Ask most folks to define Canadian cuisine and you’ll likely be met with a furrowed brow, followed by a vague nod to maple syrup or Saskatoon berries. Not so for Scott Downey. The chef-owner at The Butternut Tree in Edmonton is clear about the Canadian concept of his 58-seat establishment.
“I wrap it around two interconnected points: ingredients and ecosystems,” Downey says. “By focusing on Canadian ecosystems, we discover what kind of ingredients we have, and the flavour profiles defined by them.” This carefully considered approach to regional cuisine is among the reasons The Butternut Tree recently earned a CAA/AAA Four Diamond Award, placing it within the top 97 percent of more than 30,000 reviewed restaurants across North America.
Downey’s menu often features the likes of lingcod, elk, pheasant, bison and rabbit, plus foraged accompaniments such as pickled spruce needles and reindeer moss. The eclectic menu is inspired by the West Coast and Rocky Mountains, but also the Great Lakes and even northern tundra.
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“I don’t know any other country in the world where you can put a fish from the Arctic Circle and a prickly pear cactus from southern Alberta on the same plate,” he says.
Born in Edmonton, Downey was going to college in B.C. and working part-time at a restaurant when he fell in love with the culinary world. He dropped his business studies to concentrate on cooking.
After graduating from New York’s Culinary Institute of America, he took on apprenticeships at Michelin-starred Daniel in NYC and Copenhagen’s world-famous Noma. Back in Canada, he became a sous chef at Vancouver’s Wildebeest and launched a business gathering wild plants.
At The Butternut Tree, Downey’s modern-rustic dining room overlooks Edmonton’s river valley, adding resonance to its focus on indigenous proteins and wild garnishes. Even desserts hew toward heritage ingredients like buckwheat. It’s all about being true to his Canadian sensibility.
“It’s up to us, as a nation, to create the definition of Canadian cuisine,” he says. “I’m just so excited to be promoting and helping in that discovery.”
A beautiful showcase for a favourite seafood
2 unripe crab apples
2 oz Riesling vinegar
1 cup heavy cream
1 oz buttermilk
3 pinches salt
2 cups rye flour
7 Tbsp cold butter
3–4 Tbsp cold water
1 1/2 Tbsp caraway seeds
3 Tbsp buckwheat honey
6 oz crab meat
Make the crab apple topping
Shave crab apples to 1-mm thickness. Steep shavings in vinegar for a day.
Make the crème fraiche
Whisk cream, buttermilk and a pinch of salt. Allow to sit at room temperature for 3 hours. Mix in liquid smoke to taste.
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Make the tart shell
Mix flour, seeds and a pinch of salt, then cut in honey and butter until pea-size pieces remain. Add water as needed to bring together the dough, then form into two 6-inch tart pans. Allow to rest for at least 20 minutes.
Bake at 400 F until pastry begins to caramelize, about 7 minutes. Cool in pan for 5 minutes; remove and transfer to a cooling rack.
Bring it all together
Toss crab meat with crème fraiche, plus salt to taste. Add mixture to tart shell. Top with crab apple coins and your preferred blend of fresh herbs and edible flowers. Finish with a splash of Riesling vinegar and canola oil, plus a pinch of salt.
(Makes two tarts)