This hard-hitting, exposé of a blog is mainly about Vancouver and BC’s scene but occasionally addresses topics “beyond”—in this case Saskatoon. But there’s still a very definite Vancouver connection.
One of Canada’s brightest culinary stars, Chef Dale MacKay officially pulled the wraps off his new restaurant, Ayden Kitchen & Bar (265 3rd Avenue South) in Saskatoon on Monday. You could say, they’re a tad excited over there—and it’s not (only) about the Rough Riders making it into the Grey Cup.
MacKay originally burst onto the Vancouver scene in 2008, when Daniel Boulud picked him to be exec chef in the new, post-Feenie regime at lumiere. At just 29, it was quite the feather in MacKay’s cap, even if some openly questioned his ability (even though he’d survived a lengthy stint with Gordon Ramsay).
When that ill-fated partnership crumbled, MacKay, flushed with victory as Top Chef Canada’s inaugural winner, proceeded to launch not just one but, eventually, two restaurants in downtown Vancouver.
A combination of the recession and an over-heated real estate market killed both—although a few suggested MacKay might have been able to carry on had he folded small plates Ensemble in favour of the more casual, beer-themed Ensemble Tap. The combined rents added up to around $40,000 per month. Quite rightly, MacKay decided to fold his tent and get going.
While Vancouver has no shortage of culinary talent, there’s no question in my mind that the unrealistic expectations driving the commercial real estate market over the last several years played a big role in the Ensembles’ demise. MacKay is not the only young chef who’s decided to chuck Vancouver in favour of much more sanely priced opportunities in the BC interior—and beyond.
When he closed them, MacKay announced he was going to take a break for a while and spend some time with his son, Ayden, for whom the Saskatoon venture is named. The new spot is in a space previously occupied by locally focused Soulieo Foods, to which I had been a couple of times. MacKay promises plenty of Saskatchewan ingredients in a seasonally changing menu with no shortage of local butchery. It’s a superb space and an interesting heritage location.
I’m sure he’ll do it proud.