Jan. 25, 2012 - Issue #849: Blind Date
Driving Prairie Bistro's culinary triumphs
The Enjoy Centre
101 Riel Dr, St Albert
The Enjoy Centre in St Albert comprises a thoughtful selection of independent businesses that range from grocery stores to gift shops and garden supplies. The brightly lit and capacious building also houses Prairie Bistro, which rapidly gained prominence and stature as a proponent of locally-produced food that is treated with proper care and served in manners most creative, be they simple dishes like sandwiches and freshly-squeezed fruit juices or complex entrees like roasted squash cassoulet and duck leg confit. General manager Julianna Mimande and executive chef Shaun Hicks are two driving forces behind Prairie Bistro's remarkable culinary and philosophical triumphs.
The shared history of Mimande and Hicks predates their involvement at Prairie Bistro. Mimande, a cookbook author and experienced restaurateur, explains, "We knew each other through mutual friends. I was working at [now defunct restaurant] Bacon; it was fun and we were successful, but I eventually had to move on. The people at Prairie Bistro tracked me down and I contacted Shaun because I knew it would be magical if he came and worked here. He did, and it is."
NAIT-trained Hicks's enviable resume spans a number of Edmonton landmarks, including the Sugar Bowl, Hardware Grill and Union Bank Inn. He worked at the Jasper Park Lodge and helped launch Muse in Calgary before relocating to the Canadian culinary hubs of Montréal and, subsequently, Vancouver. "Vancouver became my home," he recollects, "and I did everything there from shucking oysters to working for a coffee machine distributor. Julianna contacted me about the Prairie Bistro opportunity but I wasn't sure I was ready to come back to my hometown of Edmonton. I mean, I could walk down my street and pick a pear in Vancouver!"
Mimande instantly recognized Hicks's impending sacrifice, for a Vancouver to St Albert move would be a stark departure from the richly layered food scene of the West Coast. "But ultimately I made the move," affirms Hicks. He was greeted with a revitalized and upstart culinary culture in the Capital Region, which was a distinct and heartening change from the city he remembered. "I found a new group of people in Edmonton that were learning to make local food again," he confirms.
Indeed, a passion for local food is the cornerstone of Prairie Bistro. Mimande explains that, although it is a lofty goal, 100 percent usage of local food is unfeasible. "We're trying to be realistic about using local food. It's hard sometimes for farmers to make deliveries and pricing can be outrageous." She notes, though, that the vast majority of Prairie Bistro's meat, eggs and grain products are locally produced. "It's legit," she states, "and the farmers are conscious of how they operate and what they do." Hicks relates that the Hole family has their own farm and that the family remains actively involved in produce procurement. "Val and Bill Hole pick the produce in their garden and are really behind the concept of growing as much as they can," says Hicks. He adds that, given the seasonal and capricious nature of fruit and veg, the garden's offerings are often a surprise. "It's like a 'black box' where you are constantly surprised," says Hicks.
Prairie Bistro and The Enjoy Centre have experienced significant traffic since they opened in the spring of 2011. Mimande explains, with respect to the attention and interest garnered by the Centre, as well as about life in general, that, "It's easy to get caught up in the daily hubbub, but at Prairie Bistro we have a unique opportunity to educate everyone who passes through here."
Hicks adds, "Hopefully we inspire people to enjoy things that they might not think they like, like Brussels sprouts. My mentality with all those foods is to just leave them—you don't need to do much to them for their natural flavours to shine."
Mimande concurs and notes that the support and vision of the Hole family made Prairie Bistro a reality. "We must bring it back to the Holes. They are a phenomenal family." vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
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