Calgary’s hottest new chef engineers delicious dishes at intimate downtown restaurant
In a food world fuelled by celebrity chef personas, reality TV cooking competitions and cookie-cutter restaurants, some-times it’s hard for the little guy to get noticed. But Jared Alvey, executive chef of Calgary’s aptly named Petite Restaurant, is proving that in this industry bigger isn’t always better. Alvey is emerging as a leader among the new generation of cooks and culinarians — he was named Chef of the Year in Western Living magazine’s Top 40 Foodies (Under 40) report. Add in the fact that he’s a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, an avid supporter of the local food movement in Alberta and doing it all at the tender age of 25, and you’ve got a recipe for success.
It wasn’t always this way though. As of this September, Alvey was supposed to be studying engineering at the University of Calgary. “I actually took a hiatus and worked for my uncle,” he says of quitting cooking for a year, after graduating from the CIA in 2005 and then working in top restos. “I was sick of the food scene. My whole family is engineers so I upgraded my courses for school and registered to go back to university.”
However, when a friend in the Calgary restaurant business called in a favour, Alvey helped him plan a new kitchen. While doing so, he says he was introduced to sommelier Jackie Cooke, who was looking for a chef at a new restaurant she was launching with her partner, Kirk Shaw. Something prompted Alvey to offer up his services. “She didn’t know who I was and looked at me like I was this little punk,” he says, laughing.
After cooking for them at their house, Alvey was offered the job of executive chef at Petite. Today, he oversees lunch and dinner in the 28-seat dining room with a kitchen brigade of just two. His kitchen is so small there isn’t even room for a walk-in fridge, so he shops the local markets each day. Since Alvey modifies the menu every two weeks, his patrons are used to an ever-changing selection of dishes. Regardless what ends up on the plate, he says his dishes blend together classical French techniques with seasonal inspirations.
“None of my food is super pretentious,” he says of dishes like bison sirloin with eggplant caviar and Cabernet jus ($25) and white peach tart tatin ($8). “It’s super bistro-y food but not highfalutin’ stuff — just good cookin’ that everyone can relate to.”
Alvey has helped build of a sense of community through Petite by hosting a chef’s table event on the last Sunday of each month, creating special menus for winemakers’ dinners and participating in Calgary food festivals. He also eagerly mentions that teaching the culinary arts is something he would love to explore in the future, through an expansion of Petite into a cooking school.
Above all, Alvey’s sense of youthful energy is injected into all of his endeavours. While he still contends that going back to school for business studies may be in the cards, Alvey admits that being a chef at Petite has re-kindled his love for cooking.
“Not to sound too cheesy, but this is my calling,” he says. “I thought I’d give it one more go. Thank God I did because I’m having a blast.”
Photography by Roth and Ramberg