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All chefs have their calling cards. For Calgary's Connie DeSousa this includes the ability to debone a pig's head in 49 seconds.
"It's kind of a strange talent to have," says DeSousa, a former finalist on Top Chef Canada and recent recipient of Top Female Chef honours by Vacay.ca. "It started out with one of our original dishes – pig's head mortadella. This dish is very intricate. But it's so worth it when you try it."
Which means DeSousa has become really good at transforming this delicacy into a thinly shaved, truffle-studded, slow-cooked appetizer that's now a menu staple at her restaurant, Charcut Roast House.
DeSousa, who runs Charcut with her partner, chef John Jackson, is just one of the cooks transforming Calgary's food scene into more than steak and baked potatoes.
Here, with difficulty, DeSousa whittles down a list of five places to experience this fresh culinary landscape.
The interview has been edited and condensed.
“One of our favourites. Chef and owner Justin Leboe focuses on sourcing everything locally. His food is often dubbed as ‘southern comfort’ cuisine [and he favours] humble flavours, but a little more refined in plating style. His Sunday Suppers are served family style, usually three courses and change weekly. He sometimes collaborates with other chefs for the suppers for a fun twist.” 308 17th Ave., modelmilk.ca
UNA Pizza + Wine
“UNA Pizza is super delicious and they’re open late as well. It’s a really vibrant room, only about 60 seats. It’s always buzzing. They don’t take reservations, but they will send out tweets when the lineup is diminishing. The pizzas are fantastic. They have one of my favourite salads in the city: the kale Caesar salad. My favourite pizza would be the salami pizza. One of their signatures is also the potato pizza with truffled honey.” 618 17th Ave. S.W., unapizzeria.com
“Anju is a great Korean restaurant that just opened up on 17th Avenue after a recent hiatus. They’d shut down to look for a larger space. Roy Oh is the chef. He is featuring old favourites, but also a few new dishes. Some of his old favourites that I love are his crispy fried tofu. He calls them KFC wings, Korean fried chicken, and he serves them with a spicy gochujang sauce.” 344 17 Ave. S.W., anju.ca
Rouge and River Café
“Rouge is great for date night. It’s in an old heritage house. They’ve redone all the rooms into little mini-dining rooms. They also have a beautiful backyard that they converted into a garden. They’ve been open for over 10 years, so they’ve really made themselves into an institution. The food is a little more refined, focusing very much on sustainability. Really clean flavours. River Café has its own garden as well, and is really great for date night too. River Café has been monumental to our farm-to-table dining in our city. ” Rouge, 1240 8th Avenue S.E., rougecalgary.com; River Café, 25 Prince’s Island Park, river-cafe.com
“NOtaBLE opened about three years ago in an older neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city; nobody was sure how it was going to survive. But they blew it out of the water. They have an awesome eating bar. They have a wood-fired rotisserie, so they’re roasting porchetta and chicken. It’s a great room bustling with energy. Michael Noble is leading the kitchen. He’s one of Canada’s leading chefs.” 4611 Bowness Rd. N.W., notabletherestaurant.ca