Meet the young animals of Saskatoon
Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
A refreshing mix of frugality and creative passion, Peters tells about the decision to decorate Primal with both an extremely tight budget and an ethical sensibility.
“The curtains are from Value Village. I spent $20 there on decorations and I got the pelts from the farmers,” she told me as I dined on a plate of beef carpaccio served with pickled walnuts and fried artichokes.
The farms provide whole animals to Peters and her partner, Kyle Michael, for their two restaurants in the Riversdale neighbourhood, a one-time derelict part of town that is now the heart of a cultural renaissance. Peters says the animals they purchase will fill the menu at Primal and The Hollows, the couple’s first restaurant in the city, for one season.
This year, they’ve ordered one cow, one elk, five whole pigs, and five Icelandic breed sheep. Those animals will last the restaurants three months and then some. But the animals’ service doesn’t stop with the menus, which is where the pelts come in.
“When you buy the whole animal and you know exactly what you have for a full season’s menu, it’s amazing for food costs. And we are using everything. When we were getting the animals, I told the farmers to throw in the pelts. They said, ‘Sure.’ They gave me a garbage bag of pelts and that’s what we use to decorate in here,” she says of Primal, a restaurant that focuses on Italian cuisine, including interesting housemade pasta dishes such as squid ink puttanesca.
The pelts needed to be tanned, though. Instead of driving three hours to the nearest tannery in the province, Peters learned how to do that task herself. She then taught some of her staff the technique to tan the fur.
“We have very little server turnover and part of the reason is there’s always stuff to do. We’re never bored. The girls will come in and if it’s a slow day, they will ask, ‘What weird thing are you going to have us do today?'” Peters says with a grin. “The pelts cost us nothing and they’re just so beautiful. They’re $300 each in a store.”
It’s not only nose-to-tail cooking. The Hollows and Primal are nose-to-tail life. Those pelts that Peters had thrown in for free from a farmer have been turned into attractive, fittingly western decor — as well as warm, functional blankets during the cold Saskatchewan winter. Animal fat not used in cooking is boiled down by Peters and her staff, and then scented with lavender and transformed into soap used in the bathrooms.
“It’s lard and lye, like the way it was done by the pioneers, and we add in essential oils to give it this lovely scent,” says Peters, who also has a hydroponics operation in the basement of both restaurants. She and Michael grow some of the produce they need for their dishes in-house.
Saskatoon Turns Into a Culinary Hotspot
One of the many Saskatoonians to return home in recent years to grow businesses and take advantage of one of the strongest economies in Canada over the past five years, Peters says she and Michael saw tremendous waste in their careers in large restaurants in Vancouver and San Francisco. Those inefficient and damaging practices convinced them that business could be done differently. Food — and the cost of it — could be saved, and unconventional cuisine could emerge.
“We eat dandelions and elm seeds. They’re considered weeds but they have texture and flavour and they’re the first things to show up in spring around here. We find ways to cook with them,” she says.
Peters also credits her parents for leading her toward cooking with pristine ingredients. But not for the reason you might think.
“My parents never ate natural foods. We had some of the worst processed foods while I was growing up. So I feel every kid rebels against their parents and that’s one reason I started cooking for myself and started cooking well,” the former model says. “I stuck with cooking and took it to the next level, and a large part of the reason why was because I thought it was a very worthwhile skill to learn. You have to be able to feed yourself and feed the people close to you. It’s a skill that would always serve me well, I felt.”
Peters isn’t the only young entrepreneur doing fascinating things in Saskatoon.
The team at Ayden Kitchen and Bar — headed by supremely talented chefs Dale MacKay and Nathan Guggenheimer — continues to turn out some of the best cuisine in Canada. They’ve also launched Little Grouse on the Prairie, a stellar 38-seat Italian restaurant led by executive chef and MacKay protege Jesse Zuber.
Lucky Bastard Distillers keeps building a legacy, one born from a humorous story of a Canadian lottery winner. Michael Goldney turned his bonanza into an award-winning craft distillery that makes single-malt whisky, rum, gin and vodka, among other spirits, and recently relocated to a beautiful and massive space designed to resemble a a Prohibition-era speakeasy — complete with chandeliers and red velvet.
Add in clothing designer Steve Thomsen’s hip T-shirt prints from his Hardpressed label and an always excellent music scene, and it’s easy to understand why Saskatoon is luring back its proficient stars such as Peters and Top Chef Canada winner MacKay, and why it may not be long before it becomes a micro version of a destination like Portland, Oregon, which 20 years ago wasn’t on the radar for anything but rain. It’s now considered one of the coolest places to visit because of its proud, local culture.
Saskatoon has the ingredients to build something similar.
MORE ABOUT DINING IN SASKATOON
Primal (423 20th Street West; menu prices between $15-$25 for large plates) and The Hollows (334 Avenue C South; menu prices between $25-$32 for large dinner plates) are located in the Riversdale neighbourhood, about 20 minutes by foot from downtown Saskatoon. The top choices downtown are Ayden Kitchen and Bar (265 3rd Avenue South; menu prices between $21-$40 for main courses) and Little Grouse on the Prairie (167 3rd Avenue South; menu prices between $20-$34 for large plates or Alla Famiglia for $60 or $75 per person).
Tourism Tip: Visit Tourism Saskatoon’s website for ideas on planning your trip.