Chef Ryan O’Flynn’s Canadian Experience at The Westin’s Share Restaurant

After his February win at the Gold Medal Plate Championships, Chef Ryan O’Flynn has embraced his elevated status as an opportunity. Not one of personal gain, but a chance to showcase his interpretation of Canadian cuisine – featuring homegrown ingredients and traditional techniques that few other chefs are utilizing in Edmonton.

Mack and I were invited to a special dinner at The Westin’s Share Restaurant in June. Chef O’Flynn has completely revamped the menu, and we had the privilege of tasting nearly every new dish.

Share Tasting Menu with Chef Ryan O'Flynn

Share Restaurant

Diners can expect what he calls the “Canadian experience”. In the last few months, Chef O’Flynn has been spending time with Aboriginal elders, learning ancient cooking methods and then adapting them for use in a modern kitchen. It was obvious Chef O’Flynn’s is not only passionate about his craft, but also about learning from others, hungry for a connection between food and the stories behind them.

Share Tasting Menu with Chef Ryan O'Flynn

Chef Ryan O’Flynn

Perhaps the most special offering at Share is their version of a chef’s table. Starting at $80 per person for a minimum of six people, diners will be treated to a customized meal. The experience will include the opportunity for a one-to-one consultation with the Chef, where you will be able to share your favourite foods, childhood memories, and travels to inspire an entirely personalized dinner. It’s not everyday that diners can sit down with a Gold Medal Plate winner to create a menu, so it is definitely a unique offering in the city’s culinary landscape.

A number of dishes stood out that evening. The vegetarian course was absolutely stunning, a shock of fuchsia set against a charcoal backdrop. Comprised of marinated beets whipped with Innisfail goat cheese, beet relish, orange and a hibiscus petal, it was a dish light as air.

Share Tasting Menu with Chef Ryan O'Flynn

Innisfail goat cheese and Okanagan beets

Those who followed Chef O’Flynn’s Gold Medal Plates competition will be happy to see his award-winning entry on the menu. A labour of love, the terrine of sturgeon and Quebec foie gras takes one week to make. It marries pine smoked BC sturgeon with foie gras rubbed with pine nettles, and is served alongside morels sourced from the Northwest Territories (a company Chef O’Flynn has a stake in), Alberta wheat brioche and Okanagan apples. All of us around the table went quiet, enjoying the textures and concentration of flavours. Interestingly enough, Chef O’Flynn shared that because of his win with sturgeon, his supplier has had to increase production to meet the demand.

Share Tasting Menu with Chef Ryan O'Flynn

Terrine of pine smoked sturgeon and Quebec foie gras

My favourite dish was the “Prairie seabass”, or Northern Lake Pickerel, which Chef O’Flynn and his team receive whole twice a week. Dressed with a toasted pine nut crust, the fish was fatty and delectable, garnished with sea asparagus atop cauliflower puree.

Share Tasting Menu with Chef Ryan O'Flynn

Grilled Northern Lake pickerel and toasted nut crust

Chef O’Flynn’s playful nature was showcased in his version of “chicken of the sea”. “Ficken” involves sous vide poached chicken as well as pan roasted halibut with a layer of crispy chicken skin. It was actually not as odd as I thought it might be, as it was similar to crisped up fish skin. The rest of the plate perhaps deserved more of the spotlight – the perfectly prepared chicken just melted away, and the combination of Taber corn and wild Winnipeg rice was ready to anchor a vegetarian main.

Share Tasting Menu with Chef Ryan O'Flynn

“Ficken” pan roasted halibut and free range chicken

The item closest to the hotel menu mainstay of steak and potatoes is actually the bison. But unlike the usual grilled meat, Chef O’Flynn has chosen to adapt an Aboriginal method that would have involved cooking over hot stones buried in the ground. Instead, bison cured in pine salt is wrapped in foil with onion puree and coffee is smoked for twelve hours under soil, birch bark and pine nettles. The potatoes are also given special treatment, with smoked cream and butter whipped into them.

Share Tasting Menu with Chef Ryan O'Flynn

Bison rib of Alberta bison

The menu will officially be launched on July 16, though intrepid diners may have already noticed the shift at Share.

No doubt Chef O’Flynn’s passion for Canadian cuisine was known before his Gold Medal Plate fame, but it is likely to be cemented with this new direction at The Westin. His growing repertoire of techniques and willingness to experiment can only serve him well – he’ll be one to watch for in Edmonton, and starting this week, you can see for yourself what he has to offer.

Thanks to Chef O’Flynn and the team at The Westin for having us!

Check out Linda and Cindy’s recaps of the evening.

Black Box Dry Run: The Westin’s Chef Ryan O’Flynn Prepares for the Gold Medal Plates

Mack and I were privileged enough to be invited to Chef Ryan O’Flynn’s dry run for his upcoming appearance at the National Gold Medal Plates competition.

Chef O’Flynn has been at the helm of The Westin Hotel since early last year, and in November, he won gold at Edmonton’s Gold Medal Plates, earning him a berth to the national contest. Taking place in Kelowna from February 6-8, 2015, the competition is comprised of three stages, including a “black box” portion: “Chefs will receive only 10 minutes notice, and a black box containing 10 ingredients of diverse foods before having to produce and plate one spectacular dish using 6 of the 10 ingredients for the national judges. All in one very short hour!” Tonight’s black box dry run was meant to help Chef O’Flynn flex his culinary skills in preparation for next week.

Chef O’Flynn originally hails from Edmonton, but had spent the majority of his career overseas in high-end kitchens in Europe. That experience is helping him raise the standards at The Westin, and now, on a national stage, he is proud to be just one of two hotel chefs represented at this year’s Gold Medal Plates. Given the winner is essentially crowned Canada’s best chef, the competition is fierce, but Chef O’Flynn has his eye on the prize.

Westin Black Box Dinner

On Wednesday, Mack and I arrived just after Chef O’Flynn had started cooking. The clock ticking down, he only had sixty minutes to create a dish using at least six of the ten ingredients chosen by the Westin’s Director of Food and Beverage. In the box: oyster mushrooms, chanterelle mushrooms, lamb, Chilean sea bass, nutmeg, cilantro, goat cheese, figs, dates and lady fingers.

Westin Black Box Dinner

Guests were encouraged to interact, ask questions, and otherwise, get in the way of Chef O’Flynn, as to simulate the environment he would encounter in Kelowna. I’m not sure we did the best job at this, as I know I was content to watch him work, but it was obvious Chef O’Flynn could handily multitask, and even in conversation, was duly focused on the task at hand.

Westin Black Box Dinner

When asked the process he underwent to compose the dish, he responded by asking, “How does a musician write a song?” – he has just come to know how to combine and balance flavours. One could also say that this might be in his blood; his dad Maurice O’Flynn was a chef and managed Culinary Team Alberta to a world title in the 1990s.

Chef O’Flynn finished his dish with fourteen minutes to spare. And instead of incorporating six of the mystery ingredients, he ambitiously worked in all ten.

Westin Black Box Dinner

We all marveled at how well the components worked with one another: the base of whipped goat cheese melted into the medium rare lamb; the nutmeg sauce enhanced the earthy mushrooms; the perfectly crispy sea bass skin topped with sweet cilantro-lady finger crumble. Our only criticism was related to the toughness of the oyster mushroom – the hour wasn’t enough to reconstitute the dried mushroom, and in hindsight, Chef O’Flynn shared that would likely have left them out of the final dish.

Chef O’Flynn deserved the applause he received; we can only hope it will be a good omen as he travels to Kelowna next week. Best of luck to him as he strives to make Edmonton proud!

Thanks again to the team at The Westin for having us – it was a treat to be a part of the preparation process!