Ever since Top Chef Canada was on TV earlier this year, I have wanted to dine at Charcut in Calgary. For the uninitiated, the chef and one of the owners of Charcut, Connie DeSousa, competed on the Canadian version of this popular reality show. Each week, I loved watching her approach to food and cooking, and her quiet but forceful way that earned her a third place finish on the show . “Team Connie” was alive and well in #yegfood while the show was on, and we are still convinced she should have come in first.
So when the opportunity to overnight in Calgary came, my first call was to Charcut. Now dining alone on a Saturday night at a hot restaurant can make you feel, well, a little cold as you sit amongst couples and groups of stylin’ Calgarians. So I was grateful and excited when I learned Charcut had a kitchen or eating bar; a sign of a restaurant that takes pride in their kitchen and has nothing to hide, and a place where I could enjoyably dine solo and take in the action. In great anticipation, I tweeted about my planned dinner out.
As I was led to my seat at the kitchen bar, my inside voice cried out, “There’s Connie!” as I spied her in the kitchen, unassuming in a Charcut t-shirt and pony tail. The other, more reasoned voice in my head pointed out, “Of course she is there. She’s the chef of the restaurant and that is the kitchen. Get a grip.”
The kitchen bar should really be rechristened as “Place where the Food Network addicted dine”. At Charcut, the prep and the pace is literally 3 feet away. Meats sliced, chickens roasted, cookies warmed, plates finished – all in close, clear view. John, chef and also one of the owners, serves as kitchen magician; calling out incoming orders as the well-oiled, hardworking kitchen team listens, responds and makes each order appear. And Connie, the calm leader centering the team and kitchen that night, finishes orders and makes sure each plate comes to life.
I put my excitement and energy aside and refocus on the task at hand; ordering. I feel like an 8 year old with the Sears Christmas catalogue. Do I want the steak or the pork belly? That chicken roasting straight ahead of me looks awfully good. The raclette cheese or pork croquettes? Or maybe both? As I wrestle with the decision of what to order, I hear a soft-spoken voice over my shoulder.
I turn. It’s Connie. Outside of the kitchen, at my side, saying my name – not because she knows me, but from the reservation and my earlier tweets. She introduces herself, kindly welcomes me to Charcut and generously shares in the kitchen’s hospitality. I am flattered and speechless and star struck all at the same time. I manage a, “I really loved watching you on Top Chef”; a comment that is both completely sincere and completely lame at the same time.
In that moment, I wish I wasn’t dining alone. I want to exclaim to a dining companion, “That was Connie!” I consider a tweet or a quick call to a food friend. I have my moment, contain my inside voices and focus as any real food lover should — on just living in the experience.
By the time I finish my meal and the kitchen entertainment, I realize Connie doesn’t want to be the star. She wants food to be the star. She is an incredibly talented chef that doesn’t wear her culinary ego on her sleeve. It’s that combination that made her so appealing on Top Chef, so successful in the kitchen and restaurant, and like it or not, a star in my eyes.
I’m not going to describe my meal or even tell you what I ate. I am not a food blogger because I think it is more fun to choose and experience the food for yourself, uncensored. But I will tell you this. I had the chance to see every dish on the menu prepared and leave the kitchen, and I wanted to try every single one.
The Charcut experience was truly a cut above. Exceptional restaurant with staff you’d call friends in other environments, and an attention to making food the star. Go to Charcut. I promise that even if you don’t meet Connie, you will leave star struck.