12 days to go - oh give me a home
I took my family to Africa back in the fall. It was a long-overdue opportunity for us to travel together, and a great chance to expose my teenage/tweenage kids to the realities of life outside of Canada and our idyllic Bow Valley. As we camped our way through Zambia and Malawi we met the most incredible people – people whose lives are indescribably more difficult than ours, and yet they were the nicest, most welcoming, and seemingly happiest people we had ever met.
One evening I was chatting to a guy on the shores of Lake Malawi, and he told me what he does each day – walks a mile at dawn to get water from the village well before splitting the next 12 hours between working in the threadbare village hospital (which he had walked me through earlier in the day) and running the family stall at the village market. And then he asked me what I do for a living.
Now I have seen a great deal of this wonderful planet and have never lost sight of how lucky I am to live where I live and carry the passport I do, but at that moment I simply had no idea how to respond. Because saying “I run a food and drink festival” seemed the most ludicrous statement imaginable.
I therefore look at my current challenge of trying to sample and blog about around 40 tasting experiences in the couple of weeks before Canmore Uncorked as the ultimate in first-world problems, and count my lucky stars to have such an opportunity, even if I am going to have to ramp up my current rate of blogging just one experience per day...
AND FIRST WORLD DELIGHTS…
And so to Canmore’s favourite saloon, Where the Buffalo Roam, an eclectic cocktail bar on Canmore’s Main Street that would not be out of place in a trendy district of Manhattan or Rome, but provides such a genuine, warm, friendly and unpretentious welcome that it fits oh-so-perfectly in Canmore.
Owners Shelley and Oona have poured their hearts into ‘the Buff’, successfully creating a European-style cocktail bar that feels like a home-away-from-home when you visit. They bring very different but highly complementary personalities and backgrounds to the business. Oona is the ‘bartender extraordinaire’ who has worked all over the valley, bringing a sense of calm and control when things are busiest. She is a foodie and a traveller, and spends time whenever possible at her mother’s family home in France, gaining new ideas and inspirations to bring to the business. Shelley brings a background in wine sales specializing in small-batch unique wines, along with the industry friends she made in the role. She also gave me possibly the most heartwarming moment of any Uncorked when openly shedding a few tears of joy watching Quartetto Gelato play for the first time “in their little bar”.
The business has been built around the quality and ethical sourcing of their product. They do not deal in mass-market brands, instead specializing in craft breweries, distilleries and wineries – and here they separate themselves from most. All their wines are sustainable and either organic or biodynamic – which for the uninitiated (like me), goes way beyond ‘organic’ and uses ecological and spiritual principals to increase the health of vineyards as cohesive, interconnected living systems. Methods include the practical (growing herbs that naturally fight off weeds, and farming ladybugs that fight off aphids), as well as the spiritual (burying a cow horn full of dung under the vine on the first full moon of the growing season), but always with a deep respect for the earth. As Shelley says, there are many wineries to choose from – why not support the ones that take care of the planet.
While the success of the Buff may have been built on great drinks, great food has always been part of the plan, and this year it will be on display in an Uncorked set-price menu for the first time. It took a while to find the right fit, but when Shelley and Oona landed Chef Kris Lowes they knew they were ready to go. Kris was born and raised in the UK, moved to Saskatchewan as a teenager, apprenticed as a chef in Montreal, and worked from Vietnam to Tofino before settling into the Bow Valley, and brings an inspired mind and a mix of cultures to the menu.
The Uncorked $33 three-course special starts with Tempura Brussel Sprouts – inspired by an idea of Shelley’s (the sprouts) that “Kris just made better”, and is served with bacon bits and a ponzu aioli. Personally I am a very big fan of sprouts (I usually roast them tossed in olive oil, black pepper and lemon zest with grated parmesan on top), and these did not disappoint at all. They were hot through but had lost none of their crunch, and the tempura/aioli were a perfect complement. Delicious!
Next up was the New Zealand lamb shank, which was braised to perfection and served on a potato rosti - a nice change from mash which is far more common - all drizzled with the braising jus. As my wife (who cleverly shows up to ‘help taste’ at all her favourite spots) exclaimed “OMG it just falls apart!”. Once again I opted to miss dessert, though I am certain that the lemon tart with vanilla whip cream and fresh berry coulis would have been as delicious as the first two courses.
If you only know Where the Buffalo Roam for the drinks, try the food – it is excellent (and Chef Kris’ Buffalo Meatballs recipe in the new Uncorked Cookbook looks amazing). If you don’t know the Buff, give it a try – Chef Kris says "it is always fun to come to work here", and it shows in the warmth of the welcome you will receive. You will not be disappointed.
Where the Buffalo Roam is included as part of The Bistro Tour featuring Quartetto Gelato, and Chef Kris Lowes is part of the Chef Team representing Canmore at the Uncorked Launch Party on May 3rd. Don’t miss these fabulous events!
FEATURED RESTAURANT AND EVENTS:
Where the Buffalo Roam
The Bistro Tour
The Canmore Uncorked Launch Party