Chef Willie White has the distinction of being one of the original driving forces of the regional cuisine movement in the area, first as executive chef at the Fairmont MacDonald Hotel and now as owner of River House Grill.
White is so committed to regional cuisine and the slow food movement that even after Alberta Agriculture abandoned its promotion of Dine Alberta, a project that was designed to partner and highlight local producers with chefs, he keeps the tradition alive.
“I have customers who remember it and come in every year at this time,” says White, who for the month of September celebrates Alberta’s bounty with a special regional menu.
“We’re a scratch restaurant and this is a really good event because it celebrates the harvest and it highlights everything we stand for in regional cuisine,” says White.
For advocates of tasty food that want minimum impact on the environment, the menu is worth perusing. And for foodies wondering where the meat or produce is grown, White also identifies producers.
For instance there’s the Vine Ripe Lindbrook Greenhouse Tomato Soup from Sherwood Park or the Fire Grilled Bison Sausage Salad from Meteor Lake Ranch.
One of White’s most exciting finds is Sturgeon Valley Pork, a processor that supplies his pork tenderloin, grilled with a rhubarb and Yukon Jack barbecue glaze. “When you get the product, it smells nice and fresh. The fact that it’s just down the road is even better.”
And for aficionados of fresh water fish from the Slave lakes, White has created the Northern Alberta Lake Trout Fillet served with a tomato, fennel and ginger compote. “We’re at the tail end of the season. We just snuck it in under the wire.”
After years of promoting regional cuisine, White is seeing the dividends pay off as more people experiment with different foods — orange tomatoes, blue potatoes and purple cauliflower to name a few.
“Many of my customers seem to be growing their own garden. There is a lot of support for people going into their own backyards.”