at the Edmonton, Alberta restaurant on Wednesday, November 1st, 2017.  Photo by Ian Kucerak Chef and co-owner of the Alder Room, Ben Staley, prepares his beetroot, blueberry, and hay cream dish at the Edmonton, Alberta restaurant on Wednesday, November 1st, 2017. Photo by Ian Kucerak Photo by Ian Kucerak /Ian Kucerak / Postmedia

I hope, for Ben’s sake, that Alder Room has a better fortune.

Another place that’s been on the buzz since it opened in January is Chef Ryan Hotchkiss’s restaurant, Bundok.

Bundok on 104 Street in downtown Edmonton always has five unrestricted seats at the bar for regulars on November 22, 2017.  Photo by Shaughn Butts / Postmedia Bundok on 104 Street in downtown Edmonton always has five unrestricted seats at the bar for regulars on November 22, 2017. Photo by Shaughn Butts / Postmedia Photo by Shaughn Butts /Postal media

I haven’t had the pleasure of eating there yet, but those I know in the industry rave about it and I would negligently not put it on a list of the best new places to eat in town.

It’s definitely high on my to-dine list for 2018. Now it’s all about getting in there.

Perhaps the most successful example of taking on the young guard would be Christine Sandford and her efforts in the newly opened Biera.

Although I only had dinner there once, I have to say the food was the best I ate in 2017. As a guy who has packed a lot of food over the years, it’s rare that I’m pleasantly surprised by flavors, and boy was I surprised.

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While she shares a similar avant-garde approach to flavor combinations, plating, and cooking techniques as some of our town’s other young chefs, what sets her apart is that her creations really work.

You can tell that every ingredient in every dish has been carefully thought out. Their flavors are bold and exciting while somehow managing to stay accessible to the average diner, which is not easy to achieve. In my humble opinion, I would be shocked if Biera didn’t make it to the top ten of En Route’s new restaurants in 2018, maybe even first place.

Speaking of En Route’s list, it’s been a stellar year for Edmonton, with three restaurants making it onto the list of the top ten new restaurants in the country. Bar Clementine took fifth Place, whereby Café Linnea took the sixth and the already mentioned Alder Room took the 10th place. This is only the first time Edmonton has had three restaurants in the top ten, with only Rge Rd trumping Clementine in fourth place in 2014. Having not just one but three restaurants on the list this year says a lot about our city’s food scene as well as about the individual restaurants that made it onto the list.

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We’re finally getting recognition as a great food city, and that’s well deserved. It’s been a long way to get here. Chefs like Blair Lebsack from Rge Rd and Daniel Costa from Corso 32 helped put us on the map. It’s our time and I’m very excited to see what 2018 will bring for our city.

Edmonton also hosted arguably the best food and wine festival in our country, when nearly three dozen of the best chefs in our city and country joined over forty of Canada’s best winemakers and brewers for the second edition of Northernlands.

This event gave over 1000 attendees the opportunity to sample such a diverse mix of culinary creations and wines that highlighted our talent in the Canadian food and wine landscape. The weekend also played to several educational events and there was also a collection of 17 different wine evenings that were held on Friday nights that catered for an additional 800 or more guests. I am fortunate to be among the chefs and restaurants that have participated, and I am proud to say that the event was held here in Edmonton.

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For another year, the city hosted Gold Medal Plates, a culinary competition that featured some of the city’s best chefs. The event is a fundraiser in support of our Canadian Olympic athletes.

As always, the City of Edmonton was the first to sell out the event. The competition was tough this year, perhaps one of the best fields of all time. When the dust settled and the points were added up, Chef Shane Chartrand was the winner.

I was delighted that he won the event this year and I really appreciated taking the extensive exercise he did ahead of the event.

He managed to share his trials and sorrows in the weeks leading up to the event and was fun to participate. Look out for him as he competes for gold nationally at the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna this February. I feel like it’s going to be a good year for Shane!

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Closer to home, it’s been a wonderful year for our family at Workshop Eatery. At the beginning of the year I tidied up my home office and came across the business plan that I designed in summer 2015. It was nice to look back and see how far we have come in the last thirty months. We are so blessed by the support of our neighbors and the community and we hope that happiness continues this year.

When we look back, we can’t help but look forward to the coming year. There is just something about changing the calendar that marks the beginning of something new, that makes people look inward and make changes. This year I’ve changed my approach a little. Instead of writing a resolution, I wrote my personal to-do list.

While I won’t go into detail, I would like to say that I hope this action plan gives me more time to spend with the family, focus more on my mental and physical health, and step back a little from everyday tasks so that I can do more with mine Business can work. When you meet me this year, ask me how it’s going.

You and you have a healthy and happy year! May 2018 be your best year yet. Whatever you do, don’t stop eating and local shopping. Your support contributes significantly to our culinary community growing!

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