In the Kitchen With: Kelsey Johnson, Café Linnea, Edmonton

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The traditional approach to brunch-style food isn’t chef Kelsey Johnson’s cup of tea. Drawing on her Scandinavian and French roots, her Edmonton restaurant — Café Linnea — offers dinner-style plates of European cheeses, house-cured meats, pickled vegetables and a variety of egg dishes reflecting her ancestry.

Johnson learned techniques from her mother, aunt and grandmother, all of whom have French, Swedish and German roots. They inspired her passion for cooking at a young age, one that continues to burn as she finds herself in the role of teacher.

While she’s worked under the tutelage of great mentors and owners, being a woman in the kitchen — and now a woman in culinary management — has had its challenges.

“That’s part of the perception — when you’re a woman giving people orders, it can be perceived as, ‘oh, she’s just a bitch’ but if a man was giving the same orders, that’s just how it is. I don’t worry about those things anymore [as a manager]. This is the job and this is how we do it.”

As a cook in Edmonton for 10 years, she started at Characters restaurant before taking a job as the kitchen manager at Culina Highlands, which has since closed. She’s also worked as a butcher at Acme Meat Market. But it was her experience at the Duchess Bakery that led her to open her new restaurant.

After five years at the bakery, it was time for Johnson to branch out. Along with the bakery’s owners — Jacob Pelletier and Giselle Courteau — and her husband, Garner Beggs, she opened Café Linnea in 2016.

“When I was creating the menu, I didn’t want to have the typical brunch fare,” she says. “I wanted to take it from a dinner perspective, where you have composed and plated dishes. I started out thinking entirely French, but, as I started creating menus, people were telling us how much Scandinavian influence was coming out, so it became this marriage of the two.”

Creative brunch options include a ratatouille galette ($19), oeufs-en-cocotte ($20) and beef tartar seasoned with cold-pressed canola oil and pickled mustard seeds, served with crème fraîche, horseradish, crispy capers, pickled shallots and dill ($14).

For dinner, the foie gras features the classic spread over a fresh doughnut, with peach compote and brûléed peach ($16), while the Croque Madame offers Gruyère cheese and house-cured ham on sourdough, topped with béchamel and a fried duck egg with local greens ($22).

In 2017, Café Linnea was named to Air Canada’s Canada’s Best New Restaurants list and since then, Johnson has only gained in confidence.

“It’s understanding that you don’t need more ingredients or techniques to make something better. It’s about keeping it focused as opposed to keeping it simple. It takes time and maturity to focus on what makes the dish better,” she says.

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