Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
SASKATOON, SASKATCHEWAN — Saskatchewan’s best restaurant owes its existence to ramen noodles. Without them, Dan Walker may have never become a chef.
More than 15 years ago, Walker was working in the construction industry in British Columbia. He and his co-workers subsisted on the pre-packaged dollar meals that poof into something vaguely resembling food once boiling water is added into styrofoam containers. Walker says he became fed up with the processed food and took up cooking, for himself and his co-workers. Soon, his boss was encouraging him to go into the restaurant industry.
He followed that advice, working in restaurants in Vancouver before moving back to his home province to open up a bistro that wouldn’t look out of place in Toronto‘s trendy Queen West neighbourhood or Montreal‘s Sud-Ouest area, home to Joe Beef and Nora Gray. At Weczeria, Walker incorporates local ingredients with French cooking techniques and offers a strong wine list in a funky space with hanging lanterns and a welcoming bar. When I dined, I savoured a thick, tender Steelhead trout fillet from nearby Lake Diefenbaker, served with arugula salad and mushrooms.
Weczeria, whose name means “supper” in Ukrainian, is a casual fine dining restaurant similar to so many that have popped up in urban centres across the country in the past decade. What’s refreshing about Walker’s establishment is his attitude and his devotion to Saskatchewan produce. The walls of Weczeria, a 55-seat eatery on Saskatoon‘s Broadway Avenue, feature photographs of the farmers who supply Walker’s food. He’s a fixture at the city’s farmers’ market, snapping up produce for the restaurant’s menu — which changes daily — and taking advantage of living in Saskatchewan.
It costs Walker less to make his food than chefs in many other parts of the country. That’s because of his fortune to be in what he says is “the bread basket of the world.”
“Literally tons of chanterelle mushrooms get sent all across Western Canada, all across the United States. It’s not unusual for restaurants up and down the west coast to have Saskatchewan chanterelles,” Walker says, “but they’re paying a lot more than I am.”
Fine Dining Blossoms in Saskatoon with Weczeria
Despite winning Saskatchewan‘s Gold Medal Plates competition, Walker is low key about his cuisine. “We don’t do anything at our restaurant that a home cook couldn’t do in his or her kitchen. The difference is we do it for about 60 people a night,” he says.
While Weczeria ranks first in Saskatchewan on the Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada for 2013, Walker does have competition within the city. Duck, Duck, Goose is also highly regarded and soon Dale McKay, a Top Chef Canada winner, will open his new restaurant in town, bringing along bartender Christopher Cho, who was on McKay’s staff at ensemble and Lumiere in Vancouver.
“The culinary scene in Saskatoon is growing,” Walker notes, pointing out the province’s booming economy is bringing in more visitors looking for a good meal and putting more disposable cash into the pockets of residents. With an unemployment rate of less than 4%, as of March 2013, Saskatchewan is home to one of the healthiest business environments on the planet. “The economy is so strong and it’s really changing this place. We’re kind of a hidden gem, because people fly over Saskatchewan, but we’re seeing more and more people from out of town. It’s a really good thing for us.”
More About Weczeria in Saskatoon
Location: 820 Broadway Avenue, Saskatoon, SK
Hours: 11:30 am-2 pm for lunch; dinner at 5 pm-late from Monday to Saturday
Menu Prices: Dinner entrees range from $24-$30; there’s a stellar wine list, including excellent selections from British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley like Laughingstock Vineyards’ Portfolio cabernet blend.
You Must Order: The menu changes daily, but keep an eye out for Diefenbaker Lake Steelhead Trout.
2013 Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada: Weczeria received a combination of votes from Vacay.ca’s Voting Academy and the public to earn it a spot in the 2013 rankings, which will be announced on May 1. It ranks No. 1 in its city and province.
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