Banff Jasper Collection

From Farm to Summit

The wooden gate slides open and a crew of chefs in muddy boots slips in. Within seconds, they’re welcomed by a dozen chubby, oinking, sniffing pigs. It’s sloppy and the pigs are grunting, nuzzling right into boots and chasing at heels. The crew can’t help but smile.

It’s a slice of farm life that few culinary professionals get to experience firsthand. On this cloudy spring morning northwest of Calgary, the talented crew from the kitchen at Sky Bistro, who work each day on the top of Banff’s Sulphur Mountain, have brought things very much to ground level.

Photo: Chef Scott Hergott with farmers Christopher and Jessica Fasoli.

Sourcing local in Alberta 

Old is new again at Bear and the Flower Farm in Irricana, Alberta. As contemporary diners continue to long for a return to basics in cuisine, and to search out simpler and more authentic food, chefs like Sky Bistro’s Executive Chef Scott Hergott are thriving on the challenge to bring local produce and meats to the forefront of their menus.

In order to do so, Chef Scott is dedicated to forging strong relationships with suppliers and farmers, including Christopher and Jessica Fasoli of Bear and the Flower Farm. They’re part of a new generation of farmers focusing on a natural and free-range approach, "doing things the way our grandparents did," Christopher Fasoli says.

Farmers showcase the Bear and the Flower Farm

Photo: Can you guess who is the 'bear' and who is the 'flower'?

"Doing things the way our grandparents did" -Christopher Fasoli

Chef Scott works with them for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s the closest heritage pork producer to the Rocky Mountains. And that means fresher products, stronger connections and less carbon emissions in transport. Secondly, the pigs here are ethically treated and live on 100 acres of wide-open Prairies. And finally, he says their pork just consistently tastes amazing.

“As a chef, I’m looking for consistently great marbling and a bold flavour,” he says. “Their product is exactly what I’m looking for. I know exactly what I’m getting.”

For the Fasolis, it comes down to lifestyle. They’re former city-living corporate types who traded it all in for farm living and are seeing their small business thrive as part of the farm-to-table and nose-to-tail movement in cuisine across North America. The Fasolis are very passionate about raising their pigs in a free-range and natural environment.

Passionate farms, passionate chefs

Christopher and Jessica are firm believers in the importance of process and are self-described 'nerds' about the science of farming. From the breeders they work with to the feed they provide their animals, they’re meticulous about doing the right thing at each step in raising their pigs.

"It's the science that makes us consistent," Jessica says. "And that's something we've completely had to learn. We got really into the marbling and science. And we realized how just changing something small in the feed can make such a huge impact."

A chef smiles as she reaches to touch a pig's nose.

The Sky Bistro team stand together on a farm.

The animals are all high in Omega 3 and spend so much time outside. Jessica estimates they cover more miles in a day than conventional pigs would in their entire lifetime. They roam a blissful pasture, eating natural grasses, getting muddy on their own private riverbank and gorging on feed that the Fasolis have customized—it’s a GMO-free, antibiotic- and hormone-free feed that’s nutritionally-rich and contains no animal by-products. Bear and the Flower's 600 animals are given patented pre- and probiotics when they're young. Then, they're fed a unique pelleted mixture that includes barley, wheat, peas, linseed, lysine, flax, limestone, salt and a handful vitamins (among other ingredients). 

"It's really a combination of what they eat, being outside, getting a ton of exercise," she says. "That's what leads to the flavour and marbling we've become famous for."

When Cooks Hit the Farm

Chef Scott's team of cooks from Sky Bistro paid a visit to Bear and the Flower Farm this spring as part of an on-going effort to connect with suppliers. For a team that tends to thrive on pressure, it was a chance to take in some wide spaces as well. 

“The trip to the farm was very grounding for the team,” says Chef Scott. And once the team arrived, there was plenty of time to explore their environment. “It gave us all the opportunity to see the animals in a very humane and positive environment,” he says.

After touring the acreage and getting up close and personal with the pigs, Christopher and Jessica offered some samples from their selection of signature sausages (Blueberry Breakfast and Mild Italian), and joined Chef Scott and his team for a chat.

The Fasoli’s passion for what they do has rubbed off on Chef Scott’s team.

“Once back in the kitchen, the team has really changed the way they handle the food," Chef Scott says. "And certainly we're giving a lot more thought into preparing and using only what is required. There is a lot more care taken now that they have seen the process, and understand that these animals give their lives so we can be nourished,” he says. 

For the Sky Bistro culinary team, a trip to the farm has been both eye-opening and inspiring.

“I’m very grateful for their energy and commitment, and I can see how it makes a difference to our chefs,” Chef Scott says.

On the Menu at Sky Bistro

Bear and the Flower’s pork is featured in the new Summer Sky Bistro menu. It's a twice-baked pork belly that has been braised for 24 hours. While it warms, it gets pressed. It's then seared, adding a crackling element, and served with polenta and shaved fennel. To finish the dish, Chef garnishes it with pickled radish. It's become a crowd pleaser. 

Try it for yourself—book a table at Sky Bistro via the Sky Experience Package. You'll be rewarded with stellar views and a chance to taste the remarkable flavour of this heritage Alberta pork.

John Price

About the Photographer: Australian-born John Price is a photographer and climber who has spent the last six years travelling all over the world, while basing himself out of Canada. John is a freelance adventure, lifestyle, and landscape photographer. He also teaches private workshops, creates editorial pieces, and shoots for commercial projects for a range of clients including Pursuit. Follow him at @johnpricephotography

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