Shortly before my new baby was born, good fortune smiled upon my wife Jenny and me; Saskatoon HOME and Elk Ridge Resort invited us for a weekend of R&R to meet the new chef at the venerable resort. It was a relaxing weekend, full of down time interspersed with stuffing ourselves with some amazing cuisine. For those who have never been, Elk Ridge is a four-star, four-season resort, located in Northern
Saskatchewan in the heart of the boreal forest. There are a plethora of activities you can take in, including a 27-hole golf course, all set against a backdrop showcasing nature’s majesty.
The new chef at Elk Ridge is Chef Luke Griffin, in his early 30s, born and bred in Toronto, but at Elk Ridge most recently by way of British Columbia. Don’t let his reasonably young age fool you; Chef Griffin has a formidable background, having worked his way up from being a dishwasher when he was a teen, to attending George Brown Culinary School in TO, and working at well known restaurants in Victoria and Nanaimo.
Chef Griffin has transplanted his wife and two children (with another baby on the way) to Northern Saskatchewan with this latest career choice. However, they are extremely supportive, and it’s a unique opportunity to leave his mark on the Canadian culinary world. Elk Ridge is keen to grow their reputation for exquisite food.
«It’s a transition, for sure,» Griffin tells me. «But it’s beautiful here. And you’re at home, as long as your family is together.»
The Friday night my wife and I arrived at Elk Ridge, we start our weekend long eating binge with an exclusive event, ‘The Taste of Elk Ridge,’ in the Copper Ridge Dining Room. This was an opportunity for Chef Griffin to showcase some of his fare for long¬term Elk Ridge residents and guests, served in sort of a tapas style manner, so we could try all the different dishes. The menu included flank steak with fig jam, poutine samplers, pork belly three-ways, house-made lamb sliders, red pepper jelly glazed prawns, pulled pork on ciabatta, a selection of amazing cured meats and cheeses, and much more. It was quite a spread, food that was at once fancy, but also down-to-earth.
«I don’t want people to be intimidated,» says Chef Griffin of his approach.
When I met Chef Griffin for a morning coffee the next day, we spoke about his ideas for Elk Ridge, which include developing greenhouses and making things like chorizo and elk sausage in house. As any foodie can tell you, the less you rely on bringing in product (or using processed ingredients), and the more you use fresh, local ingredients, the better your food is always going to be.
«Things should be made, not bought» explains Griffin. «Nine times out of ten, it’s cheaper too. Plus, you get a sense of accomplishment, making it yourself»
For lunch on Saturday, Jenny and I enjoyed the view from the dining room, looking out onto the pond. I had the fish n’ chips, which was hand cut walleye with a light, house made tempura batter and hand cut fries, with coleslaw and tartar sauce. It was crispy, but not heavy, giving it a ‘classier’ feel than you normally get from fish n’ chips.
Jenny ordered the beef dip, which was slow roasted, shaved Saskatchewan raised beef, with mushrooms, caramelized onions and Swiss cheese on a baguette, with au jus on the side. It was pretty stellar; I usually find beef dips boring, to be honest, but I stole a bite of my wife’s sandwich and loved it.
After an afternoon of lying around and reading, followed by a leisurely dip in the pool, it was time for the main event. The plan we’d been anticipating was for Chef Griffin prepare one of his house specialties for me, ‘lamb two- ways.’ I ordered a cocktail and chatted with my wife, while we reveled in the real reason why people come to a place like Elk Ridge, to a dining room like this.
«We don’t just sell food and drink,» Chef Griffin had told me. «We sell memories.»
The lamb two-ways was placed before me, a sight to behold. It consisted of, well, lamb done two ways. The first was a hoisin and rosemary brushed lamb chop, which was a perfect medium rare. The second was a slow braised leg of lamb ravioli, tender pieces of lamb inside a large homemade ravioli. On the side was a parsnip puree, and bursted cherry tomatoes. It was a delectable meal, adding to the wonderful dishes we’d already enjoyed on our trip.
All in all, our visit to Elk Ridge was a much-welcomed extravagance, just before the birth of our son. There was the idyllic setting of the resort itself, but more so, the way in which we were treated like honoured guests, and the modern, yet rustic approach to the food. Making things instead of buying them, using fresh, local ingredients, and paying attention to detail are the cornerstones of classic cooking. While Chef Griffin and his team aren’t afraid to try new trends, the food at Elk Ridge is rooted in a certain straightforwardness that we honour here on the prairies.
«Food is simple,» agrees Chef Griffin. «You should never overthink it».