Leafing through an issue of Calgary’s City Palate magazine while sipping on a coffee has become a fairly routine thing for me to do after a weekend trip to a local farmers’ market.
On this particular weekend, though, the magazine in my hands is truly a milestone as the publication commemorates its 25th year. Launched by three passionate women from different corners of the Calgary food scene back in 1993 – Kathy Richardier, Gail Norton and Ellen Kelly, respectively – City Palate has proved to be a significant part of the foundation of the city’s food community.
Ms. Richardier, the editor and owner, was born in Philadelphia and found her way to Calgary in the mid 1980s rather accidentally by way of living in Europe. After returning to North America, she and her former husband took their French-speaking skills and moved to Quebec for a short while before he decided to opt for a transfer and head out West. It was here she happily stayed.
Though, upon arrival, Ms. Richardier recalls a food scene that (not surprisingly) was not nearly as diverse as it is today.
“Steak, pizza, Italian and La Chaumière … it was all okay, but it wasn’t like the other parts of the world,” she says. “Places were talking about their chefs and their interesting restaurants, but Calgary wasn’t.”
In 1986, she began writing restaurant reviews for the local newspaper and really delving into the restaurant world. The position garnered her plenty of attention, both in embrace and spite as is typical with that kind of role, but also allowed her to watch the city grow and see what potential the media market had for new, forward-thinking food-media ventures.
After a short trip to Vancouver, she discovered a then-new magazine on the coast, Vancouver City Food. When she returned to Calgary, she sat down with Ms. Norton, who owns and operates The Cookbook Co., and their chef friend Ms. Kelly and broached the idea of starting their own local food and drink publication.
“I knew a lot of people and so did Gail, and Ellen was a great chef,” explains Ms. Richardier on their newly formed partnership. “We got the first issue put together and talked to some people, they thought it was a good idea … and do you know what? It worked.”
Their first issue in the fall of 1993 debuted at various restaurants and shops around the city. Paging through the original issue that Ms. Richardier brought to me at our lunch of reminiscing, ads for long-gone and before-my-time concepts such as Cajun Charlie’s are peppered throughout. There are still plenty of familiar names such as Good Earth (just a single coffee house back then), Lina’s Italian Market and Teatro, the latter two of which also share the same anniversary as City Palate.
The ads may mostly represent times and restaurants gone by, but the core focus of the magazine, providing intel on the local scene as well as beverage insight and an array of recipes, hasn’t changed in a quarter of a century.
“Once the magazine had been out for a little while, we noticed Calgarians really, really wanted to know about food,” Ms. Richardier recalls. “Restaurants, cooking, wine … this, that and the other thing. … We would take their ideas or suggestions and move with them and we still do that today.”
The magazine grew in popularity over the years and even expanded to Edmonton, where it was overseen by writer Mary Bailey before it evolved into her own food and drink magazine, The Tomato. Today, City Palate prints 36,000 copies bimonthly and is distributed to more than 300 businesses in and around Calgary. You can find it as far afield as Canmore or Black Diamond.
“Flipping through these old issues, we look different now, being in colour, with a different print quality, layout and what have you, but everyone looks different 25 years later, don’t they?” says Ms. Richardier as she laughs. “We still like what we do because we get good feedback from our readers and that’s all that matters.”
Looking back, Ms. Richardier said it was around 15 years ago when the food scene started to really accelerate. Since then, she says that it’s thanks to progressive-thinking chefs such as Justin Leboe (Model Milk, Pigeonhole) and Kenny Kaechele (Workshop) who push the boundaries of what Calgarians are willing to try, to become more experimental while dining out.
“Don’t whine to me about how awful Calgary restaurants are when you’ve been eating in Milan, New York, London and San Francisco,” reads an excerpt from Ms. Richardier’s article Apples and Oranges from a 1994 City Palate issue. “Tell me, instead, about how it is equally gratifying to eat in Calgary because we’ve come so far, so fast and because there are so many interesting food things happening here. With a little support, it’s only going to get better.”
She was right.
Much as how the food isn’t the only thing that makes for a notable dining experience, I would like to think that restaurants aren’t the only thing in a city’s food scene that makes it stand out. Though food media remains on the peripheral of food communities, I can’t help but feel that Ms. Richardier launching City Palate alongside Ms. Norton and Ms. Kelly 25 years ago has been integral to the growth and success of Calgary’s food scene.