Kim Franklin opened Highlevel Diner in 1982 with the goal of sourcing healthy and organic local ingredients for a menu of hearty meals, right down to the condiments.
In addition to being one of the first restaurants in Edmonton to focus on local and organic foods, Highlevel Diner was also one of the first to make its own ketchup, which Franklin explains has been an integral part of the restaurant since it opened 32 years ago.
The original ketchup recipe was developed by the restaurant’s first chef, Jon Christoff. Though some aspects of the recipe have changed over time – it’s now gluten-free and vegan – essential ingredients such as red peppers, garlic, onion and red wine vinegar have remained the same. The popularity of the ketchup quickly grew, and it was even featured when the Food Network show You Gotta Eat Here! paid a visit.
“We had customers asking for the ketchup to go, and we would fill soup containers with it for our customers,” says Franklin. “That’s when we had the idea to start bottling it.”
Highlevel Diner began bottling its ketchup in 2011. It sells for $7 a bottle in the restaurant. The ketchup has become a popular holiday gift.
The popularity of homemade ketchup has spread around Edmonton, with long-established restaurants like Tasty Tom’s on Whyte Avenue and relatively new ones like Daravara and Dovetail Delicatessen on 124th Street developing their own recipes.
Daravara chef and owner Shane Loiselle explains that he likes his house-made ketchup to taste closer to what people expect ketchup to taste like, though his ingredients are less than traditional.
“I actually use whiskey in my ketchup and it gives it an extra bite,” says Loiselle. “We also use tomatoes that we smoke in-house that are normally used for our sandwiches. It took me a few weeks to come up with the recipe, but I was able to create a nice flavour balance that people have responded well to.”
The concept of in-house condiments has even spread to Edmonton’s food trucks.
Nevin Fenske introduced his own homemade ketchup when his food truck, Drift, first started gracing Edmonton streets with its unique take on gourmet comfort food back in 2011.
“I wanted to do everything on my own, and I didn’t want to bring in a lot of premade items to my menu,” Fenske explains. “When we started serving the ketchup, a lot of people were immediately interested and thoroughly impressed by it.”
Fenske’s ketchup is closer to tomato chutney, with a chunkier texture than most bottled ketchups. His mix of ingredients, which includes his own spice blend of ginger and cardamom, gives it an Indian flair. Like Highlevel Diner, Fenske bottles his ketchup and sells it for $8 a bottle out of the truck, Acme Meat Market, and his new restaurant on 124th Street, the aforementioned Dovetail Delicatessen.
Since he started bottling the ketchup, Fenske has heard about people using it like a sauce on pasta and pizza, and even using it in sausage and meatloaf. He also uses his own ketchup for meatloaf at Dovetail. Though he doesn’t see himself or his ketchup as a catalyst for culinary creativity, he’s always excited to hear what people have made.
“I had one customer at the food truck come up to me after he ordered some ketchup and fries and complain it’s not real ketchup,” Fenske says with a laugh. “But people are becoming smart about what they eat and what’s good. And because they want to know what they’re eating, they want to support local businesses.”