Community & Current Events

Advocating for good food

By: Robin Stevenson

Photo courtesy of Roth & Ramberg Author: Canadian Living Credits: Photo courtesy of Roth & Ramberg

Community & Current Events

Advocating for good food

By: Robin Stevenson

As a chef, Paul Rogalski knows cooking starts with just one ingredient. "The thing about food," says the owner/culinary director of Calgary's Rouge Restaurant and Bistro Rouge, "is when you are starting out, it seems daunting to learn all there is to know. But food is a lifelong journey of learning and discovering."

Born and raised in Calgary, Paul's own food journey began at his grandparents' farm in Ontario, where he spent his childhood summers. He watched his grandmother use the harvest from the kitchen garden to make preserves and create meals from scratch. "The food was phenomenal," he recalls. However, not until later in his career, after years spent manipulating food, did he remember this simpler time and start to celebrate the tastes and flavours of local foods. "It was a food epiphany," he says.

These days, Paul is an advocate for good food. The dishes he serves at his restaurants feature lettuce, tomatoes and herbs from an acre of land he leases just outside of the city, along with ingredients sourced from local farmers and purveyors. "Calgary is a challenge because of our growing climate," he says. "We can't always get perfect tomatoes, but our mission is to capitalize on flavour."

His desire to connect people with food from the land extends to supporting efforts to establish a community food centre in Calgary. Paul is one of eight chefs participating in Harvest Moon, a fundraising dinner whose proceeds will go toward developing the centre and fostering its aim to build a more equitable food system in the city through access to healthful fare, the promotion of cooking skills and community engagement.

These centres, notes Paul, are not just about, "'Here you go, here's some food.' This is a chance to learn how to grow food, prepare food and understand the story of food from start to finish. To me, that's a big shift because it's always my hope that people will know where their food comes from." And he believes bringing people together to create a meal is part of that. In the kitchen, a person "can have a cooking experience that is very solo," says Paul. "But if you get a group of people to work toward a common goal—whether it is cooking dinner for others, canning or preserving food, growing a garden—it not only develops a person's individual skills but also their social skills. When I think back to my grandparents [who came to Canada from Ukraine], life was about conversation at the dinner table… conversation is communication, and communication is the essence of community."

Paul thinks this is an exhilarating time for local chefs and residents who enjoy homegrown flavours. "I have been cooking for a living since 1983, and I am more excited now than ever about food. There's a momentum. There are so many champions for local, fresh food."

This growing appreciation for food that does not come from a box is why he believes Calgarians will get behind a new community food centre. After all, he saw his fellow citizens rally together during last year's flood. "Calgary," he says with conviction, "has such a strong community of people that care. From my heart," says Paul, "it's pretty easy to stand behind this."  

"The essence of community starts with good food." 
— Chef Paul Rogalski

For more details about collective kitchens, visit collectivekitchens.ca.

With files from Colleen Friesen
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Advocating for good food

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