Why He’s Top 40: He’s promoting Alberta farmers and bringing an international dining experience into our backyard.
What Do You Like Most About Edmonton?: “Edmonton diners are a little more savvy: They’ve cooked at home more than other metropolitan centres. I think we’ve come a long way.”
RGE RD, one of the newest restaurants to join the Edmonton culinary district, is a reflection of owner-and-chef Blair Lebsack himself: Laid-back, country-inspired and striving for culinary excellence.
Lebsack grew up on a farm outside of Red Deer, and his family meals were prepared with the freshest ingredients raised within a kilometre of his door. He then moved to Vancouver, frequenting restaurant after restaurant, experiencing all the combinations food and atmosphere could create. It was this combination of passions that led to him opening his own restaurant, one that regularly features dishes such as bone marrow, pig-face carpaccio and beef heart tartar.
With a base in French cooking, Lebsack has gone on to create his own brand of Canadian cuisine or, to be more specific, Alberta cuisine. By using prairie-raised livestock and locally grown fruits and vegetables – such as horseradish from the river valley, Alberta field strawberries and greens from Edmonton’s Lactuca Urban Farm – Lebsack creates dishes that are completely homegrown.
He used to teach culinary arts at NAIT, and now he’s educating diners on the process of how we get our food from farm to fork. Lebsack also leads several farm dinners a year; guests are invited out to small farms for full experiences. They learn about cultivation and sit down to multi-course dinners. All have sold out for the past three years.
“People leave with the feeling of, ‘Wow, we just did this in Viking, Alberta,'” says Lebsack. “It’s about showing how you don’t have to travel everywhere to have those great experiences.”
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Lebsack has also served on the organizing committee of food festivals, such as Feastival of Fine Chefs and Indulgence. He was nominated by the Alberta Farmers’ Market Association as Local Food Hero in 2011, and worked as chef liaison for Alberta Agriculture, building bridges between farms and restaurants, getting more locally-produced food into Edmonton eateries.
“I want to be that point person in the community who’s asking, ‘What else can we do to help out farmers?'” says Lebsack. His answer? Become the intersection between farm, food and friends.