Chef Michael Ubbing, and his beet and pearl barley risotto (photos: Twitchy Finger Photography; Michael Ubbing)

Local Fare: Westlake Grill Chef Michael Ubbing

By Liane Faulder

Reserve a seat at Westlake Grill and you’ll taste more than chef Michael Ubbing’s finely honed, steakhouse-inspired fare—though recent dishes like Alberta yak tartare and a salted caramel chocolate mousse are worth relishing. You’ll also savour the sum of the local food experience he brings to the table at Red Deer’s Heritage Ranch.

For years, Ubbing has been at the forefront of locavorism in Alberta: “I started out at franchises when I was young, and asked myself, ‘How can this be improved?’ The answer was better ingredients. I remembered eating carrots from my grandma’s garden, and picking Saskatoon berries, and all the flavours and experiences behind that.”

After earning his Red Seal certification, in 2008 Ubbing joined Red Deer’s now-closed Restaurant 27, which was committed to sourcing from artisanal producers long before it became trendy. “Farmers would bring in 200 pounds of beets every couple of days, and we had to figure out how to use them all,” Ubbing says of the challenges—and rewards—of cooking exclusively with in-season, local ingredients.

He continued to spread the local-food gospel. A season running the café at Lacombe’s Ellis Bird Farm, a working farm and wildlife sanctuary, added to his knowledge and connections with producers. He was also part of the coalition that in 2014 successfully lobbied to allow backyard hens in Red Deer.

Chef Shane Chartrand puts his Indigenous heritage on the plate

Now, as executive chef at Westlake Grill and its more casual sister space, Roosters Wood Fire & Smoke, Ubbing forges onward, using ingredients from such local purveyors as Steel Pony Farm, Bowden Chicken, Sylvan Star Cheese and the Alix Hutterite colony to create succulent staples like his signature Jack Daniels-infused rib-eye with maple curry glaze.

He also continues to engage diners at his innovative chef’s table evenings. Through his cooking, he imparts lessons on what sustainably sourced food can mean for the plate and the economy.

“Local food,” he says, “creates conversation at the table and beyond.”

Alberta ingredients add fresh flavours to this comforting dish

1 cup Steel Pony Farms red or yellow beets, diced small
1 Tbsp duck fat or olive oil
1 cup yellow onion, diced
1 tsp garlic purée
1 cup pearl barley
2 1/2 cups dry white wine
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 cup Sylvan Star Grizzly Gouda or parmesan cheese, finely shredded
1/3 cup goat cheese
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp white pepper

Steam whole beets until tender, about 30 to 45 minutes depending on size. Allow to cool somewhat, then use paper towel to gently rub off skin. Cut into small pieces.

Add duck fat (or olive oil), onion and garlic to a thick- bottomed pot and cook on medium-low heat until onion pieces are translucent.

Add pearl barley and stir for one minute.

Add all liquid and beets; simmer on low until barley starch is apparent and the barley itself is al dente (about 20 minutes).

Stir in all cheese and seasoning. Season further to taste as necessary and serve.

(Serves four)