This novel and delicious dining experience can be found in The Grande Rockies Resort, one of Canmore’s premiere hotels. My associate Kyle Kerpan and I arrived around noon. Christina greeted us at the bar. She led us to a comfy booth across from the kitchen.
I want things to taste the same every time you order it. So, if I’m not in the kitchen that day, the food will still taste the same.Chef Air Bouphasiry
The space here is a unique one reminiscent of a train dining car. The room is long and rectangular with booths that run along either side and tables in the middle. The décor is decked out with modern light fixtures and big windows that look out onto the parking area and the mountains beyond. As per usual I started with a coffee. It was good enough to drink straight black.
After a minute or two, Air and Cristina joined us. My first impression was that they are very kind and personable people. The passion for food runs through the whole family. Cristina is the front of house manager, her brother Max is the sous chef at the Georgetown Inn, and both Air and his wife, Nok, work in the kitchen. They offer a distinctly personal touch to the experience. Air says, “I will take any chance I have to come out and chat with my guests,” which demonstrates his commitment to the satisfaction of his customers.
This is likely because Chef Air has been in the hospitality industry for 35 years, beginning at the Western Hotel in Edmonton when he was 19. He tells me as a young man he wished to prove himself, which was best accomplished by entering cooking competitions. He won many silver and gold awards. Chef Air loves a challenge; Cristina described her father as someone who “looks at something, doesn’t matter what, and says ‘I can do that.’”
As executive chef for Waymarker Hospitality, Air took on the challenge of revitalizing the dining portion of the hotel where he planned the menu and trained the staff to execute it perfectly. Chef Air places a lot of emphasis on consistency in his restaurant, “I want things to taste the same every time you order it,” he says, “So, if I’m not in the kitchen that day, the food will still taste the same.”
That brings us back to the food. Chef Air is classically trained in French and Italian cooking, but what sets the food apart is his use of Asian seasonings and herbs that make for a really amazing fusion of flavours. An excellent example is the mussels. You can have them as an appetizer, or as an entrée in his signature Seafood Pescatore. The mussels come in a light white wine tomato sauce with clam nectar. So far so Italian. Then there’s a twist with the addition of Thai chili and basil.
He told me that “People love the mussels, you often see them drinking the broth.” The flavour of the broth is really something else: it has a vibrant, tangy tomato flavour and the basil and chili give it sweetness with just the lightest touch of heat. The mussels were not overpowered by the sauce and they were cooked to perfection, not rubbery or stringy. I ended up drinking the broth. It really was that good.
Another item he suggested was the Thai Stuffed Chicken Wings. I’ve never heard of these before and at first, I was a tad perplexed as to how you stuff a chicken wing. It turns out they are quite a feat to prepare. The whole wing and thigh are deboned and then they are stuffed with a mixture of pork, rice vermicelli, carrot and mushroom. They are then coated in panko breading and fried. These are a real treat. The coating is light and crispy and you can taste the myriad of flavours in the filling. The Thai sweet chili sauce was a great addition and even the greens that came with the wings were beautifully presented, delicious and crisp.
Time ran short, so we had to settle for the two appetizers, but I do intend to come back again to try other things they offer. First is their breakfast. The breakfast at the Grande is supposed to be exceptional as the place is packed with wall to wall people on weekends. Being the quality hound that he is, “Air is really particular about his eggs,” which he gets delivered to his house direct from the farm in Calgary so they don’t sit in distribution.
The star of breakfast is the hollandaise sauce. It’s not just any kind of hollandaise sauce, its brown butter hollandaise which gives it a “nuttiness”. What really sets it apart is the preparation; Chef Air often makes it to order which is a fresh as it can get. “We don’t pre-make our sauce,” says Air. “Except on weekends,” Cristina chimes in, explaining that they make it fresh that morning because the volume is so high. Other things on my list to try at the Grande are the Bacon Bacon Bacon Burger, which is a favourite of Cristina’s, or the Hen + Gnocchi, which was described by one customer as “pillows in my mouth.” With a description like that, you know it’s good gnocchi!
The Grande runs regular specials including Pasta Thursday which has its own unique menu and price of $12.95. They also intend to introduce an alternating menu for Pasta Thursday to add even more variety. The cocktails are intriguing as well. I heard about the June Gloom, which has activated charcoal and a bold lemon and citrus flavour.
Cristina is also a trained sommelier and is responsible for the wine list. She likes to keep it simple and short with lots of options by the glass for accessibility and a rotating house wine of obscure varietals. “Even if customers don’t like wine, I can make them like wine,” she boasts. If you’re a big fan of wine they have half priced bottles on Wednesday!
Personally, I’m really excited about the Grande Kitchen + Bar. Air and Cristina really made me want to bring my friends and family. I want to show them the quality of the entire dining experience.