Tina Faiz and Leanne Brown were asked "What's your favourite restaurant" so many times that they wrote a book about it. Ms. Faiz, an Edmonton-based writer, and Ms. Brown, an Edmontonian recipe developer now living in New York, were approached by Figure 1 Publishing a year and a half ago with a tantalizing pitch: compile a cookbook that featured signature recipes from Edmonton's best chefs, bakers, butchers and food truckers.
Edmonton Cooks is the result of this edible adventure, and follows hot on the heels of Toronto Cooks and Calgary Cooks, both of which were bursting with iconic recipes from the likes of Momofuku Milk Bar and Charcut, respectively.
In a city where new dining options crop up on a regular basis, the authors were tasked with selecting a cross-section of eateries that represented Edmonton's culinary landscape. "It was actually simple," explains Ms. Faiz. "Leanne and I decided that we would include all the restaurants where we loved to eat, but the list was twice as long as it needed to be. So we narrowed it down to places that offered diversity of both ethnicity and style of food."
Ms. Faiz and Ms. Brown identified a telling theme among their choices. "We realized that every place we listed was fiercely independent, had chefs obsessed with technique, flavour and terroir, and they all cared deeply about where their ingredients came from. For us, it was gratifying that we as a city were gravitating towards those places," says Ms. Faiz.
One might think that treasured restaurant recipes would be closely guarded secrets, but the authors found Edmonton's culinary heavy-hitters to be eagerly forthright. The challenge, rather, was to retool the recipes for home cooks. "So many chefs don't use recipes or write things down, or assume that you know what really technical kitchen terms mean," explains Ms. Faiz. Demystifying the recipes was akin to learning the sleight-of-hand behind a magician's tricks. "This was very much Leanne's strength," says Ms. Faiz, adding that the experienced recipe developer tested out the ones requiring extra explanation to ensure that they could be accurately recreated at home.
The passion and respect embodied by each of the 38 restaurants featured in Edmonton Cooks translated into a delectable – and approachable – collection of recipes. "Some recipes were so complex, and others were surprisingly simple. Duchess Bake Shop's Key Lime Pie only has seven ingredients," notes Ms. Faiz.
Garner Beggs, a partner at Duchess, explains that the bakery's key lime pie harkens back to the bakery's nascent days. "That pie has been on the menu since day one. We usually rotate menu items, but the public was so vociferous when we tried taking it off the menu that we just left it there," explains Mr. Beggs. "It only seemed fitting that we contributed that recipe to the cookbook."
Indeed, the majority of recipes in Edmonton Cooks are icons that have weathered the capricious storm of diners' whims. Chef Andrew Fung's Ahi Tuna Twists, perhaps the most popular dish at his restaurant XIX Nineteen, have remained on the menu since XIX Nineteen opened in 2012. These morsels balance seared tuna atop a whimsical tangle of noodles lightly tossed with Mongolian dressing. "The tuna is a totally original creation. It's iconic for us," he says.
Drift Food Truck's Pork Belly sandwich remains a crowd favourite season after season. Chef Nevin Fenske says that his hearty take on traditional banh mi resonates with Edmontonians. "Pork belly wasn't that popular in Edmonton until a few years ago, but now people keep asking for it. My wife Kara and I travelled a lot in southeast Asia, so this sandwich is our take on the flavours we encountered there," he says.
Daniel Braun, of the downtown taqueria Tres Carnales, explains that, as complex as the spices and techniques of Mexican cuisine might seem, all of their recipes are based on simple ingredients. "My mom originally showed us how to make Rajas Con Crema Quesedillas. In fact, the majority of recipes when we opened were hers," he says. The recipe is beguilingly simple, and walks the reader through the finer points of roasting chilies, and assembling cheesy quesadillas that would be as at home in Mexico as they are in Edmonton.
"Edmonton Cooks is an important book," adds Mr. Braun. "It really encapsulates where Edmonton is at this moment."
Edmonton Cooks is available at Audreys Books (10702 Jasper Ave, Edmonton), online at all Chapters and Indigo bookstores, and at the restaurants featured in the book.