By Jessica Pelland, as told to Michele Sponagle
Jessica Pelland is one of few chefs in Calgary who is actually born and raised there. As part owner and executive chef of Charbar, the city’s hottest new restaurant, she has an opportunity to showcase the local ingredients she knows and loves with a South American flair.
Pelland started in the kitchen at 17, peeling potatoes in a small family-owned restaurant, and she has basically stayed in one ever since. Before leading her team at Charbar, she mentored under John Jackson and Connie DeSousa, the chefs behind another Calgary favourite, Charcut Roast House. There, she honed an approach to food that can be summed up in four words: simple, fresh, local and delicious.
Alberta loves beef. I think it’s because of our geography, our grass and our climate. Our weather isn’t as cold as Saskatchewan’s or as wet as British Columbia’s. It’s more moderate, which makes it a great place to raise cattle.
While still at Charcut, I met the owner of 7K Panorama Ranch, Michael Kaumeyer, who breeds Texas longhorn. The meat is grass-fed and grass-finished, so it’s leaner than other beef. When I visited Kaumeyer’s place, I absolutely fell in love with it, so he supplies all the beef to Charbar and you can really taste the difference.
Argentine cuisine inspires the food we serve at Charbar. After a recent visit to Argentina, I was completely wowed by the culture and the culinary scene. I loved their approach to grilling meat, called asado, which is now a focal point of the Charbar menu. To me, Argentine-style grilling is the closest thing to cooking over a campfire. Hardwood charcoal lends a beautiful smoky flavour to meat and a nice char as well. The grill itself is also unique: Instead of each grate on the grill being round, it has a V-shape, which channels away the fat and juices and prevents flare-ups. We collect those juices and use them to baste the meat and our beef-fat fries.
Our beef is served with house-made chimichurri, an Argentine sauce they consume as enthusiastically as we do ketchup. They pair it with every kind of meat imaginable: pork, chicken, beef, lamb…. It’s full of herbs and has a bit of acidity that helps cut through the fat of cuts like New York strip loins or short ribs.
In Argentina, many restaurants make their chimichurri a bit differently—some are green and some bright red. Even street vendors selling grilled sausages offer a little bowl of it on the side. One of the versions I created for Charbar has lots of fresh herbs—parsley, mint and oregano—plus capers from Italy, garlic and sherry vinegar. It works well with the steak I serve, without overpowering it.
Another favourite is our eggplant chips. They’re made from Alberta-grown eggplant, and they’re coated in seasoned panko bread crumbs, egg wash and puffed quinoa, making them so crunchy and addictive. They’re the next best thing to french fries, and our guests love them!
Chef Jessica Pelland’s Argentine-Inspired Recipes, Charbar, Calgary
Eggplant Crisps With Aji Picante Aioli (Spicy Chili Mayo)
These crunchy, bite-sized morsels are a Charbar favourite. We hope they’ll become a favourite of yours too!
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
1 cup (250 mL) milk
1 cup (250 mL) flour
1 tbsp (15 mL) salt, plus more to taste
1 tsp (5 mL) garlic powder
1 tsp (5 mL) oregano
½ cup (125 mL) panko bread crumbs
½ cup (125 mL) puffed quinoa (optional)
2 baby eggplants, cut in ¼-inch (5 mm) thick slices
3 cups (750 mL) canola oil
Aji Picante Aioli
1 cup (250 mL) mayonnaise
½ cup (125 mL) aji paste
½ tsp (2 mL) onion powder
¼ tsp (1 mL) garlic powder
1. In shallow dish, whisk together egg and milk. In separate shallow dish, whisk together flour, salt, garlic powder and oregano. In third shallow dish, add panko; mix in quinoa (if using).
2. Dredge each eggplant slice in flour mixture, turning to coat. Dredge in egg mixture, then dredge in panko mixture, turning to coat.
3. In medium saucepan, heat oil to 375°F (190°C). Carefully place 6 to 8 eggplant slices in oil. Do not overcrowd. Deep-fry for about 2 minutes per side, or until golden brown. With slotted spoon, remove from oil; pat with paper towel. Add salt to taste.
Aji Picante Aioli
1. In medium bowl, mix together mayonnaise, aji paste, onion powder and garlic powder. Serve with eggplant crisps for dipping.
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Traditional Argentine Chimichurri
This fresh and flavourful condiment can be paired with any grilled meat.
1 cup (250 mL) fresh parsley, roughly chopped
2/3 cup (150 mL) fresh mint, roughly chopped
2/3 cup (150 mL) fresh oregano, roughly chopped
½ cup (125 mL) capers, drained
2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
½ tsp (2 mL) sherry vinegar
½ tsp (2 mL) each salt and pepper (approx)
1. In blender on high speed, blend parsley, mint, oregano, capers, oil, garlic and vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve on any grilled meat.
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