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Top 5 things we are excited about for the 2019 food tour season

This is it!

It’s time to ramp up our food tour season across Alberta. Here are the top five things we’re looking forward to sharing with you this year.

  1. We’ve got three new world-class chefs to work with – Robert Ash, Ashley Cawdle and Dwayne Ennest.
  2. Murietta’s Mountain Grill has joined our newest tasting experience on our Canmore Tasting Trail.
  3. Our Inglewood tour in Calgary is designated as a Canadian Signature Experience by Destination Canada.
  4. We are going to host our first ever #EatAlbertaFirst dinner in partnership with Rouge Restaurant and ABC bees in July. It’ll feature a multi-course honey-themed dinner in honour of the two beehives we keep at Rouge.
  5. Soon, we’ll announce a four night, five-day #EatAlbertaFirst trip to discover the secret gems of Southern Alberta. It’ll be October 3 – 7. Subscribing to our newsletter will get you first dibs on this exciting excursion. Full itinerary and ticketing will be released in May.

1. The new chefs – Robert Ash, Ashley Cawdle and Dwayne Ennest

Robert Ash

Life in the Rockies

I recently had the chance to interview Executive Chef Robert Ash of the Fairmont Banff Springs. The Springs is featured in our Eat the Castle tour Thursdays and Fridays, May to October and Fridays year round.

Chef Ash took over the helm as Executive Chef last summer at the Springs. He’s over-wintered very nicely because he’s no stranger to snow. Born in Rochester and raised in Buffalo, New York he’s thoroughly enjoyed Alberta’s winter. With his family, he’s ice fished, hiked, enjoyed his son’s hockey games and played in the natural splendour that surrounds him. (Check out his Instagram feed – @bassinchefash – to follow along with chef’s adventures).

Waking up to see a herd of elk on your front lawn, walking through icy Johnston’s Canyon, pulling a pike out of a frozen lake and having a 20-minute commute to work gazing at the sun rising on the Bow Valley’s towering Rockies are not things chef Ash takes for granted. It’s been years since he got to spend so much time with his family and in the great outdoors.

The Transition

Ash most recently lived in Orlando, Florida where he was the corporate chef for twenty luxury resorts for the Omni brand of hotels. He travelled the world three out of four weeks a month recruiting for their culinary teams. Previous to Omni, Ash was part of the opening team for Wynn Las Vegas. And, he spent several years in both Chicago and Milwaukee developing his experience and leadership abilities in top eateries and private clubs in both cities. Though Ash opened Wynn with the late great Jean Louis Palladin and is friends with the likes of Daniel Boulud and Richard Chen, he shared that his own beginnings as a chef were quite humble.

“My parents both worked and I was left in charge of feeding my self and my brother. Without a cooking mentor telling me what to do, I discovered I liked to play around with food. I got a job as a dishwasher at 15 and soon realized if I worked fast chef would let me help him. Peeling carrots, chopping onions, it didn’t matter,  I progressed from pantry to pizza to the grill position. None of it felt like work to me. I started to ask myself, what makes a great chef and set my sights on becoming one.”

Originally a pastry chef, he took on the savoury side and then trained as a sommelier. Equally as important, Ash also excelled at the business side of managing profits and losses – pretty important when you are managing budgets of $50 million a year.

Leading the team

Ash starts his days early. He’s up at 5:30 a.m. to make breakfast and lunches for his children. He’s at work by 7 a.m. and by 8 a.m. is making the rounds with his team of internal chef leaders at the Springs. From there, he’s overseeing 14 dining venues and 11 kitchens and his days end about 7 p.m.

When asked what it takes to lead a team of 150 chefs and 25 apprentices, he chuckled and said, “Organization! You also have to have respect for them and treat them as individuals. It takes a lot of empathy. I lead the leaders and I have to make sure that my leaders are the right people who will, in turn, be empathetic down the line.” Ash says his parents instilled him with discipline and focus but giving him real chores as he was growing up. He credits his spouse for helping him keep his life balanced and to avoid burnout.

His food

Ash loves to eat Vietnamese noodle bowls, Thai and Japanese flavours and loves the challenge of cooking vegetarian. “Often the most simplistic foods are the most difficult to make.”

When it comes to Alberta’s ingredients he loves working with our signature foods like bison and elk. “They are the things you just can’t find anywhere else.” Ash and his team of apprentices will tour several farms in Southern Alberta in April, May and June so that they can see for themselves where their “Alberta local” is coming from.

In the short time he’s been at the Springs, a complete renovation of the staff cafeteria, to the tune of $1 million has happened. “We are nothing without our team.” The Italian venue, Castello, will be completely revamped next. His strength that he brings? “The ability to take a classic dish and give it a modern interpretation.” His last meal? “Bacon and cheddar perogies!”

Chef Ashley Cawdle

Chef Cawdle may not have the extensive repertoire of chef Ash but she’s worked her way around Calgary’s best restaurants and earned the respect of her peers wherever she has worked. This, in turn, has earned her the position of the new Chef de Cuisine at Royale in Calgary. Known for her solid techniques and respect for ingredients, Ashley’s dishes deliver impact to both diner’s eyes and their palates. 

We are looking forward to our season of Savour 17 SW tours Saturdays and Sundays, where our guests will get to meet chef Cawdle and see her in action as she whips up a sweet treat for them.

Chef Dwayne Ennest

Ennest’s career in Calgary spans three decades. He was the opening chef at River Cafe and led the development of its team and food for its first decade. He and his wife Alberta went on to develop and run a series of successful Calgary restaurants including Diner Deluxe, Open Range, Big Fish, Urban Baker, The Vue at Virginia Christopher Art Gallery and White Rose and Coal Shed.

Most recently, Ennest was heading up the team at Bite Grocer and Eatery before being recruited by their Inglewood neighbour, The Nash and Offcuts Bar. Ennest is one of my favourite chefs in Alberta and I’m so excited to see what he does with that huge rotisserie at The Nash and the nibbles he’ll provide with our signature cocktail on our Inglewood tour. His food is always elevated while maintaining a true to Alberta taste sensibility.


2. Canmore happenings

We kick off our tour year in Canmore on April 27 as part of the premium tastings of Canmore Uncorked and are thrilled with our line up this year and the fact that Murietta’s Mountain Grill, under the culinary direction of chef Dave Bohati, has joined our tasting experiences. Here’s a little sneak peek of what you’ll be tasting there!


3. Inglewood Edibles: Made by Mavericks designated a Canadian Signature Experience by Destination Canada

Being designated a Canadian Signature Experience (CSE) is BIG for us. Calgary’s only other CSEs are the Calgary Stampede (10 days a year) and Heritage Park. To be a CSE is to show the world what it is to be Canadian. We’ve captured Calgary’s Maverick Spirit in stories and Alberta’s signature foods in tastings and Destination Canada has declared our tour a “must-see, must-do” experience. We hope everyone will come out and enjoy the experience, Thursdays and Fridays starting May 9. Get your tickets here.


4. #EatAlbertaFirst dinner at Rouge

Watch for details in our next newsletter. I will host this celebration of 10 years of backyard beekeeping with ABC Bees and the culinary team of Rouge Restaurant using the honey from our two beehives in the garden in late July of this year.

5. #EatAlbertaFirst road trip!

I’m so excited to announce that along with Callandra Caufield, our operations manager, I’ll be leading a four-night, five-day tour of Southern Alberta this October. Through my years of research and explorations in Alberta, there are so many hidden gems and succulent secrets I’ve been dying to share, now I’ll have the way to do this! Stay tuned and thanks for coming out to support us in our 14th year of operations.