Utter the term “Canadian cuisine” and it has a tendency to conjure up thoughts of poutine, back bacon and maple everything. But the soon-to-be-open North 53 (early January) is taking a much more progressive approach to made-in-Canada fare.
The concept goes a step beyond the eat-local movement that has spread through the city’s dining establishments. Head Chef Ben Staley and company have devised a menu for the fine-dining spot that only makes use of ingredients native to Canada—that means no chocolate, no black pepper and no olive oil, to name a few.
At the heart of North 53’s menu is a six-course tasting complete with wine pairing and bites in between courses. A la carte selections will also be available, and dishes will change seasonally to reflect available ingredients. Amongst creations utilizing lamb, poultry and pork from Sangudo Custom Meats and Serben Free Range Farms will be a 45- to 60-day dry-aged rib eye, which will be a menu mainstay accompanied by varying side dishes. There will also be a strong focus on vegetarian dishes, and produce sourced from Alberta and British Columbia will utilize familiar ingredients as well as potentially lesser-known names like sea buckthorn and sunchokes (which were a delicious accompaniment to the lamb tartare accented by bone marrow and pickled onions I was served along with chicken liver pate spread between grilled brioche topped with pickled carrots, chanterelles, radishes and sea bean) sourced from producers such as Heritage Harvest Gardens. As for seasoning and preparation, the team will be using oils such as sunflower, camelina and hemp along with spices like caraway, fennel seeds, mustard seeds and herbs grown in an in-house Urban Cultivator.
“Seasonality’s a big thing for us, so in the summer we were going to a lot of the markets, grabbing things and preserving them, because winter is obviously pretty harsh here, so there’s not a lot available,” explains Staley, 21, who has been working in the food-service industry since he was 12, getting his start in chain restaurants like Joey’s before moving on to Da Capo and the Blue Pear. “We’re trying to use a lot of items that thrive in our climate, so we’re trying to stay away from greenhouses because you can grow anything in a greenhouse, and frankly, they’re pretty inefficient. In the winter they take a lot of power to heat, so we’re trying to use products that have adapted to this climate.”
Staley and sous chef Alex Kagel, who is also 21 and has experience in the kitchen at TZiN and Blue Pear alongside Staley, spent three weeks out in British Columbia sampling hundreds of wines to accompany North 53’s menu. As with all of its producers, Staley and Kagel were looking for people who shared their philosophy towards top quality and who work using responsibility, respective and sustainable methods.
“We’re bringing in eight specifically for us,” says Kagel, who cut short a trip to Europe to come back and work with Staley, noting 75 percent of the wine list is Canadian. “One hundred percent of our beers are Canadian as well, so we’re not using any big brands, so no big wines. It’s amazing the quality of wines you get from BC … most people think Canadian wine isn’t that great, but there are world-class wines over there. You can get world-class product anywhere where you have somebody who cares.”
It’s an ambitious concept for a young team—owner Kevin Cam is 24—but Staley and Kagel aren’t phased. They want to offer Edmonton, and all ages of clientele, a dining experience that is interactive and offers a more casual, approachable take on fine dining
“We have a new outlook on things, whereas a lot of older chefs, they stay to their classic techniques and do it the way it’s always been done,” Kagel notes.
“There’s nothing wrong with traditional food by any means,” Staley adds. “Personally, I find the skeptics as motivation to prove them wrong.”
North 53 is currently taking reservations starting January 15 at north53.ca.