Last week, I was fortunate to be one of the guests at the media opening of SAIT’s new Culinary Campus in downtown Calgary.
Normally, as a food and restaurant writer, I don’t get to write columns covering the ‘social scene,’ but this night was an exception, at least as far as Calgary food celebrities are concerned. Unlike a lot of openings, chefs from other establishments were in attendance. Justin Leboe (of Model Milk, National Beer Hall, Double Zero Pizza and Clive Burger) was there, and I think I spotted Michael Noble of Notable as well. Paul Rogalski of Rouge fame’s presence wasn’t surprising as Mike Dekker, his former Executive Chef at Rouge, has joined the Culinary Campus as one of the instructors.
The food and space were as impressive as the guest list. Each of the stations featured items from the different chefs, and although they swore they didn’t coordinate their dishes, there was a predominant Asian inspiration throughout the various items. There were several different things, but notable items included ceviche-style scallop sushi and a duo of duck that was inspired by bánh mi (Vietnamese submarine sandwiches). Another trend was the use of gels, featured in three different menu items – keep your eyes open for more gels appearing on restaurant menus in the near future.
Outside the Asian theme (can you call it a theme if it wasn’t intentional?) were mushroom soup with a literal custard base (the soup was poured into a bowl that had a layer of custard in the bottom), a foie-gras-wrapped chicken confit canapé, and a wonderful spread of cheese and condiments from Say Cheese Fromagerie (you may be familiar with their regular booth at the Crossroads Farmer’s Market).
Overall, the opening was an very enjoyable evening, and the new Culinary Campus is a welcome addition to downtown Calgary. Located in Scotia Centre, in the space formerly occupied by Rexall Drugs on the second floor, the new branch of the SAIT’s culinary program is definitely a welcome for downtown workers who can’t always get out of the core to get to the much-lauded, virtually-impossible-to-get-into Thursday lunch buffet at the Highwood Dining Room at SAIT’s main campus.
To be clear – they do offer lunch – but it isn’t like the setup at the Highwood. Instead, they feature a small marketplace where you can purchase a light breakfast, or lunch to-go, created by their professional chef students. Daily offerings are divided into four menu categories: Rotisserie, Braise, Sauté and Boulangerie/Patisserie.
As for the educational component, the downtown campus is also more interactive. The public can take classes here too, not just SAIT-enrolled students. They range from “Rush Hour” classes, 45-minutes sessions after work on weekdays, when you can opt to spend your time at the campus learning to master a particular meal, rather than in your vehicle fighting traffic, and when the class is over, you can purchase all the ingredients required to make the meal once you get home. There are classes for kids, classes on baking, kitchen fundamentals and various ethnic cuisines amongst others.
*I live-tweeted the evening through my @DemocraticDiner account, however got the @Culinary_Campus handle wrong every time. Whoops! Apologies to my Twitter followers and SAIT for any confusion. Bad food writer, bad!