Photos for this post graciously licensed for use on this blog by Edmonton photographer Margo Klimowicz of eyeLush Photography
From 1996 to 2000, I worked at Hardware Grill restaurant in downtown Edmonton. To this day, I remain close to the owners and many people I worked with in those years. And that's really how I got early news of, and therefore one of the last reservations left for, a rather well-kept secret last Saturday night. Gordon Ramsay would be dining at the restaurant with a small party of lucky people who won the opportunity through a charity lottery. Ramsay's people didn't want it to turn into a Gong Show -- he already spent the afternoon at West Edmonton Mall signing his newest cookbook. Instead, this was a private event, and everyone wanted to respect that.
Nonetheless, there were tables to be filled at the restaurant that evening, and Mike and I snagged a two-seater, not far from the action.
Celebrity stalking isn't usually my thing. But Mike and I had been to a GR restaurant in London (Maze Grill, a London-version of an American steakhouse...oh the irony) just a couple of years ago and it was very memorable. In a good way. And we do enjoy the UK version of Kitchen Nightmares and The F-Word. Mike follows Hell's Kitchen just for the blood sport, I think. So we got gussied up and took in the show at the grill that night. We lurked, but we didn't stalk. I didn't even bring a cookbook for him to sign. For a moment, I thought it would be funny to get him to sign my new Canadian Living's The Vegetarian Collection cookbook. I regret that I didn't follow through on that. (Gordon is vocal about his dislike of vegetarianism and even vegetarians.)
Gordon was obviously infused with enthusiasm for the Canadian Finals Rodeo that takes over downtown Edmonton each year in November. He showed up at the restaurant in a blue and white plaid shirt, jeans and a fairly sizable belt-buckle. When in Rome, Gordon.
The first thing he did was head into the open kitchen, ask each member of the brigade their name and station that evening. He posed for a few pictures and told them he'd be back at the end of the evening. I know that impressed everybody and moral was running high already, but it edged a bit higher.
(Hardware Grill normally operates with about six cooks and chefs in the kitchen, even on a busy Saturday night. But last Saturday there were 12. The day cooks who normally finish at 3 p.m. stayed on just to be a part of it. Chefs who had since moved on from Hardware's kitchen pleaded with Larry to let them participate. Andrew Fung, recent winner of the Gold Medal Plates competition in Edmonton, was just one of the ringers that wanted in just for the fun of cooking for Gordon Ramsay. As a result, the food was extra-ordinary. There's almost no way it could have been otherwise with a sizable portion of Edmonton's cooking talent in whites in Hardware's kitchen that night.)
Then Gordon did his thing: he presided over a seven-course dinner with total strangers from rural Alberta.
Here's the menu:
An Evening with Gordon Ramsay at hardware grill, edmonton
November 13th, 2010
Torchon of Foie Gras, Osetra Caviar
Krug Grand Cuvée Brut, Reims, Champagne, France
House Applewood Smoked Salmon
Truffled Potato Perogies, Grainy Mustard Cream
2009 Burrowing Owl Pinot Gris, Okanagan Valley, Canada
Butter Poached Lobster
Tomato Pain Perdu, Celery and “Russian Dressing”
2005 Amiot Chassagne Montrachet Les Champgains, Burgundy, France
Hand-rolled Butternut Squash-Mascarpone Tortelloni
with Truffle Beurre Blanc and Fresh Périgord Truffles
1998 J. Drouhin Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru, Côte-d'Or, France
Local Wild Boar Chop
Cauliflower Purée, Pork Belly, Pomegranate-Pistachio Relish
2006 Quail's Gate Old Vine Foch Reserve, VQA Okanagan Valley, Canada
Ancho-Chili Coffee-rubbed Venison Loin
Braised Short Rib, Fork-crushed Peruvian Potatoes,
2004 Mission Hill Occulus, VQA Okangan Valley, Canada
Pear Tart Tatin
Almond Crème Anglaise, Cranberry Gastrique
Warm Gingerbread Cake
Rhubarb-Saskatoon Compote, Mango Sorbet and Caramel Sauce
2004 Chateau d'Yquem, Sauternes, France
Larry & Melinda Stewart Cory Welsch
Chef / Owners Chef
It was quite fun to take in the buzz created by chef Ramsay's presence. And I felt like I knew half of the people in the dining room. It felt like a really successful dinner party was taking place. It was a bit like the movie Big Night, but the big star actually shows up.
Despite the fact that everyone was completely fixated on the fact that Ramsay was dining in our midst, everyone kept their decorum. But towards the end of dinner, the "now or never" feeling was palpable. Ramsay probably knew it too. And so, after the last course, he cheerfully accepted stacks of cookbooks to sign, posed for photos and even wandered through the restaurant to shake hands and slap backs with the hoi polloi.
And then he was off...apparently for a few drinks at 100, a bar down the street, until the less-restrained-than-hardware's throngs chased him off, according to the discussion thread on Chowhound.com, the next day.
Every restaurateur and chef works hard for very little glory, especially in a place like Edmonton. It was a big deal that Gordon Ramsay came to town. It was a big deal that he seemed to relish dishes like the Mayerthorpe wild boar chop and the venison loin, not to mention three of Canada's best wines. It was a big deal that Hardware Grill did our city proud. And it was a big deal that the room was full of friends who at some point played a small part in a very special restaurant.