Cook It Raw event highlights Alberta’s culinary scene

Earth oven made by Blair Lebsack (Rge Rd, Edmonton), Kevin Kossowan (StoryChaser Productions, Edmonton), Brayden Kozak (Three Boars, Edmonton) and Alessandro Porcelli (Cook It Raw)

Earth oven made by Blair Lebsack (Rge Rd, Edmonton), Kevin Kossowan (StoryChaser Productions, Edmonton), Brayden Kozak (Three Boars, Edmonton) and Alessandro Porcelli (Cook It Raw)

What does Alberta have in common with Copenhagen, Denmark; Collio, Italy; Lapland, Finland; Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan; Suwalki, Poland; Charleston, United States; and Yucatan, Mexico?

Each has hosted renowned Chef Alessandro Porcelli as a site for his Cook it Raw events!

Cook it Raw is a gathering of top avant-garde and emerging chefs to find unique dining experiences that explore the culture and natural ingredients of a region. Hosted with partner Alberta Culinary Tourism Alliance, Alberta joins an exclusive group of exceptional culinary destinations . Each event is captured on video and shared with a global audience through the Cook It Raw website.

“The distinctiveness of the Alberta landscape, its richly diverse population and the relative newness of its gastronomic culture all make for a compelling story that the culinary world will be eager to discover” – director and founder Alessandro Porcelli

Cook It Raw Alberta is described as “the shaping of a culinary frontier”, with the first gathering held May 19 to 22 with 14 local chefs exploring and cooking up Alberta-authentic fare. International chefs will join local chefs in Canmore/Kananaskis in September who will continue to explore the possibilities of Albertan cuisine and how we can connect with where our food comes from.

After touring the province and spending time digging into Alberta’s culinary roots, we asked Chef Alessandro to describe Cook it Raw and his experience in Alberta so far.

Why did you start Cook It Raw?

I started Cook It Raw because I wanted to bring chefs back to a ‘raw’ state of mind during a period when technology dominated the global culinary mindset. Textures and sensations were becoming more important than deliciousness. All of the food conferences that I attended were very ascetic —no contact with ingredients, food. The most interesting aspect to me was what was happening behind the scenes with the chefs. This is what I wanted to bring attention to. I had a great opportunity to showcase this while I was working as a consultant for the Ministry of Economic and Business Affairs in Denmark. The UN Climate Summit was coming up and I was asked to come up with a new concept linking environmental issues with food. This is how Cook It Raw was born.

What brought you to check out Alberta and our culinary scene?

I was interested in what Connie DeSousa and John Jackson from Charcut Roast House in Calgary were doing and I invited them to join us for Cook It Raw in Charleston. They introduced me to the Alberta Culinary Tourism Alliance team while at the Terroir Symposium in Toronto, and our relationship began there. I [visited Alberta] last summer to tour the area and I was very impressed with the level of talent and enthusiasm that I encountered throughout the region. There is world-class culinary talent here.

Blair Lebsack's (Rge Rd, Edmonton) Red Fife bread baked in the earth oven

Blair Lebsack’s (Rge Rd, Edmonton) Red Fife bread baked in the earth oven

Why Lac La Biche and what did you and the 14 Alberta chefs do at the May gathering event?

We wanted to take the chefs somewhere remote and where they had likely been before. The retreat was primarily about bonding as a group, so we wanted a place with no distractions. We decamped to Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park on Lac La Biche and spent three days cooking, camping and bonding through various activities, including a sweat lodge ceremony, group discussions and the breakdown of a freshly-killed bison from a nearby farm.

Fire grill at ‘Cucumber Island’, Lac La Biche

Fire grill at ‘Cucumber Island’, Lac La Biche

What can we look forward to at the Cook It Raw gathering in September?

We’re headed to the Canmore/Kananaskis region for a gathering that will include our 14 local chefs from Edmonton, Calgary and Canmore, as well as seven international chefs and media people. The whole group will be split into seven teams, each with an assigned local ingredient that they will investigate, explore and create with.

Lac La Biche Lake-caught Pike cooking on the Island fire grill

Lac La Biche Lake-caught Pike cooking on the Island fire grill

After the May gathering with Alberta chefs, now how would you describe Alberta’s culinary scene? What have you discovered?

Apart from the excellent ingredients and the natural elements, I found the humbleness of the chefs and their willingness to collaborate and mentor each other. Also, the diversity of restaurants is impressive – everyone seems to have his/her own vision. I was amazed by the story of canola oil – an oil that is unique to this region and Canada as a whole.

Chef Alessandro discusses what Alberta cuisine means with 14 local chefs

Chef Alessandro discusses what Alberta cuisine means with 14 local chefs

What are you hoping Cook It Raw events in Alberta will accomplish?

To create a sense of camaraderie and mentorship and to coax chefs to think more out of the box and strive to strengthen the regional culinary culture so it can be rightfully recognized on a worldwide level.

Cook It Raw Participants, Lac La Biche, Alberta

Cook It Raw Participants, Lac La Biche, Alberta

What is your favourite dish you’ve tasted in Alberta so far?

The best thing I’ve eaten I have to say is the brown trout with fennel salad at Daniel Costa’s restaurant Corso 32, in Edmonton. So amazingly delicious!

More information will be posted on www.cookitraw.org; from now to September, you can join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Use #rawAlberta and share your favourite local ingredients or a recipe.

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