ST. PAUL - Pickles, jams and a passion for food brought Debra Poulin to a milestone event on Thursday morning as she and her St. Paul-based restaurant, Twisted Fork, became the fourth Alberta artisan to be included in the international économusée program.
A table filled with lemon loaf, shortbread and other handmade goodies sat alongside jams and preserves made by Poulin, ready for guests to enjoy. While many locals know Twisted Fork for its unique sit-down menu made with local ingredients, Poulin's preserves are also now available for purchase in 11 different locations.
Twisted Fork joins the list other Alberta-based artisans who are part of the économusée, which includes Old School Cheesery based in Vermilion, Healing à la Source stained glass based in Lac La Biche, and beekeepers Paradise Valley Honey, located near Watino, Alta. Artisans who make up the économusée program stretch across the country, into Europe, and beyond.
Artisans who become part of the program practice a trade that is "rooted in traditional know-how that has endured and evolved over time," according to information from the Societé du réseau économusée website. The goal is for people to know and understand the art of creating a specific product.
Town of St. Paul Mayor Maureen Miller was in attendance at Thursday's official unveiling of Twisted Fork becoming part of the économusée program, and described how she shared many conversations over coffee with Poulin as the process took place.
"To see it actually happen is a gift to our community," said Miller. "This has been a long journey."
Becoming part of the économusée is not an overnight process. The restaurant itself saw a face-lift, with new lighting, paint and wall art being installed that tells the story of Poulin's journey, starting when she was just a child helping her grandmothers pickle and preserve food.
The front portion of Twisted Fork, which is located on St. Paul's main street, has also been transformed into a boutique where a variety of Poulin's products are up for sale, along with various works created by other local artisans.
On hand on Thursday was representation from Prairies Economic Development Canada, which is a federal department that "diversifies the economy across the Canadian Prairies," according to the Government of Canada. Also taking part in Thursdays event was representatives from Conseil de développment économique de l'Alberta (CDÉA).
Étienne Alary with CDÉA spoke briefly, acknowledging that with Twisted Fork now being the third économusée in northeastern Alberta, it speaks to the strong potential for tourism in the region.
Poulin also took time to speak about the accomplishment. She said becoming part of the économusée network has been a "fantastic journey," and noted the business is constantly evolving. The successes are thanks in large part to the support from the community.
She also thanked her family and the staff members at Twisted Fork for their continued support and efforts.
Part of the project also included the creation of a cookbook, which is now for sale for $20 per hard copy. On Thursday, guests were quick to purchase the cookbook, which includes a variety of recipes, from desserts to appetizers and main courses, along with Poulin's story.
When asked why she decided to pursue becoming part of the économusée, Poulin said the intent was to "Really showcase and do more with our jams and our preserves, but also to showcase our farmers and producers that we use day-to-day."
She recalled how she first heard about the program six years ago while at a meeting in Bonnyville and thought maybe it could be a possibility one day to be involved. Six years later, that notion became a reality.
"It allows us to grow, not just us as a restaurant, but also as a community in getting more visitors out here," said Poulin. It's about showcasing the area, and showing people that there is more than just restaurants, but also great trails, lakes, and other experiences to be part of.
And with the popularity of the product expanding, there isn't a lot of time to pause.
Poulin is already looking at taking on two more contracts, and working with other corporate business partners. The next step will be to automate production for the pickles and jam products, which in itself creates more opportunities for the community such as jobs, while continuing to support local farmers and encouraging even more ideas to become reality.