The Culina Family of restaurants has established quite the foundation in Edmonton. Started in 2004 by self-taught chef Brad Lazarenko, I often wonder if this locally focused restaurant was ahead of its time. Instead of choosing to create another run-of-the-mill Edmonton restaurant, Brad and his sister Cindy (who is behind Culina Highlands), along with business partner Ed Donszelmann (who some may remember from Savoy) decided to showcase their passion for local, delicious grub. Meaning customers could discover locally grown produce and proteins at the same time that area farmers and producers could start to showcase their products in other markets.
Put everything on fast forward until 2010 and we find Edmonton ready to meet the newest member of the family. Quietly opened in December, it seems Brad has been getting his feet comfy at the Muttart Conservatory. A long standing Edmonton landmark, which can be quite the warm refuge on our long winter days, I think it’s great to see this city operated building take a big step up in terms of food. It’s probably safe to say no matter where you live, we’ve all gone to city funded buildings and displays which have been fraught with below average sandwiches and subpar ingredients. With a lot of questions to answer, I was happy to accept an invitation to the official launch this week.
Sarah and I arrived to find the newly opened restaurant empty. Instead, the main atrium, which has access to all four pyramids, was home to Culina suppliers; Yellowhead Brewery, enSanté Winery, The Jam Lady, Mighty Trio Organics, O Sol’ Meatos & The Cheesiry, Pinocchio Ice Cream, Spring Creek Ranch Beef Farm, and Tangle Ridge Ranch. This didn’t seem to be your average hobnob event. Instead, the suppliers brought and served their own products; with the lamb and beef prepared by the Culina staff.
As we walked around, it was great to see our local food community represented. From Maki (In Your Element) to Marianne & Charles (Loosen Your Belt); Sharon & Mack (Only Her for the Food) to the Edmonton Journal’s own Liane Faulder (Eat My Words). As well, I was able to meet the new Yelp Community Manager, Brittany.
While I knew some of the producers going in, I thought the launch provided a very warm and comfortable space to get to know more. From Sean at Might Trio Organics who was whipping up a delicious house salad (quinoa, chickpeas, dried cherries, almonds); to new comers Vicky & Shayne from Tangle Ridge Ranch who were serving some of the best lamb I’ve ever tasted. It was great, as always, to see Rhonda & Brian from O Sol’ Meatos/The Cheesiry, who are a fantastic couple from Kitscoty, Alberta. I really hope Sarah and I can venture out that way this year. On top of delish bites of jam and chutney that was set aside to accompany the meat, I was also able to sample three scoops from Pinocchio Ice Cream; with Tom doling out Prickly Pear, Rhubarb Cream Cheese, and Strawberry & Tarragon flavoured offerings. Bright and refreshing, I could have easily gone back for more.
The night also included short 15 minute tours of the pyramids themselves. This allowed those who participated to learn a little more about edible items in region regin (arid/tropical/temperate). Sarah and I toured through the humid Tropical display and saw pineapples, bananas, coffee, and oranges just to name a few things. I have to say it was a bit strange wondering around in the dark. You never know what’s hiding below the big leafy plants. Eek!
As we finished our tours, and I had my 2nd sampling from both Tangle Ridge and Spring Creek, I have to say that I’m even more stoked for Culina’s newest location. I learned that they’ll be offering fresh baked pastries, homemade soups, salads, and sandwiches (Mon-Fri 10-5), with the infamous Culina brunch happening on weekends and holidays (11-5). I have no doubt that this will be a great addition to the both the river valley and the city. Now, who’s down for brunch?
PS. If you want a great look at brunch, check out Kim’s post from his most recent visit to Edmonton. Looks good to me!