At 30 years of age Alejandro Buzzalino, of Vendome in Calgary, has worked as a chef at almost as many restaurants as he has years. His love of cooking came from sharing good times in his Mother’s kitchen. In my ongoing quest to celebrate the Food Artisans of Alberta, I’m happy to share his story here.
From ARgentina with love
Born in Calgary, Alejandro’s Argentinian parents returned to their homeland with their young family when he was an infant. Alejandro was exposed to the country’s rich culinary history. Argentina has a tradition of all-day Sunday barbecues and his grandfather’s recipe for grilled hanger steak with chimichurri is one of Alejandro’s all time favourites. “Our Steak Babette and Chimichurri Carbonara are inspired by my grandfather’s famous recipes,” he says.
The Buzzalinos returned to Calgary when Alejandro was 12 in 2002. He worked at both Edo Japan and his Mom’s engineering firm during high school. This is when he realized cooking gave him joy. And, most informatively, he also realized he could never have a career that required sitting at a desk.
Ticket to the World
After high school, Alejandro attended SAIT and worked at a variety of restaurants in Calgary including Muse, Bonterra, Home Tasting Room and Notable. He interned with chef Matt Batey at Mission Hill Winery in Kelowna. Then, a fearless love of travel set him on a course to explore the world and its kitchens.
Alejandro spent time in London, England and in Montreal at Chuck Hughes’ Garde Manger and Antonio Park’s Park. Hong Kong was a brief stint. “I found out, I didn’t like a city that size.”
In between work, Alejandro took time to travel South East Asia and Australia with his girlfriend, now wife. They both love Fried Chicken and so he purposefully proposed to her in a small Australian town where they both loved the fried chicken. Doesn’t get more romantic than that!
Chef has also spent extensive time cooking in Japan. And, no matter where he roams, he turns to street food for inspiration. “I love the street food artisan who has perfected that one thing they make. Maybe there are 100 other vendors doing the same thing but they’re the one that’s got just the right temperature, texture and result EVERY time.”
Alejandro has worked in 28 different restaurants. “My culinary diploma meant a ticket to the world to me. I knew all I had to do was show up with knives and prove I could do the work,” he says. “I learned my worth and have confidence to help younger chefs learn theirs.”
Leading by example
A strong proponent of fair working conditions and wages for the food service industry, Alejandro uses perspective to keep his team on an even keel. “I’ve crashed before. I remember the date – Feb, 14, 2015. It was my worst service ever. We had 200 reservations. People waited an hour for their food. What I learned is that nobody died!”
On the other end of the spectrum, he knows a good day when he has one. “Our job is to make food and make it well enough that guests thank us as they give us their money. To have the time to visit tables during service and see you’ve made someone happy, that one instant can take any bad memories away.”
Alejandro spends his day off doing woodworking in his Mother’s garage. “It helps me show up to work with good energy so I can take care of my team. There’s a positive feedback loop. If you put the staff’s needs in front of yours, they see it and treat you the same.”
Chef is also strict about his team’s schedule. They only work eight hours and don’t do split shifts. “It’s a lot better for morale and for retention.” Currently, he is mentoring Quinton Reed as his Sous Chef and is thrilled to have a talented pastry chef, Larissa Costella, on his team as well.
Neighbourhood Fave – Vendome
Vendome was closed for several months for renovations and reopened in 2020. It’s still the neighbourhood favourite and it earned that status by serving neighbourhood favourites. Over 2200 guests dine at Vendome per week (in non-pandemic times!).
“Our menu is seasonal. There’s big flavours like Braised Lamb with Polenta but there has to be great value as well. I like we offer lots of comfort food classics but we are not pigeonholed either. Our cornerstone is that comfort food but we can also deliver a few fine dining items on the same menu. We listen to the neighbourhood. They want really good value in a beautiful space.”
And what about his favourite thing to cook? “I love to take an idea and play with it until it’s perfect. Right now, I’m having fun perfecting our butter buns. We use a Chinese roux technique and are achieving fluffiness and sweetness. We are playing with the size of the ball and are getting close! I love steps done in order, perfectly. I learned that in Japan and it’s served me well.”
Chef Alejandro has shared a light and fresh Grilled Peach and Fresh Kale Salad for us to make at home. But with his menu at Vendome and Gelato, Donuts and Burgers coming out of Holy Cow next door, I’ll try the salad and then be back at this neighbourhood treasure for more of his great food VERY soon.
Note: This post is not sponsored but Vendome is a partner with my company Alberta Food Tours and I’m proud to write features about any of our great partners. Photos are courtesy of Vendome.