Back in early November I had the opportunity to dine at one of Calgary's most fine dining restaurants, Chef's Table, located in the charming and luxurious Kensington Riverside Inn. It was a fabulous evening of great food and wine, top-notch service and cozy ambiance. Just what my girlfriends and I were needing on a cold winter's November night. Yes, November, which is technically still fall right? NOT winter. I digress...
Recently promoted from sous chef, Chef de Cuisine Christopher Barton had just unveiled his new menu and it did not disappoint. Having spent eighteen months of his professional career in Paris, this young chef is one to watch in this once steak and potatoes only cow town, err Calgary. Of course, this is if we're lucky enough to keep him!
Chef Barton was nice enough to spend some time with me before service so that I could ask him about his new role and experience in the culinary world. Below is our brief interview followed by a visual presentation of my dining experience at Chef's Table. Enjoy!
SLT: How long have you been working in the kitchen?
CB: Eight years
SLT: When did you know that cooking professionally was something that you wanted to pursue?
CB: I started working in kitchens as a part time job, then after taking science and history at Mount Royal University for one year I changed direction and enrolled in the culinary program at SAIT Polytechnic.
SLT: I understand that you've spent some time honing your craft in Pairs. How did this experience change the way you view the culinary profession and what was the best thing about working there?
CB: After finishing my program at Sait I decided to further my education in Paris where I spent eight months in school, followed by ten months of apprenticeship. I had the opportunity to work with two incredibly talented chefs, Michel Troisgros at La Table du Lancaster, Hotel Lancaster and Pascal Barbot at his acclaimed L’Astrance restaurant .
The biggest thing I took away from my experience in France was the incredible respect for the products. Each ingredient is taken very seriously and nothing is overlooked. In terms of the best thing about working there, it would have to be the universal admiration for the culinary profession. Over there, being a chef is just as revered as other notable careers. Also, everyone in France is just so good! The competition is fierce and it makes you work harder.
SLT: What is your favorite thing about the culinary culture in France and what parts of your experience do you hope to share with Calgarians at Chef’s Table?
CB: People in France are so open and trust the suggestions of the chef. They come to dine and want an experience, not just to eat because they’re hungry. Restaurants commonly go without menus and diners aren't always able to go online and choose what you want to eat before they get there. The menu will be posted at the restaurant right before service and will be inspired by what the chef has deemed to be the best products received that day. There is an element of surprise and excitement that people here aren't too comfortable with yet. At Chef’s Table we are hoping to incorporate this approach by hosting more farm to table dinners. I want to show Calgarians that we can still do fine dining without being complicated and fussy, creating dishes that score high points on technicality but are still approachable and taste even better. To me, that is a true chef’s table.
SLT: Who do you look to in the culinary world for career inspiration and why?
CB: I have great respect for both French chefs that I worked for in Paris. I love their culinary philosophy and they have both had a great influence on my style of cooking. Thomas Keller is also a great inspiration for helping shape fine dining in America to what it is today.
SLT: Most memorable dining experiences in your life thus far.
CB: That has to be dining at L’Astrance and Taillevent in Paris. Service like I've never experienced. Truly incredible. Also, when I was growing up, my Dad took a sabbatical and our whole family spent a few months living in the south of France close to Toulon. Fresh markets, local farms, and the food culture of Europe had a profound effect on me.
SLT: What is your favorite type of food to eat that you don’t typically cook at home or work
I really like Japanese Ramen. I am less familiar with ethnic food so that’s what I might eat when I am not cooking.
CB: What are three staple items every home chef should have in their pantry?
Being a chef of French cuisine that answer is pretty simple… Unsalted, good quality butter, kosher salt and REAL good quality olive oil!
SLT: Thank you Chef Barton! :)
Camille Saves Champagne started the evening off right.
Pain d’espice, heirloom squash purée, roasted peppers, cardamom milk, confit hot peppers, caramelized heirloom squash, tat soi.
Wild mushrooms, pea leaves, preserved lemon and thyme brown butter, brie de meaux.
Ocean-Wise Artic Char
Parsnips, candelle lunghi pasta, capers, treviso, arugula, peanuts, brown butter sabayon.
Corn croquette, crispy pork skin with almonds, creamy polenta, spinach, caramelized peach.
I lament that I did not get a photo of the Guinea Fowl - one of my favorite dishes out of the three mains we tried. It was plated beautifully with pommes maxim, apples, liquorices, onion fritter, brussels sprouts, heirloom squash, and spiced yogurt.
Speculaaaaaas. Chocolate, malt, brown butter.
Actually spelled 'Speculaas' , Chef 's Table version of the classic dutch gingerbread was divine.
Citrus. Condensed milk, white chocolate ginger, vacherin. Reminiscent to me of an île flottante, this citrus delight is sure to perk you back up after an evening of dining! The three of us ladies were already quite full after the main course but couldn't pass up sampling these two desserts. Next time I will be sure to try the Valhorna: Valhrona chocolate, espresso, hazelnut, red wine. Sounds seriously seductive, don't you think? Maybe not quite as sexy as the Speculaaaas, but almost! :)
Thank you to my beautiful dining companions, Chef Barton, and the entire staff at both Chef's Table and Kensington Riverside Inn for making this such a fabulous evening! Already looking forward to the next visit.