Good Food a Hot Topic at MacEwan University

I wouldn’t normally seek out a post secondary campus in search of food. What’s happening at MacEwan University though, is not exactly normal. Schools don’t have the best reputation for putting out good food, but, in the words of Bob Dylan, “the times, they are a-changin'”, and that’s a very good thing. This year, four independent food vendors arrived on campus to offer students something other than Aramark’s institutional fare.

The subject of this good food trend came to me when I stopped in at Get Cooking in the MacEwan residence at 11050 – 104 Street.

Chefs Eric Hanson and Kathryn Joel at Get Cooking
Chefs Eric Hanson and Kathryn Joel at Get Cooking

Get Cooking is a private cooking classroom operated by  Le Cordon Bleu London graduate, Kathryn Joel. Joel started teaching out of her southwest Edmonton home in 2011 but recently relocated the burgeoning business to the main floor of MacEwan residence. Joel is a firm believer in supporting local producers and cooks with seasonal products. What happens in the cooking classes determines what is served the next day at the “to go” counter outside the classroom.

Chef Wendy Mah at Get Cooking's To Go Counter
Chef Wendy Mah at Get Cooking’s To Go Counter

I stopped in for lunch on two occasions feasting on soups and sandwiches made fresh on the spot by Joel and her team of all-star chefs: Eric Hanson, Wendy Mah, Stephen Baidacoff and Israel Alvarez. This is not the school food of yesteryear. Thankfully.

Chef Stephen Baidacoff serves up soup and sandwiches for lunch
Chef Stephen Baidacoff serves up soup and sandwiches for lunch
Chicken Waldorf Sandwich and Cream of Mushroom Soup
Chicken Waldorf Sandwich and Cream of Mushroom Soup

Anyone can stop by and grab food or a fresh lemonade or a latte to go. And those lattes? Less costly and, in my opinion, a million times better tasting than any franchised coffee shop. The coffee beans at Get Cooking come from Iconoclast on 105 Avenue, one of Edmonton’s best kept coffee secrets.

Alexei Boldireff supplies the bread to Get Cooking, but he also operates a food kiosk in the Robbins Health Centre just on the west side of the 109 St/104 Avenue intersection.

Lex Boldireff of S'wich
Lex Boldireff of S’wich
All good things come from S'wich: Top L - Smoked Pork Sandwich, Top R - Chinese Roasted Pork, Bottom L - Chicken Caesar Sandwich, Bottom R - Roasted Squash Soup
All good things come from S’wich: Top L – Smoked Pork Sandwich, Top R – Chinese Roasted Pork, Bottom L – Chicken Caesar Sandwich, Bottom R – Roasted Squash Soup
Lex's Legendary Pretzels
Lex’s Legendary Pretzels

During the warm months, Lex’s food truck, S’wich, roams the streets offering his legendary pretzel bun sandwiches and hoagie masterpieces to the hungry masses. Lex is a supporter of conscientiously raised ingredients, and not only does he bake all of his own bread, he also makes his own charcuterie, pickles, sauces. You get the idea. Home-made food made with fresh, local ingredients. If you haven’t had Lex’s food yet, check out the S’wich Facebook page to see what you’re missing. Char siu pork shoulder? Root beer braised brisket? Yeah. That.

Filistix, one of Edmonton’s first mobile food carts now operates their third location out of the Robbins Health Centre, one counter away from Lex at S’wich. Ariel del Rosario and Roel Canafranca, the superstars of Filipino street food create dishes with big, bold flavours.

Filistix Menu
Filistix Menu

I had the opportunity to try four items: chicken adobo, coconut chicken curry, green lentil curry with sweet potatoes, and their signature slaw, a crunchy filling combo of cabbage, almonds, cranberries in a sesame/soy sauce/balsamic vinegar dressing. Eating this food is like traveling without spending the bucks on airfare to Manilla.

A sampling of the Filipino food at Filistix
A sampling of the Filipino food at Filistix

Lex’s friends (and business associates), Tom and Monica Lim are siblings and owners of Lan’s Asian Grill on 103 Avenue/118 Street.  This year they set up a mini version of the restaurant in the 106 Street building of MacEwan University.

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This is Southeast Asian comfort food made from scratch and some of the very best in the city: spring rolls, green onion cake, salad rolls, curry on rice, noodle dishes, and stir-fries. The Thai red curry chicken dish I tried was like a getting roundhouse kick to the tastebuds. Slightly sweet, seductively spicy, a potpourri of flavour and texture…it was almost a spiritual experience.

Thai Red Curry with Chicken on Rice
Thai Red Curry with Chicken on Rice

Or, you could have re-heated pasta and vat-sauce from the Aramark counter. Your choice.

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My CBC review of the new food offered at MacEwan University can be heard here.