NEW RIVER CAFÉ CHEF FINDS HIS WAY HOME
As with any profession, there are varying career paths for burgeoning chefs. Some young cooks graduate from culinary school and happily plug away in the kitchen of a chain restaurant without much outside attention. Others aim for the glory of becoming the face of a world-renowned restaurant.
Ross Bowles has chosen the second path. At just 24 years of age, Bowles was just named head chef (a title he prefers to the more traditional “executive chef ”) at River Cafe, one of Calgary’s most internationally respected restaurants. He takes over from the widely heralded Matthias Fong, who left the restaurant (and its sister Deane House) in September to pursue other yet-to-be-revealed projects. While hiring such a young head chef may seem like a risk for such a well-established restaurant, proprietor Sal Howell has always had an eye for talent and despite his age, Bowles already has a long history with River Cafe.
Bowles has worked in professional kitchens since he was 15 years old — while still in high school (and later in the culinary program at SAIT), he had to negotiate with his parents to be allowed to maintain a full-time work schedule while keeping his grades up. He made it into the River Cafe kitchen while still a teenager, eventually becoming Fong ’s sous chef. Bowles stayed at River Cafe for over four years, using the restaurant’s annual January hiatus to experience Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe and later to stage (that’s a term that is basically akin to interning) at top restaurants like Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London and, later, Amass in Copenhagen.
“I didn’t even know what a Michelin star restaurant looked like,” Bowles says. “I wanted to see what things would look like at the highest level so I could learn how to achieve that back home.”
Eventually, Europe called Bowles for a longer stay and he moved to London, landing a job at the two-Michelin-starred Core by Clare Smyth. While that experience was a dream for a young chef, after two years Bowles was ready to come back to Canada. He started chatting with Howell, who agreed to promote him beyond his previous sous chef position.
Customers may notice a difference in Bowles’ new menu, but since he came of age under Fong’s tutelage, he is sticking closely to River Cafe’s existing dedication to sustainability and use of local products. In fact, it’s that very philosophy that drew him back to the restaurant.
“No matter where I go, from Core by Clare Smyth, to Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, to Amass, the produce is nothing like I’ve seen here at River Cafe,” Bowles says. “Lots of people do house-made bacon or house-made butter. Other people get espelette peppers or shishito peppers. But I’ve never seen a restaurant that is doing all of what we do at the same time. We do charcuterie in house. We’ll do three-year-aged prosciutto in house. For me, that’s exciting.”
The very first dish Bowles put on the menu is a house-cured Mangalitsa prosciutto that he and Fong cured together before he moved to London — it came of age just as Bowles took over as head chef and he serves it with roasted beets, Tiger Blue cheese, and Fraser Valley hazelnuts ($21). Other dishes on Bowles’ fall menu include a rainbow trout with local spaghetti squash, tomato, and espelette peppers ($40) and a wild boar loin with honeycrisp apple, braised cabbage and local feta ($44). Guests are invited to dig further into his food via River Cafe’s very popular chef ’s tasting menu ($105 per person).
River Cafe is open daily for lunch and dinner and for weekend brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. The restaurant is located on Prince’s Island Park and can be reached at 403-261-7679 or river-cafe.com.
WINE AND FOOD FESTIVAL
It’s time again for the annual Rocky Mountain Wine and Food Festival. The much-loved celebration returns to the BMO Centre at Stampede Park on Oct. 18 and 19. This year’s festival will feature over 700 samples of food and drink, which attendees purchase with sampling tickets. More than 40 restaurants are participating, in addition to hundreds of wines and local selections from Alberta breweries, cideries and distilleries. There’s plenty of entertainment on deck as well. Visit rockymountainwine.com.
PIE JUNKIE’S MENU
Finally, Thanksgiving is just around the corner and stressedout cooks can supplement the big dinner with something from Pie Junkie’s new fall menu, which was launched in conjunction with the shop’s third Calgary location. The new shop in Westman Village doesn’t officially open until later in October, but in addition to its stores in Kensington and Spruce Cliff, Pie Junkie will operate a popup in Westman Village so that customers can get their Thanksgiving pies. Look for pumpkin, salted caramel apple, and butter rum cream pies, as well as the new “turkey dinner” pie for those who want their entire Thanksgiving dinner in one dish (similar to that offered at Pie Cloud). Visit piejunkie.ca. Chorney-Booth can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @elizaboothy or Instagram at @elizabooth.
No matter where I go ... the produce is nothing like I’ve seen here at River Cafe.
Ross Bowles, the new head chef at River Cafe in Prince’s Island Park, has had a long history with the restaurant. PHOTOS: DARREN MAKOWICHUK
The River Cafe is dedicated to sustainability and use of local products.
Alberta Rainbow Trout is part of the fall menu. Other offerings include wild boar loin and the very popular chef’s tasting menu.
The River Cafe is open daily for lunch and dinner and weekend brunch.