This is a sponsored post. I was the guest of Bjorgvin 1907 at dinner on July 13, 2018. No other remuneration was received and the sponsor did not see this post before publication. All words are my own. Photo credits to Christopher Chow of #yycexplorer unless otherwise indicated. Truth in advertising is important to uphold in my relationship with you, dear reader.
Cool Thing no. 56 on this blog
Alberta is full of culinary hidden gems and this is one of them. Bjorgvin 1907 is a rural culinary destination for long table dinners and afternoon teas about one hour north of Calgary in the tiny hamlet of Bergen, Alberta. Andrew Holmes, the founder of Bjorgvin 1907 and The Wandering Long Table, was born in Calgary, Alberta but grew up in Namibia and South Africa. He studied at Silwood Culinary School in Cape Town and then when onto to do butler training in both Cape Town and in London, England where he sub-specialized in being a Gentleman’s butler.
That’s not something most of us in North America know much about. It made me curious about what the role and duties of a butler are. This post will delve into that and share the beauty and elegance of a dinner I attended at Bjorgvin 1907. You can learn more about tickets and pricing for the afternoon teas and dinners here and here.
According to the Butler’s Guild, “The Butler is the chief servant of the household. He or she supervises other employees, receives guests and directs the serving of meals. Today’s Butlers often act as Personal Assistants also where they travel with the employers around the world, take care of the agenda, do bookkeeping and much more. The Butler title originally applied to the person who had charge of the wine cellar and dispensed liquors, the name being derived from Middle English bottler (and various other forms), and back further from old French bouteillier, ‘bottle bearer.'”
The International Guild of Professional Butlers adds that, a Butler typically oversees the household staff usually of one residence. They understand concepts like being anticipatory, friendly not familiar, privacy and confidentiality, invisible and available. They answer the residence phone, receive guests at the door and supervise the reception of visitors. They assist with staff training and organize the duties and schedule of domestic staff. They may assist or be charged with keeping the household budgets and inventory supplies. They may schedule and oversee vendors of contracted services. They may assist with household and family security measures. They oversee family packing and travel preparations and understand social etiquette and formal service. They assist with planning and organizing parties and events in the home and they oversee and participate in proper table settings and entertainment prep. They serve meals and drinks and performs wait services related thereto. They are knowledgeable about wines and spirits and oversee the wine cellar and liqueur inventory. They may also serve as personal valet to the household and/or gentleman of the house and perform light housekeeping duties. They coordinates with other staff as needed as well as with other parts of the employer’s organization. Other functions and skills may include: Cleaning and maintenance, care of clothing, care of fine china, silver, crystal, care and inventory of artwork and antiques, maintenance of automobiles, security of their employer and residence, co-ordination and scheduling of service contractors. The role is very similar to that of an Estate Manager.
It’s easy to see that far from being a quaint and antiquated position, in today’s fast paced world, the role of the butler is as pertinent as ever. Actually, when I look at the list of duties, I think I AM THE BUTLER for my family! It makes me wonder what more I could do to serve life if I had such professional assistance on the home front. But, I digress. Back to Andrew Holmes. I had the chance for a little Q&A with him.
Why did you become a butler? “I had a passion to become one, loved the idea of being one, was influenced by movies like Remains of the Day, and I always loved the idea of protocol and etiquette. I was also encouraged to become a Butler by a very good friend that was a Butler, and said that I would make an excellent candidate.”Your butler career has taken you around the world in service, how did you end up back in Calgary? After being in private service for a few years in Nova Scotia, I decided to seek a different career and actually return to the city I was born in.”Some of the skill assets your patrons rely on you for include? “Privacy, loyalty, good manners, decorum, being one step ahead, extensive knowledge of protocols, extensive knowledge of household and life-style management, respect and extensive knowledge of event planning and execution. (Also) extensive knowledge of formal dining etiquette, knowledge of tablescapes or “Art of the Table”, how to clean and care for crystal, china, sterling silver, some knowledge of flower arrangements, or management to insure flowers are impeccable. Fresh flower arrangements are de rigueur. Being able to serve cocktails and the knowledge of outstanding wine to food pairings.”
Are you retired as a butler? Semi-retired, I could return to private service as I choose.What inspired you to create these wandering long table dinners and afternoon teas? A love for good food, a passion to support local and small farms, a personal effort to know where my food comes from, a passion for farm life, respect for nature and animals, a dislike of corporate agriculture and the way society is being poisoned and brain-washed by conglomerates, and a wish to return to a simple way of life, are the reasons for The Wandering Long Table. I have my Grandmother’s love and very special childhood memories of Tea at 4 o’clock as inspiration for the Afternoon Teas. (It’s a chance) – to remember and re-create those memories in honour of my Grandmother – each time I set the tea-table… a time to reflect on all that is good in life, to spend time reminiscing – and (for) returning to an era where life was slow and we knew how to enjoy the simple things in life and when relationships with people were so meaningful.” You partnered with chef Shawna Haas-Jack of Satiate for the dinner I attended. Will there be other chefs in the kitchen or will Shauna be THE Bergen chef? We would like to showcase many chefs’ different talents, creating a different and exciting experience each time someone dines with us. We like to support up-and-coming culinary talent and be inspired by the amazing diversity that makes Calgary, and Alberta – Alberta.
As you can see, in the photos above, the food was well-executed. Chef Haas-Jack and her team gave the wholesome, nutritious Alberta ingredients a light treatment and let the flavours tell the story of the taste of this place. Plating and service were impeccable under the direction of the butler-in-the-house, Andrew Holmes. Lighting was soft. A little music would have been nice but conversations flowed in its place.
Worth the drive?
Absolutely! If you can’t go without alcohol for dinner, try out the afternoon teas planned for the season. If you are a culinary adventurer, take this short road trip along the famous Cowboy Trail (north of Cochrane and south of Sundre), discover another side of Alberta, imbibe in intense creativity, authentic farm to table food, elegant arrangements and let the butler take care of all the details.