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November 20, 2019

Style Q&A: Carla Alexander

Carla Alexander transforms MRKT from restaurant to catwalk.

Photography by Aaron Pedersen/3Ten Photo; styling by Jared Tabler; Hair by Cassie Walters and Makeba Lindsay of Mousy Browns; Makeup by Nickol Walkemeyer

For a woman who spends all day on her feet, Carla Alexander sure does wear stylish shoes – by designer John Fluevog, no less. It’s a glamorous addition to the shoe sanctuary in her closet.

She says, “There’s nothing like that rubber sole” – or she might mean “soul,” perhaps the word that best defines the co-owner and head chef of MRKT.

She’s also the co-founder of Soul Soup, a place that warmed the city like a blanket for four years before closing its small doors for MRKT’s bigger ones on Jasper Avenue and 105th Street. With partner Sal Di Maio, who co-owns Red Star Pub and Halo Lounge in the building’s lower level, Alexander launched a space framed by warm, cedar timber that patrons say makes it look like the inside of a wine barrel or an upside-down canoe.

At lunchtime, it’s a chic cafeteria for hustling, bustling downtowners who celebrate nabbing seats at MRKT’s
communal-style tables; by night, it’s a relaxed wine bar specializing in small plates. “It’s great to sit back and break bread with friends, and pick and eat with your hands if you need to,” says Alexander.

Before her two ventures, Alexander learned her culinary craft at NAIT, and spent many years apprenticing and working at restaurants Packrat Louie Kitchen & Bar, Manor Casual Bistro and Culina. When the snow starts to melt, she slips out of her apron and gets dolled up for the farmers’ market, where “people are surprised I work in a kitchen,” she says. There, she sources fresh, local ingredients and connects with people year-round, which is at the soul of her epicurean endeavours.

What’s your favourite dish to make at MRKT?

I love cooking and I don’t really have a favourite, but we have this boneless Alberta braised beef rib from Spring Creek Ranch, and we braise it in Coca-Cola with lots of ginger. So it’s sweet and salty and caramelized.
With that comes the softest, silkiest, smoothest Polenta in the world, and that’s what I love making each time. For order, we’ll put a little bit in the pan, with a dollop of butter and a handful of asiago cheese, and then we whip it with a whisk, and it’s the most buttery, flavourful, savoury dish.

What do you eat at home?

I keep it simple – a lot of vegetables, funky salads, sandwiches and soup. Food is meant to be shared, so when there’s no one to feed I don’t really feel hungry anymore. It’s more about making it and sharing it.

I don’t know how else to take care of people. So, I just feed them. When people are sick, I feed them. If they have great loss, the only thing I can think about is food because it’s what I know, and it’s comforting, and it’s from the heart, and it’s soulful.

Do you ever eat any frozen dinners?

No!

Is that a sin?

It is, though I think all chefs have guilty pleasures. I will not lie – when I’m feeling hungover, or not myself, or just ridiculously hormonal, I’ll take Velveeta – I can’t believe I’m sharing this – Velveeta and Kraft shells. You know the little blocks with the liquid cheese? It’s terrible. And then, I throw in a can of tomatoes and mix it all together in a big bowl that I pretty much balance on my chest and eat from, while I lay on the couch watching chick flicks.

Do you have any top-secret recipes that you’ll never share?

No, I’ve always shared my recipes. But, I have a trick – I’m kind of half-assed with my sharing. I never give measurements. And there’s always a little technique or something that I won’t share. My mother’s always on me for that.

Have you ever thought of writing your own recipe book?

I’ve actually been working on that for two years. I’ve been slowly mapping out how I would want to put it together, focusing on a lot of soup, but also on a lot of great rustic dishes, and sharing some ideas from the restaurant.

Do you see a tie between food and fashion?

I do. I have to say, we’ve got the most stylish, funkiest 20-something to 50-something demographic at MRKT. I’ll come out from the kitchen, and I’ll see someone walk to the washroom, and they look like they’re on
the runway. I find that our clientele are some of the best-dressed people in the city.

How does fashion play into your work?

When I come to work, my hair is always pulled back, and I always wear the same thing. I have about seven black shirts, four black skirts, five black pairs of pants, and then MRKT has about 15 black aprons. So, I don’t really get to bust out my “coolness.”

What would you say you’re known for, style-wise, when you’re not working?

I try to look my best and I try to make an impression. Maybe it’s more about being social; I’m a little bit of an extrovert. When I do go out, I wear great pairs of shoes, and colour – colour is sort of my thing. I’ve been wearing great, ruby red heels, or a really cool wrap boot, with great jeans. I also have this faux fur vest that I’ve been sporting for a while, so that gets some reactions.

Where do you shop in Edmonton?

I shop at gravitypope, because I’m sort of a sucker for John Fluevog. I have a shrine of his shoes at home. He makes the only shoe that I can wear that looks awesome, but still allows me to run for the bus. And if I have a good two to three hours, I’ll check out Value Village and Army & Navy. I like C’est Sera very much, too. I like to mix good, modest pieces with something expensive, but I’m also a four-shirts-for-$25 kind of girl.

Who do you look to for style inspiration?

Honestly, it’s other women in this city who inspire me when it comes to style. Even things I know that I can never pull off, or that I would never wear, I love how fashionably people present themselves.

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