O’Flynn’s Bold Take on Canadian Cuisine

Using uniquely Canadian ingredients and applying Aboriginal cooking techniques, chef Ryan O’Flynn looks to take a hotel restaurant to new heights.

The Innisfail goat cheese and Okanagan beets are bright; underneath the colourful skin, there’s a mousse-like texture.

So many times, food writers are invited to tastings or menu debuts – and the chef will talk about his or her vision, and how the dishes on the table all tie together.

And, many times, we enjoy the food, nod politely, but really just don’t get it. The flavours are great, sure, but we can’t follow the story the chef is trying to tell.

That isn’t the case when it comes to the vision of national Gold Medal Plate-winning chef Ryan O’Flynn, who will officially debut the new menu at the Westin’s Share restaurant with a kickoff event on July 15. He’s still experimenting with a few things, but from what I had the chance to enjoy last night, not only are the dishes inventive – but you really can pick up on the story that O’Flynn is trying to tell.

And what is that story? O’Flynn wants to show us what Canadian cuisine can be. He’s traveled Canada looking for ingredients, from morel mushrooms to sturgeon to birch syrup that costs $380 per litre. He’s gone to Lac La Biche, felled a pine tree, then stripped it so he can use the wood chips to smoke sturgeon, and then the nettles and sap to flavour his foie gras. He’s gone north to study the ancient cooking methods of the Dene, and he’s going to bake bannock in house, milling his own flour from dried corn. He studied how Aboriginal communities prepare bison by burying it and letting the meat cook under soil. He’s now trying to recreate that in the kitchen, prepping bison in an oven, but smoking it while its buried under soil and birch branches.

This would be an adventurous reach if this was a standalone restaurant. But, for a hotel restaurant to take these kind of culinary risks, well that’s crazy.

Nasser Nammari, the Westin’s director of food and beverage, said it’s all about the prestige – to allow a nationally recognized chef create something that’s truly unique.

“Hotel restaurants are dying, there’s no denying that,” he said. So, ironically, the fact that hotels aren’t necessarily propping up their restaurants has given the Westin a unique opportunity to redirect some of its budget – some of it was originally meant to change office carpeting – into Share. Why? To be frank, it’s a shot in the dark; if it works, great. If it doesn’t, well,  hotel restaurants aren’t expected to be successful.

“Edmonton has a lot of meat and potatoes restaurants, and we did not want to be a part of that,” said Namari.

“Lots of TLC was put into this,” said O’Flynn, who is still working on perfecting some of the dishes. “This is a real Canadian menu.”

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