YYC Food and Drink Experience all about making the best in Calgary food accessible, affordable
From March 17th to 26th, the culinary festival for good food, good drinks and unique cooking and restaurant experiences will also take place in 2023.
YYC Food and Drink Experience celebrates some of Calgary’s best restaurants and brings a Michelin-starred and Top Chef winner to town, an exclusive wine and ranch-to-table event, a pop-up experience of the northern Italian gastronomy and the combination of blues and bourbon to finish.
The festival also features fixed-price menus, designed to provide an affordable way to visit some of the city’s restaurants while also experiencing some unique culinary creations made just for the festival. Lunch starts at $25 or $35, three-course meals are $35 or $45, and the festival’s “Gourmet Masterpieces” are $65 and $75.
“It’s a really great offer and a really great time to go out and try new restaurants that you’ve always wanted to try. Everything is curated to make everything fit together,” said Irena Knorr, Culinary Marketing Strategies director of culinary programming.
“There’s no guesswork involved in figuring out what to order, as the chefs put their heart and soul into making these.”
Those heart-and-soul experiences include Michelin-starred chef and owner of Vancouver’s St. Lawrence, Jean-Christophe Poirier, who, along with Riverside Cafe Executive Chef Scott MacKenzie, shared an evening with his of France and Quebec inspired creations and its kitchen team.
“It’s a beautiful restaurant and very Canadian in my opinion, centered around maple syrup like the menu we’re going to be putting together,” said Chef Poirier.
“When I was growing up, my grandfather had one [sugar shack] when I was young… and we’re celebrating one of the best products we have in Canada.”
Knorr said that working with chefs like Poirier and recent Top Chef Canada winner Tre Sanderson in Calgary, and collaborating with some of the city’s resident chefs, is all about advancing the culinary scene.
“We also have some award-winning restaurants here—big ones that are also on Canada’s top 100 lists. These chefs all work together, they cook together and they get inspiration from each other,” she said.
“The great thing about inviting the visiting chefs is that they spend a day in the kitchen with the Calgary chefs, both sharing ideas and getting inspiration from each other, which drives what we see here in Calgary.”
Having some amazing meals
Chef Poirier said he would combine a variety of different flavors in perhaps unexpected ways.
Among those dishes on the menu he created was a traditional Quebec favorite, split pea soup, but with maple syrup-marinated redfish instead of bacon.
Another interesting variant is the tourtière, which usually uses pork, beef or veal. His version will use grilled saddle of venison, pickled fruit and a vegetable ketchup.
“All the flavors are there, it’s like a little more finesse, a little more to bring more technique into it,” said Poirier.
These experiments, spanning more than 25 years in the kitchen, said Chef Poirier, have led him to create the dishes that have earned him one of Canada’s few Michelin stars. St. Lawrence is one of only 22 restaurants in the US to have 2023 stars.
“When I cook, it’s not always like we get it the first time. it’s not like that,” he said.
“It’s one mistake after another and eventually we get there after the third or fourth time. And then, as I go, those flavors kind of get etched into my brain, so it becomes a little bit easier.”
He said he’s excited to come to Calgary to promote both the flavors of Vancouver and Quebec and French cuisine.
“It’s very humbling and I’m so happy to be here. All of these dinners I do throughout the year are always great to get a little bit out of Vancouver and promote what we’re doing at the restaurant in another city.”
Donald House, Managing Director for Culinary Marketing Strategies, said he was thrilled to have Chef Sanderson come to Calgary after winning Top Chef Canada.
“He’s never been here and is looking forward to seeing the culinary team and making new friends,” House said.
“So I think it’s important for the culture of the city not only to celebrate and promote what we have, but also to bring in fresh blood, share ideas and make new friends.”
Chef Sanderson will work with Fortuna’s Row Executive Chef Mikko Tamarra to host a multi-course brunch.
Experience helps restaurants and diners
Knorr said the YYC Food and Drink Experience was months in the making. The festival last took place in February 2020 before the start of the pandemic.
She said this year’s festival was made possible by the work and funding invested by the Calgary Downtown Association, Calgary Tourism and Travel Alberta to onboard restaurants.
House said the festival comes at a time when interest in food is rising.
“We’re definitely seeing a huge resurgence of pre-pandemic people wanting to get out. They’ll be doing long tables, group dining, and standing receptions — we haven’t done that in years,” he said.
“These are some of the first collaborations chefs have done post-pandemic.”
House said there has also been a shift in fine dining. Gone are the white tablecloths, lumbering service and old-fashioned menus.
“Even the top restaurants are much more accessible. Major Tom [Restaurant] upstairs makes a killer burger, and I think one of the things is that it doesn’t have to be formal or super-crazy expensive to have a culinary celebration,” he said.
“Here at Barbarella [Bar], you will have a pizza and a crudo in a beautiful space, a product of the highest quality. I think to be more approachable and less formal and just be more celebratory.”
For a full list of the 70 participating restaurants in the 2023 YYC Food and Drink Experience, visit foodanddrinkexp.com/calgary/restaurants.