Camp Cookhouse chefs Alex Bruveris and Becky Ross, and the restaurant's smashed salad (photos: Chris Amat; Becky Ross)

Local Fare: Camp Cookhouse

By Liane Faulder

Three years ago, chefs Becky Ross and Alex Bruveris were living in Toronto and had worked their way to top positions in respected kitchens. They figured they’d paid their dues.

But when they moved to southern Alberta to take over an old Elkwater eatery in Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, the married pair found themselves working harder than ever. They transformed a space reminiscent of a 1970s rec room into a thriving local restaurant.

Today, Camp Cookhouse boasts chic grey-plank flooring, brushed metal chairs and mounted elk heads. A wood-fired smoker lends outdoorsy flavour to many of Ross and Bruveris’s dishes, which evoke memories of cooking around the campfire.

The young chefs cook entirely from scratch, making their own mustard and ricotta, plus the jarred jams and ratatouille sold in the restaurant’s general store. Customers clamour for the Camp Burger, made with hand-ground brisket and served on a house-baked milk bun. Ross and Bruveris have also introduced menu options like their smashed salad, which combines big-city ingenuity and unpretentious local ingredients.

It’s a mix that attracts patrons from Medicine Hat and the communities abutting Cypress Hills and the Alberta-Saskatchewan border—plus more than a few out-of-towners.

Chef Shane Chartrand honours his indigenous heritage on the plate

“Lots of people from Calgary and Edmonton, and tourists from Ontario, will come in and ask, ‘Why is this so good and why are your prices so reasonable?’” Ross says. “They don’t expect to find anything of quality in a little town like this. That truly makes our efforts feel worthwhile.”

The chefs enjoy adding new elements to campground cooking. In the future, though, they hope to bring their brand of barbecue back to the city—by opening a restaurant in Medicine Hat.

“It’s nice to feel we’re making a positive impact on the way people think about food, and what dining out means,” Ross says.

A kitchen sink–style salad that’s fresh, fun and filling 

1 clove garlic (small)
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
3/4 cups cider vinegar
1 1/4 cups canola oil
1/4 cup pearl barley
1 large cucumber
12 radishes
1 small jicama, peeled and diced

Plus: Your preferred amounts of chickpeas, feta cheese, fresh mint and basil, smoked chicken or other shredded meat, salt, chopped scallions, and crushed peanuts

Mix garlic, honey, mustard and cider vinegar in a blender for 20 seconds. Add oil and blend on high until emulsified, about 45 seconds. Set aside.

Cook barley in two cups salted water until tender—about 30 minutes. Drain, rinse and chill.

Cut a shallow cross-hatch pattern into cucumber: Cut at an angle one way, roll cucumber 1/4 turn and cut at the opposite angle; repeat to score all the way around. Break the cucumber into pieces using the heel of your knife.

Trim tops and bottoms of radishes. Place one at a time on a cutting board and smash into pieces with a small frying pan.

Combine everything except scallions and peanuts in a bowl. Season with about one teaspoon salt and 1/4 cup cider dressing. (Refrigerate remaining dressing for later use.) Top with scallions and peanuts.

(Serves two as a meal; four as a side dish)