Foraged ingredients give The Sensory a fresh take on fine dining
If there’s such a thing as Canadian cuisine, it would be intimately tied to the vast and varied landscapes we call home. The rugged and beautiful alpine is the beating heart of Canmore, AB, and Tracy Little (Instagram @oiseletjaune), executive chef of The Sensory restaurant, is a master at interpreting its sights, sounds and flavours and presenting them on the plate.
“My father was a forester,” she says. “I grew up in Fort McMurray and we’d hike for hours together and he’d teach me all about the food available in the woods. It became a passion for me.”
Little combined her vast knowledge of foraging in the northern wilds, with a fine dining education that began at Fanshawe Collage in London, ON. Her career has taken her through advancing positions as a chef, pastry chef, chef de partie and executive chef in kitchens at the Rimrock Hotel, Rouge and Milton Lake Lodge. In 2016, she won the Women Chefs and Restaurateurs Food Games in Los Angeles.
Last year, a mutual friend introduced her to Terry Jensen, who had recently sold his two McDonald’s franchises in Canmore and Banff and was ready to fulfill on a lifelong dream of owning his own fine dining establishment.
“I feel very lucky to have found such a talent in Tracy,” says Jensen, adding that his philosophy of surrounding himself with the best people has made the transition from fast food to fine dining a relatively smooth one.
The Sensory opened at 101, 300 Old Canmore Rd. in April, 2019. Downstairs, the cozy Wit Bar welcomes locals to enjoy creative custom cocktails by mixologist Kristin Winbald in a relaxed atmosphere. The upstairs restaurant captures sweeping views of the surrounding mountains through walls of floor-to-ceiling windows and this is where Little’s creativity and vision shine.
Our tasting began with cocktails featuring spirits from local producers like Wildlife Distillery. We tried the gorgeous street corn Caesar, which did not disappoint. Ingredients include Iceberg Vodka, Espolon Tequila, Cholula hot sauce, Lea & Perrins, Tajin salt for the rim, shaved pickled carrot with a street corn garnish rendered a smooth and just-a-little-spicy cocktail that was a step above your average Caesar in complexity – and fluid ounces. If you’re feeling adventurous, you may also want to try the “bartender’s whimsy” or perhaps the shrubbles which features a “shrub of the moment” with prosecco.
The amuse-bouche that followed was a window into the creativity with foraged ingredients that was to come. The steelhead trout gravlax with brioche, northern divine caviar and pickled poplar-bud purée was gone too soon.
The next course featured a warm salad of smoky, salty house-cured, wild-boar bacon with confit morel mushrooms, living greens, and creamed stinging nettle with chèvre noir dressing. It was hearty, textured and, garnished with spruce ash and caribou lichen, beautiful.
A quick palate cleanser of fermented blueberry and basil with lemon and clover honey soda set us up for the main course.
The smoked Alberta tenderloin was perfectly done and needed no embellishment. A potent wild onion emulsion accented dandelion greens and sauce perigueux, finished with shaved truffle. This dish also featured a unique, pine-flour gnocchi made from the substance found between the bark and the trunk of a pine tree. A bold creation, for sure, but it may have been better named a dumpling or fritter as the texture was tougher than one would expect of gnocchi and the pine left a bitter aftertaste. One must, however, admire the chef’s ingenuity.
The meal finished with a dessert of birch bavaroise with candied rhubarb, poached rhubarb, cold-pressed canola cake crumb, finished with white chocolate and kinnikinnik foam. This course was a testament to Chef Little’s talent as a pastry chef. Creamy, sweet and crumbly, this dish brought the entire experience home on a high note. Also worth mentioning were some excellent pairings by sommelier Felix LeBel.
What to Try
While much of the tasting was a special menu, some items may find their way into the regular offering. We’re looking forward to trying the current tasting menu, entitled The Hike, which takes diners through seven courses from the trailhead to the summit, priced at $85 per person. For the adventurers, try the “Trust Me” three-course surprise meal. You’re in good hands with Chef Tracy. Details and reservations at thesensory.ca.