The Story of Your Plate

Just because UCalgary Alumni’s annual culinary event is sold out doesn’t mean you can’t recreate one of the secret sauces that will be revealed on Feb. 27

When you spend two decades toiling in kitchens from China and Whistler to the Rockies, you’re bound to scoop up an international array of influences. Evident in The Allium restaurant’s menu where Moroccan dishes sidle up next to Lebanese dips and where the Bok Choy Caesar Salad remains their No. 1 hit — Chef Alex Hamilton has created something equally eclectic for the sold-out event.

The Story of Your Plate focuses squarely on the origins of the food that 50 lucky diners will experience at the evening event. Here’s how the two hours may play out: On the multi-course menu, will be an appetizer that glitters with smoked trout and a main that features a rolly-polly chicken torchon drizzled with a Black Garlic and Lion’s Mane Mushroom Compote (see recipe below). About 60 per cent of the menu’s ingredients are from Alberta and some in fact, are made, grown or raised by UCalgary alumni who are contributing to the evening’s story. Let’s say we were having a glass of wine and sampling an amuse-bouche — well, an alum may narrate where the ingredients are from, how they were grown or raised, and provide a side of some culinary hacks to round out the dish.

Consider the menu’s local ingredients – black garlic, mustard greens, blue potatoes, ricotta gnocchi, carrots, beets, trout, chicken and a dessert that’s a sweet Congee Chinese Donut — and you’ll see why Hamilton describes each dish, incredulously, astonished that in the dead of winter, Calgarians can source such provisions.

Almost gleeful when describing Lion’s Mane Mushrooms, Hamilton explains that Dr. Tatenda Mambo, PhD’16, will be there to regale the audience with his personal stories about growing mushrooms in straw and coffee grounds (thanks to alumni Phil and Sebastian) on campus. Just one of the evening’s alumni speakers, much of Mambo’s work at UCalgary focuses on sustainable food development; other speakers will bring alternate perspectives and ingredients to the menu. 

Besides being dubbed the kitchen-lead at The Allium — a Calgary-based worker co-op restaurant that has intentionally rewritten the rules of most hierarchical kitchens — Hamilton also volunteers at The Alex Community Health Centre and will continue to teach classes at Cookbook Co. Cooks.

A man of many talents, what Hamilton isn’t, he stresses, “is a patron saint of hyper local.”

“I’d like to think we are all trying to do our best to save the planet,” says the man, thoughtfully, who still swoons over the memory of the best meal he ever ate (at Pujol in Mexico City), adding “but, if sometimes, people said ‘I will buy these cookies from a local provider, rather than a package of Oreos from Mr. Christie’, well . . . those are the comments I love to hear.”

Whether or not you’re attending the upcoming $90 dinner, treat this recipe as a sneak peek — here’s the secret sauce that will be drizzled over the chicken torchon, courtesy of Alex Hamilton. If you’re still interested in attending, we’ve formed a wait list in case of cancellations. For details, email alumni@ucalgary.ca.

Lion’s Mane Mushroom and Black Garlic Compote

  • 2 tbsp. garlic oil or grapeseed oil 
  • 1 white onion, finely diced
  • 4 oz. piece of lion’s mane mushroom, diced 
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 5 cloves of black garlic, minced 
  • 3 tbsp. sherry vinegar 
  • 1 tsp. black pepper, ground 
  • 1 tbsp. maple syrup 
  • 1 tbsp. miso
  • 1 dash of liquid smoke
  • Salt to taste 
  1. Sauté onion until it begins to caramelize.
  2. Add mushrooms and continue to sauté until mushrooms begin to caramelize.
  3. Add black and regular garlic and sauté briefly. 
  4. Add remaining ingredients and cook until all of the ingredients are incorporated well.
  5. Add salt to taste and serve.