Right now a group of chefs, some from right in town and others from farther abroad, have gathered in Kananaskis for the final part of Cook it Raw. Over the next few days they will delve deep into Alberta’s food history, sustainability and current practices.
You may have heard about Cook it Raw, perhaps seen some of the hashtags flitting around social media or read one of the stories published about it. But unless you’re fairly entrenched in the food scene (and maybe not even then), you might still be wondering what it’s really all about.
Cook it Raw’s website describes it as “an annual gathering that brings internationally recognized and emerging chefs together with dedicated producers, community leaders, academics and cultural producers to discuss and explore the politics of food through four guiding principles—environment, tradition, creativity and collaboration.” It was founded in 2009 by Alessandro Porcelli, an internationally renowned chef who has hosted the avant-garde culinary gathering in seven previous locations spanning the globe: from Copenhagen to the Yucatan Peninsula, Lapland to Ishikawa Prefecture.
Unpacking that a little bit further, Cook it Raw is essentially a “by chefs, for chefs” series of culinary events in which both local and international chefs team up to explore a region’s food scene on a very personal level. These events were not open to the public, save for a dinner on October 11 at Rouge Restaurant in Calgary, which will feature 50 guests and all 21 participating chefs.
Alberta’s version of Cook it Raw diverges a little bit from the previous incarnations in that our food story differs from the ones encountered previously: we are, quite literally, a new frontier in food.
“The unique thing that’s happening here is we’re not bound in tradition; you don’t have to do this sauce this way because that’s how it’s been done for the last X number of years,” Tannis Baker says. “It’s not that sort of handed-down tradition that many sort of European or sort of Old World countries will have, that we just don’t really have here.”
Baker is the executive director of the Alberta Culinary Tourism Alliance (ACTA), which has helped organize Cook it Raw and will be spearheading some of the ongoing initiatives arising from it. The first major part of Alberta’s incarnation was held in May on Cucumber Island in Lac La Biche, where a gathering of local chefs spent a few days camping, foraging, fishing and getting quite literally down and dirty with our province’s wild foods. As previously mentioned, the second major part is happening right now in Kananaskis, which will culminate in a small plated event at SAIT, featuring the 21 chefs participating in Cook it Raw and 50 guests, including winners of a social media contest that took place throughout the summer.
Cook it Raw also includes a series of seven Alberta food stories as uncovered by a trio of chefs (two local, one international) exploring one of our province’s main foodstuffs: beef, bison, Red Fife wheat, root vegetables, saskatoon berries, honey and canola. Those can be found on ACTA’s YouTube channel (youtube.com/albertayum). ACTA will also be hosting a series of Culinary Trails events next year, legacy pieces that will try to capture the energy and knowledge coming out of Cook it Raw.
“Our goal for this really is how do we put Alberta on the map?” Baker says. “We have something in spades that we don’t see in other markets, which is the collaboration piece. It is very difficult to go to many other markets to find people that genuinely want to work together and to help each other and to do things like these, and not view it as a competition.
“Our food scene is coming of age and it takes a while; obviously the [places] that will have more recognition are the ones with larger population bases,” she continues. “I kind of take a look at it and say our turn is next. We are absolutely on the radar for many places, but it’s how do we get on more people’s radar? How do we take that next leap so that circle of influence is increased?”