So many people look for food to enrich their travel. Exploring a city or country’s food is a great way to really get inside a culture and understand it. Food and culture have always been intricately linked.
Calgary Food Tours allows me to share my insights on how Calgary’s culture and food are linked with both local guests and visitors from around the globe. The culinary tours I’ve designed will help our guests discover all facets of Calgary’s culture. Here’s a dozen examples of how the links between our culture and cuisine play out in my business, life and city as follows:
Cultures evolve based on geographical location. Our tours highlight “the taste of this place”. Our terroir is Rocky Mountain cuisine meets Prairie hardy foods. People are always shocked to discover how much food that actually involves including our indigenous species like elk and bison, to being one of the world’s largest honey producers, to our glorious wheat and grains and all the vegetables, berries and fruits that thrive here. We even take people foraging for truly native edible plants.
A big piece of our history is our ranching heritage. Alberta was settled because the railway was built to connect our country from coast to coast and the government gave out vast tracts of land in the Dominion Lands Act to pioneers willing to “homestead” and set up ranches on the land. Each year we take people on farm tours to help them reconnect with the ranchers and food producers in our province. We are blessed with the most beautiful grasslands in the world and cattle (not native but imported from Scotland with the homesteaders) thrive here. We believe we produce the world’s best beef. We’ve traveled the world over trying other country’s beef but we’ve never tastes anything as good as the beef grown in Alberta. We highlight organic grain growers and celebrate innovative small family farmers who develop niche products to serve our local food needs. Because our farm tours always sell out very quickly we offer tours of Calgary Farmer’s Market so that we can connect more people with the stories of our ranchers and food producers.
Celebration of diversity
Alberta is a place of diversity. Calgary has 26% visible minorities with people represented from every nation with the bulk of immigration coming from China, South East Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. We take people to all corners of the city to discover the markets and restaurants that celebrate our ethnic diversity. We have an International Intrigue tour, a Chinatown tour and a Passage to Indian Cooking tour here in the city and we take people to India on an international cuisine and cultural exploration each year. We remove barriers and introduce cultures to each other within our pluralistic Canadian ethos.
Neighbourly and Livable
Calgary has been consistently named in the world’s most livable cities and has an evolving “neighbourhood” culture. Yes, it’s true. Not everyone in our vast sprawling mega-opolis spends their time commuting in a car. We live here because we are the gateway to our Rocky Mountain playground but we also have oodles of park lands, two beautiful rivers flowing through our city and 700 kilometres of bike and walking paths. We love to be outdoors exploring. It is part of who we are, how we dress and definitely how we eat. There are actually several really vibrant neighbourhoods with culinary hubs and we’ve designed tours to get people out of their cars and on the streets to experience this. We have walking tours in the Designer District, Uptown 17’s Retail Entertainment and Design District, Inglewood‘s boho-chic historical district, Fourth St’s Restaurant Row, Stephen Ave‘s Downtown Core district and will add them in groovy Kensington and Mid town Marda Loop in the future. People bond with and are proud of the city after experiencing one of these days. They like this cultural trend of making the city more livable.
Cowboys and Rodeos (the world’s biggest!)
The Calgary Stampede celebrates our huge cowboy culture. Calgary Food Tours doesn’t try to compete with all the offerings going on in the city at that time. I mean there are already hundreds of free Stampede Breakfasts and barbecue dinners, a midway full of our annual delectable fast food fix from corn dogs, to deep-fried pickles to freezing cold lemonade to beef on a bun and pizza on a stick. Sometimes food is just for fun. We help out behind the scenes during Stampede by participating in the Western Living Kitchen showcase. I always do a demonstration that features one of the farmers I’d love more people to know about. We also work with Tourism Calgary to tour and entertain journalists visiting from around the globe. We love these opportunities to be part of the cowboy culture for a little bit.
Along with all the ranchers and oil barons that settled this area came a group of mavericks that had the daring to civilize Alberta. The Glenbow Museum Mavericks Exhibition in downtown Calgary tells this story terrifically. A progression I see from purely cowboy culture is the way our chefs and business entrepreneur’s have embraced and created their own food-centric maverick culture. Our chefs are our new cowboys of sorts with serious skills, talent and a bold kind of daring attitude. We’ve had 5 Top Chefs in three years with no sign of slowing down. We have an amazing array of independent restaurants. Rouge restaurant put Calgary on the world’s culinary map by becoming the highest ranked Canadian restaurant ever on San Pellegrino’s Top 100 list. We are fortunate to partner with some of the city’s finest restaurants on our tours. Part of being a maverick culture is that our chefs are always trying new things. We’ve got very successful vegan restaurants, tapas, Thai, Korean, a bistro scene that’s thriving, micro brew pubs, chefs obsessed with Ferran Adria’s molecular gastronomy, neighbourhood gourmet comfort foods diners and wine-centric small plates restaurants of all types. We love how all our maverick restaurant partners have embraced our tours.
Oil in reserve
Part of our culture is petroleum. It gives our population money to spend on culinary outings. We like that. But it has also meant a boom and bust cycling that has given us the cultural value of diversifying our economy. We’re doing that! So yes, we have mega bucks restaurants but we’ve also got great Street Food and Food Trucks. I’m giving our boom and bust oil culture credit for our cultural values of ingenuity and economy. We do go to “splurge” restaurants on our tours but we highlight affordable food in our tours always. Along with all that oil, Calgary is also focused on developing green energy alternatives and a food policy for the future when oil is less abundant.
Calgary is a haven for Slow Food and local. Calgary has had a Slow Food International convivium for about 15 years and that organization has helped shape our food and culture by teaching and leading by example about the joys of good, clean, and fair food. I am a card-carrying member of Slow Food and former board volunteer. Calgary Food Tours Inc. just bought 2 bee hives in the Apiaries and Bees for Communities private hive management program. We care about ecology and give back to our community by keeping our bees in a community garden.
Calgarians are some of the most generous philanthropists and greatest volunteers there are. We love it that our food tours can help many charities each year. Don’t be surprised if when you are on a tour a few spots are taken up by someone who “won it” at a charity auction. We couldn’t accurately reflect Calgary’s culture if we weren’t a generous and caring company.
Music and art
Last year we were named a Cultural Capital of Canada. We are home to Canada’s National Music Centre (the building is just being built!) and we have the country’s largest Music Festival (the Calgary Stampede showcases over 40 bands in 10 days). Calgary Food Tours Inc. is currently developing an Art-filled Food Tour in the Designer District. So many of chef’s food is artful we see a real synergy in the culinary arts and our treasure trove of independent art galleries in the city. Once again, we’ll surprise guests with the more sophisticated side we are “unknown” for.
We are extremely outdoorsy. We often joke that our fashion trends are set at Mountain Equipment Coop and Eddie Bauer. That’s okay with us. We backpack, hike, ski, climb and cycle. We love our mountain playground. We love the food that we fuel ourselves with and have a really diverse group of independent organic grocers, bakers and food artisans to help fuel our outdoor passions. Along with being a food tour operator I am a food writer with columns in the local media where I get to highlight and support the great food companies that I think do this best.
We have a high income per capita and are a city of globetrotters. Our population has traveled the globe and developed a passion for variety. Our palates crave it and our restaurant profile in the city reflects that. We also have seriously good taste in wine and more independent wine boutiques and varieties imported than any other city in Canada. Traveling the world makes us expect more at home, it’s raised the bar and it also makes us appreciate how our restaurants and sommeliers and private wine boutique owners have risen to that challenge.
So there you have it. I’ve given you a dozen examples of how the influences in our Calgary Culture are intricately linked to the food you are going to experience when you eat out here. I hope you will come on a tour or just get out and explore what I think is justifiably Canada’s hottest culinary scene. Visit Calgary. You are very welcome #righthereyyc!