Chef trum­pets Cal­gary in new Net­flix se­ries

MacLean says it’s time city took its place among great culi­nary des­ti­na­tions

Calgary Herald - - CITY + REGION - CAS­SAN­DRA SZK­LARSKI

TORONTO Cal­gary chef Dar­ren MacLean says it’s time the world rec­og­nizes his city as the next foodie hot spot.

And so the out­spo­ken culi­nary whiz shines a light on his Al­berta city this week as the sole Cana­dian con­tender on Net­flix’s new com­pet­i­tive cook­ing se­ries The Fi­nal Ta­ble.

The spec­ta­cle be­gins with 24 chefs from around the world, many of them stars in their own coun­try, who cook in teams of two in front of a stu­dio au­di­ence. Each episode has them tackle dishes unique to a par­tic­u­lar coun­try, in­clud­ing Mex­ico, the United States, Italy and Ja­pan.

There is no Cana­dian-themed chal­lenge, but MacLean holds his own when tasked with cook­ing for a ros­ter of culi­nary gi­ants in­clud­ing Chicago’s Grant Achatz, whose fine din­ing spot Alinea has held three Miche­lin stars since 2011, and New York Times food ed­i­tor Sam Sifton.

“I love that it’s a chef from Cal­gary — it’s not Toronto, Mon­treal or Van­cou­ver,” MacLean says of be­ing cast in the se­ries, which re­leased all 10 episodes Tues­day.

“It’s helped put a global spot­light and a na­tional spot­light on Cal­gary (and) I think that the chefs that are al­ready here — the Con­nie DeSouzas, the Justin Le­boes, the Dun­can Lys, the Jenny Kangs of the world — that ex­ist here in Cal­gary are al­ready mak­ing Cal­gary a global food des­ti­na­tion.”

MacLean made a name for him­self through his Ja­panese iza­kayastyle restau­rant Shokunin, which he opened in 2016, and its pre­de­ces­sor Down­town­food, which he opened in 2013 at age 26.

He be­gan his ca­reer at age 13, when he lied about his age to nab a job in a pro­fes­sional kitchen.

But it hasn’t been easy re­fin­ing his mis­sion to in­cor­po­rate lo­cal in­gre­di­ents with tra­di­tions based half­way around the world. MacLean says build­ing his name over the years has re­quired with­stand­ing “a lot of hate.”

“When­ever you’re try­ing to do some­thing new, peo­ple are al­ways go­ing to have an opin­ion and they ’re often ill-in­formed,” he says by phone from Cal­gary.

“There was a tremen­dous amount of doubt, there were mur­mur­ings in the chef com­mu­nity here. I’m a fairly po­lar­iz­ing in­di­vid­ual, I def­i­nitely kind of wear my heart on my sleeve and say what I mean and sort of mean what I say so there was a lot of peo­ple who had a lot of opin­ions about what we were try­ing to do here, es­pe­cially the fact that we are try­ing to be lo­cal. We are try­ing to use Cana­dian in­gre­di­ents and fol­low the ... Ja­panese phi­los­o­phy of us­ing what’s around you ...

“Get­ting that mes­sage across def­i­nitely led to a lot of raised eye­brows and neg­a­tiv­ity but it was all sort of val­i­dated in the pro­gram.”

Scor­ing an im­pres­sive berth among some of the world’s best chefs on The Fi­nal Ta­ble should bring more at­ten­tion to MacLean’s Cal­gary eatery.

He’ll be fol­low­ing his Net­flix de­but with an an­nounce­ment next week about the next chap­ter — an­other Ja­panese restau­rant, this time with an eight-seat tast­ing bar where he’ll do tast­ing menus four nights a week.

While the first two years of Shokunin “were re­ally hard,” MacLean says the past year “has been ab­so­lutely in­cred­i­ble.”

“The peo­ple who un­der­stand it, re­ally de­vel­oped an ap­pre­ci­a­tion and the peo­ple who don’t, they’re al­ways will­ing to learn. That’s the beau­ti­ful thing about Cal­gary. All of our din­ing scene and our din­ers, they re­ally want (an) ex­pe­ri­ence and so it’s re­ally in­cred­i­ble.”

GREG GAYNE / NET­FLIX/VIA THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Chefs Ti­mothy Hollingsworth and Dar­ren MacLean dress their plates in a scene from The Fi­nal Ta­ble. MacLean is the only Cana­dian con­tender on the show.

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