Think back to 100 years ago. A group of guides, packers, explorers and adventurers in Jasper gathered together for a meal in the backcountry of the Rockies. It was hearty, simple and delicious food that made people smile. And it spoke to adventure.
Old is new again at the Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen where the brand-new menu is loaded with a traditional take on comfort food that is perfectly suited for today's adventurers. Think slow-smoked meats, handmade preserves, fresh local veggies and warm company.
We sat down with Executive Chef Martin Brenner to discuss how the Kitchen's smokehouse menu is an explorer's delight.
Or you could call it "timeless". Explorers of days gone by needed to think and plan ahead when they hit the trail. Pickling, canning and smoking meat were common methods used a century ago by adventurers like Mary Schäffer as they hit the Jasper backcountry for weeks on end. Before refrigeration was available, meat was cured and smoked. And that pioneering heartiness hasn't gone out of style. In fact, authentic, homemade food like the Kitchen's new menu is in many ways just what explorers of today are after.
"It's all handcrafted and unique—the menu is like going back in time," Chef Martin says. "It just really fits this place."
So why does smoked meat taste so good? The Kitchen's team first coats the meat in a specially-developed dry rub that's rich in flavour. It's smoked in-house with local woods on a daily basis. Chef Martin says smoking results in incredibly tender meat. Maybe it's more labour-intensive than simple grilling or roasting, but he says it's the worth it.
"It makes the taste distinctive," Chef Martin says.
Think back 100 years to how a group of adventurers would have a meal in the backcountry of Jasper. All would come together around the food, heaping plates of which would be passed around as tales were told. Eating family-style allows people to eat as much as they like, and feel free to reach across the table and pass plates around. Plus, you can sample a variety of the house specialties (instead of being limited to making just one choice off the menu).
"It's more fun, it engages the whole group around the table," Chef Martin says.
Alberta-sourced meats dominate the menu at the Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen. Many meat cuts that are often considered 'secondary' elsewhere are showcased here. Chef Martin says they're more difficult cuts to prepare and that few restaurants locally have the know-how to present them with flavour and tenderness. There are sausages from Canmore's Valbella Gourmet Foods, chicken from Sunrise Farms and pork from Bear and Flower Farms. It's the taste of the Rockies, and that matters a lot.
"It's as local as it gets," Chef Martin says.
If you'd rather take some of this deliciousness to go (picnic on the trail, perhaps?), the Wilderness Kitchen has a stocked Grab-and-Go menu featuring the same smoked meat products. How about beef brisket and Oka cheese sandwich for a mid-day, mid-adventure replenishment? If you're just hankering for some snacks post-adventure, the Wilderness Platter includes all the best of the smoked meats, pickles and preserves in a share-able way that pairs perfectly with a local craft beer. Cheers to that!
"It's perfect for after a hike on the Maligne Canyon," Chef Martin says.
The Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen's smokehouse is the same kind of comfort food explorers have always craved in Jasper. As you pass the platter of smokey, tender, tasty meat, we hope the tales of adventure run strong.
Header photo courtesy of Jasper Yellowhead Museum.