Chef Tracy Little Talks Tapas

    Kate Barker August 14, 2020

    When Tapas opened in Canmore over a decade ago, it quickly became a favourite spot for locals and visitors alike.

    The menu was influenced by Spanish and European flavours and cooking techniques, which made for interesting dishes that weren’t available anywhere else. The restaurant style of small sharing plates made dinner an intimate experience, making it perfect for close friends or a date night.

    This spring, amidst the uncertainty of the pandemic, Tapas was bought by accomplished Canmore chef, Tracy Little. Tracy’s philosophy of cooking blends the Spanish and European influences with local and foraged ingredients, adding a taste of place to the overall dining experience. We had a chance to chat with Tracy about Tapas, and the exciting things she’s doing with this classic Canmore restaurant.

  • Q. What are your plans for Tapas?

    A. I definitely want to keep what makes Tapas, Tapas, which is really good food. I’m not going to change that. It’s always going to be small tasting plates, but I need to Tracy-i-fy it!

    I updated the interior. It looks really cute but it still has that intimate feeling. There is lots of artwork on the walls, and I even did some of the art myself.

    I love working with local farms and foraging ingredients. And we’re lucky because we have the most ridiculous location ever – literally everything that’s growing around our building right now is edible. The neighbours also have a huge horseradish bush in front of their yard. I love using foraged ingredients in our food because it means people can really connect with where they are.


    Q. What kinds of plants do you forage?

    A. Out back there’s a ton of lovage – it looks like celery, but the flavour is indescribable. There’s also vicia and chives growing in the back there. I also have garden where I’m encouraging weeds to grow. There’s pineapple weed and dandelions and all kinds of plants that we can eat. Out front there’s goutweed (also known as ground elder), which you just eat in salads. It’s delicious!

    Along Policeman’s Creek there’s fireweeds, horsetails and all kinds of stuff. And then I have an agreement with local businesses to forage on their lands. There’s an unused golf course that I have free range to get whatever I want.

    I actually got a bag today! Let me show you what I found:

    These guys are chive flowers, there’s tons of it around. This is one type of vicia, it’s in the pea family. Here is another type of vicia – some of them actually have small types of peas on them. This is pineapple weed. It literally tastes like pineapple. And then there’s sweet clover and yarrow. This one is really cool: the vicia is actually getting little baby peas on it right now!


    Q: How did you learn all of that?

    A: My dad was a forester, and I used to go with him into the woods. As a kid, he would tell me to find certain plants so I could entertain myself.  Afterwards, he would show me how to cook the plants I found. That was in Fort MacMurray. It’s funny, living here in the mountains, the climate has a lot of similarities to being up north. There’s a lot of stuff that grows here that also grows there.


    Q: Does that mean your menus change based on what’s available?

    A: Absolutely. We have the Chef’s Tasting Menu and that changes every day. I try to incorporate foraged ingredients into every course. It gets people excited if they’ve never tried something before. A lot of people who come to Canmore want to be tourists and experience the area. We still use European styles of preparing food, staying true to the Tapas name.


    Q: What are some of the dishes you’re keeping on the menu?

    A: I asked the regulars what their favourites were. The Chili Shrimp Gambas are going to stay on the menu, so are the Albondigas, which are meatballs. That dish gives me an opportunity to play with different meats like bison, pork or beef scraps. And the Tostadas can change, but people really love the Tostadas, especially the Tartare and the Artichoke and Goat Cheese. We’ll keep those on the menu.

    The Carrots are one of our favourite dishes too. But they’re not just a side, the carrots are roasted and then sautéed with butter to order. Then we throw in crushed walnuts with maple sugar and I use birch syrup – it’s so good! It’s served on a bed of goat cheese. That dish isn’t going anywhere.


    Q. How has the pandemic affected your opening?

    A. I took over the business on April 7, so it’s still really fresh!

    At first, it was really scary to think about opening during Covid-19. But it was also a bit of a blessing because we could softly open and get our feet wet. It wasn’t just 100% from the beginning. There are a lot of steps we needed to think about, and we’re keeping up with all the health and safety regulations so people can feel safe dining here.

    Right now, we’re at 50% capacity, so it gets full really fast. We also have this amazing patio that allows people to eat outside. They can enjoy the mountains and feel safe at the same time.

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