Cook Like a Chef: In the Kitchens of Hotel Macdonald

Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of being invited to cook inside the prestigious kitchens of the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald. It seemed too good to be true – an opportunity not only to peek behind-the-scenes, but also to learn from Executive Chef Serge Jost? But believe me, it was all that and much more.

Hotel Macdonald

Chef Serge Jost

I was among six food enthusiasts chosen to participate. The Mac organized this evening as one way to demystify its identity as an establishment reserved only for grand occasions. Its chefs want to spread the word that the Mac is simply about good hospitality.

Without a doubt, everyone we encountered that evening was gracious and went out of their way to make us feel welcome. This was not more evident than when we were each greeted with a personalized monogrammed chef’s jacket.

Hotel Macdonald

The crew (picture by Hotel MacDonald)

The interactive, hands-on session saw each of us paired off in order to prepare either the appetizer, main, or dessert. I immediately glommed onto Gail Hall, a chef in her own right, and fellow 104 Street resident. We were tasked with the appetizer, a savoury cheese tart, served alongside asparagus, a poached quail egg, and seared foie gras.

Hotel Macdonald

Preparing the tart shells

Executive Sous Chef Jiju Paul guided us through the multitude of steps, and was more than patient with me as I struggled to crack the delicate quail eggs without breaking the yolks. This was also my first time working with foie gras – I knew it tasted good, but the smell of them as they caramelized on the stove? Heavenly.

Hotel Macdonald

Searing the foie gras

Wouldn’t you know – I didn’t end up taking a single snapshot of the final dish. All I have are shots during the plating process.

Hotel Macdonald

What kind of food blogger am I?

Linda and Rebecca were responsible for the main, a complicated duck stuffed chicken cooked sous vide. It was wonderfully cooked, tender and moist.

Hotel Macdonald

Linda and Rebecca hard at work

Hotel Macdonald

Duck stuffed chicken with green bean mousse, mushroom foam and hazelnut lemon gremolata

Dessert was the purview of Karlynn and Phil, a strawberry gelee with rhubarb compote, sherbet and decorative strawberry tuilles. It was a beautiful plate, and a tart but refreshing way to end the meal.

Hotel Macdonald

Phil and Karlynn are serious about dessert

Hotel Macdonald

Strawberry gelee with rhubarb compote

Perhaps most generous of all – Chef Jost sat and ate with us, sharing his perspectives about the Hotel and his plans to make the restaurants at the Mac more approachable. For instance, the chefs are all on Twitter, sharing photos of menu planning, plating and interacting with patrons.

Regarding the Mac’s restaurants, particularly of note are the tapas at the Confederation Lounge, best enjoyed in the summer alongside the smashing view on the patio. To help promote this, the Lounge is offering 2-for-1 appetizers in the month of May, as well as drink specials.

I definitely think that’s a start, as perceived prices are definitely something the Mac needs to overcome. As I mentioned in my post last summer after a visit to the patio, another is the menu itself; a trendier, more inventive menu could potentially pique the interest of different diners. To do this without alienating their regular clientele would require a fine balance between the new and the established. I do agree with Chef Jost – the Hotel Macdonald is a living landmark that should be traversed much more by Edmontonians – but how can they do this without what could be seen as devaluing the Fairmont brand? It will be interesting to see what else the Mac develops in the months to come.

Thank you to Chef Jost, Chef Paul and the rest of the staff at the Hotel Macdonald for a memorable evening.

Check out Rebecca and Linda’s posts about the evening as well.

Restaurant Relaunch: Harvest Room at the Hotel MacDonald

On October 17, 2011, the Harvest Room at the Hotel MacDonald reopened after a nine-month hiatus. The space had to be meticulously repaired after extensive water damage to the ceiling, but the closure also meant that Executive Chef Andrew Ihasz had ample time and space to revamp the menu and locate local producers to source certain items. Mack and I were fortunate enough to have been invited to a media dinner two weeks ago to help celebrate the relaunch.

Harvest Room

Place setting

It was obvious that all of the staff were proud of their restaurant, but what surprised me the most was the serving length of the wait staff. A majority had worked at the hotel for over a decade; that kind of dedication and loyalty seems rare in the hospitality industry.

It’s always a privilege to be asked to attend such an event, especially because the chefs are usually on hand to introduce each of the dishes. I relish the opportunity to listen to chefs describe the genesis behind combining certain ingredients, or the inspiration behind a particular dish. Although Chef Ihasz did mention his affinity for crab (given his last Fairmont posting was in San Francisco), I found that the storytelling was lacking that night.

That said, the food was solid. Well-prepared, fit for the season, and items like lobster and crab notwithstanding, skewed towards local. We also appreciated that the producers’ names were highlighted on the menu.

The Sunworks Farm chicken & cognac parfait was not a dish I would have been likely to order on my own, but I was happy to have tried it – so smooth, each bite spread on the toasted brioche topped with the sweet berry chutney and crisp microgreens was perfect. This dish featured Mack’s favourite wine pairing, a Chateau de Sancerre.

Harvest Room

Chicken & cognac parfait

I could see the Dungeness crab salad becoming a favourite on the menu – beautifully plated in a layered fashion showcasing the avocado, oven-roasted tomatoes and frisee, it was surprisingly light. Lemon was prominent (even with a bit of preserved peel on top) and I relished the variety of textures throughout.

Harvest Room

Dungeness crab salad

I’m a sucker for dishes that serve an ingredient in more than one way, so I knew I would be biased towards the roasted Innisfail lamb rack. The lamb had been cooked to a succulent, tender rare, and the crispy lamb shank and basil cannelloni was a nice starchy counterpoint. Of note – the eggplant and mint tian was cooked well, worth mentioning given eggplant is a vegetable often overdone.

Harvest Room

Lamb rack and crispy lamb shank and basil cannelloni

Mack’s Sunworks Farm chicken roulade was quite generous. As a whole, it’s always interesting to see the interpretation of the chicken main on the menu, given it is typically the “go-to” for fussy diners. Chef Ihasz’s version incorporated a moist sage stuffing, and an underbelly of lentils which Mack quite enjoyed.

Harvest Room

Chicken roulade

Harvest Room

Lobster ravioli (the third alternating entree)

I was keeping my fingers crossed that my alternating dessert would end up being the delice of chocolate, and my wish came true (it felt a little like getting to sample several desserts on the same plate). Funny enough, what I liked most on the plate was actually the peanut butter ice cream, creamy and full of flavour. If they sold it curbside, I’d line up! The chocolate coulant (a molten cake) was wonderfully consistent, albeit rich, and was my favourite of the chocolate trio which also included a mousse and brownie.

Harvest Room

Delice of chocolate

Mack’s pot de crème of Fairmont Earl Grey tea and orange was comforting, though the star of his dessert was also an unlikely candidate – the accompanying lavender shortbread cookies.

Harvest Room

Pot de crème

I do hope people rediscover the Harvest Room now that it is open for business again. It is an institution in Edmonton, and for good reason. Their attention to detail that night meant that nothing was overlooked; service was flawless. Thanks again to the staff of the Harvest Room and the Hotel MacDonald for their generosity and hospitality.

Harvest Room at the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald
10065 100 Street