Chefs gather on Cucumber Island for part one of Cook it Raw 2015: Alberta
by Mary Bailey
The Alberta Cook it Raw journey begins on Cucumber Island in Winston Churchill Park, Lac la Biche, on a glorious weekend in late May.
The idea? Put several of Alberta’s top chefs together in an isolated place to get to know each other. Why? To experience Alberta’s food culture on the land.
It was a smoky and delicious couple of days. The fish were jumping. There were colossal stuffed pike cooked over an open fire along with charred root vegetables and spring greens; a tub of watercress was kept cool in the lake. There was time to catch up, for walks around the island and canoeing. Only chefs were allowed in the sweat lodge on the second day. All seemed transformed when they came out. Was it the smoky heat or the experience? Or both.
“I started Cook It Raw because I wanted to bring chefs back to a ‘raw’ state of mind,” says founder Alessandro Porcelli. “Textures and sensations were becoming more important than deliciousness. All of the food conferences that I attended were very ascetic—no contact with ingredients, food. The most interesting aspect was what was happening behind the scenes with the chefs. This is what I wanted to bring attention to.”
Alessandro was interested in Connie and John Jackson’s approach at their restaurant Charcut and invited them to Cook it Raw in Charleston.
“We were cooking with people we didn’t know in an unfamiliar place,” says Connie. “It was uncomfortable; then it was great.”
Connie and John then introduced Alessandro to the Alberta Culinary Tourism Alliance (ACTA) when ACTA brought Alberta chefs to the Terroir Symposium in Toronto. Seeing an opportunity with Cook it Raw to launch Alberta cuisine on to the global stage, ACTA brought the avant garde program to the province in 2015.
Food culture marries tradition, technique, customs, ingredients and people. Food culture is what grows here, and what people bring to that. Ours is rich—think in terms of aboriginal traditions and practices, settlers who brought farming and ranching, modern immigration. Japanese, Chinese, Celtic, Nordic, English, French, European, middle-Eastern, Mediterranean, Caribbean, east Asian, south Asian, Latin, who hasn’t contributed?
On the last night of the Lac La Biche experience chefs were paired with an Alberta ingredient and producer. Over the summer each team will work on creating iconic dishes, then come together as a group this fall in Canmore and the Kananaskis region to collaborate with seven international chefs. Their work will be celebrated at Cook it Raw dinners in Calgary and Edmonton this fall.
Why Alessandro Porcelli and Cook it Raw?
These chefs are already at the forefront of Alberta’s culinary scene, interpreting our food identity in their restaurants and kitchens, but doing it for the most part as individuals. Cook it Raw allows them to work collectively. Like the wake of a canoe, what the chefs learn from their Cook it Raw exploration ripples through their kitchens and beyond.
“We’re Canadian, we’re humble, we don’t really know what we have here,” says Tannis Baker, the executive director of Alberta Culinary Tourism Alliance.
“Sometimes it takes an outsider to say ‘wow, look at this!’
At its core, Cook It Raw Alberta is a mentorship program helping chefs, producers and farmers identify the materials and techniques unique to our region in order to craft a compelling culinary narrative that resonates with a global audience.”
The September Teams
- Blair Lebsack, Rge Rd, and Cam Dobranski, Brasserie Kensington: root vegetables
- Brayden Kozak, Three Boars and Paul Rogalski, Rouge: bison
- Connie DeSousa, Charcut Roast House and Duncan Ly, Yellow Door Bistro: honey
- Shane Chartrand, Sage and Andrew Winfield, River Café, Andrew: red fife wheat
- Scott Pohorelic, SAIT, and John Michael MacNeil, Black Pig Bistro: Saskatoon berries
- Darren Maclean, Shokunin, and Liana Robberecht, Winsport: canola
- Eden Hrabec, Crazyweed, and Justin Leboe, Model Milk: beef
The Public Campaign: Alberta Culinary Ambassadors
Be a part of Cook it Raw. What does Alberta food look like to you? Visit http://www.cookitraw.org/cook-it-raw-alberta-public-campaign/ to enter to win a spot at the invite-only dinner.
All photos by Mary Bailey.