January 05, 2017

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Earls Restaurants - A look back at 2016 and a look ahead to 2017 and our 35th Anniversary

It was a good year but it’s nothing compared to the great year ahead as we mark the 35th anniversary of Canada’s most successful family owned and operated restaurant chain

2016 was an interesting year for the family owned, Vancouver based “upscale casual” group, Earls Kitchen & Bar. As we begin 2017, we also celebrate our 35th Anniversary – and Canada’s 150th!

On the heels of two new restaurants in Chicago and Washington, DC (Tysons Corner) in 2015; 2016 marked the opening of a new Earls Kitchen & Bar location in Orlando (our 2nd location in Florida and 68th location overall) and we partnered with Vancouver restaurant designer Craig Stanghetta of St. Marie Design (Kissa Tanto, Savio Volpe, Meat & Bread, Bao Bie) on the renovation and redesign of our downtown Calgary location.

Meanwhile the Test Kitchen, located in downtown Vancouver, continued to innovate and test dishes, including plant based ingredients and vegan dishes from former Acorn chef, Brian Skinner, and dozens of exciting new dishes, all from the creative hands of Chef’s David Wong, Ryan Stone and Hamid Salimian….and we can’t mention our chefs without saying what a sad beginning to the year it was on January 7, 2016 when we lost culinary development chef Tina Fineza to cancer. 

Though controversial, Earls pushed the industry to ask for more accountability in sourcing of meat, poultry and fish from ethical producers and suppliers and changed our purchasing practices away from single suppliers to make sure that our humane, antibiotic free; no added hormone ingredients came from as many Canadian suppliers as possible. 

Menus became more diverse, yet at the same time more localized, with older, suburban locations getting a taste of more retro and classic Earls' dishes, while new and downtown locations saw a selection of more on-trend dishes and localized menus to meet the changing markets each of the restaurants are located in. 

Earls’ long time wine purchaser, George Piper, retired, but not before designing and implementing a state-of-the-art wine on tap system, an event earlier in the year brought in international winemakers from across the world to blind taste their wines from the bottle against those same wines from the tap, an interesting day for everyone. And with Georges retirement, we were excited to announce David Stanfield as our new wine director.

Beverage Director, Cameron Bogue, collaborated with some amazing fellow bartenders this past year. Look for their return visits to Vancouver and their drink colabs on the menu this coming year - Shaun Layton (Vancouver), Iain Griffiths (London), Robin Goodfellow (Toronto), Jeffery Morgenthaler (Portland).

Earls Kitchen & Bar was a title sponsor of the 2016 Canadian Culinary Olympics team. We were so proud our chef, Ryan Stone, was a senior team member with Chef Hamid Salimian as official support. As a special surprise, we also sent one of our BC regional chefs, Cam Armstrong, to watch and support the group in Germany as a thank you for all his hard work this year.

We had a chance to try many of the competition dishes at a tasting in late in the year so all the gold and silver medals they brought home were no surprise to us! Final results were a gold medal in the hot show and culinary cold show, with silver in the pastry cold show. Final standing was 8th place overall. http://culinaryteamcanada2016.com/team/

Earls continued to win accolades and awards for being a top employer and stood up against the industries sometimes gender biased attitudes in the kitchen. Although not as balanced as we would like to see our kitchens, our front of house team saw female general managers and managers outpace males,  and a number of the highest operations positions in the company filled by women. 

Our past reputation for short skirts and high heels was finally put to bed (we hope) with the industry’s most flexible dress code; some locations saw staff in their own clothes of choice, while others saw jeans as part of the dress code. An ever evolving, regional and weather specific (Winnipeg to Miami) dress code is decided on by the staff.

And we finished off the year releasing what turned out to be the most popular Canadian cookbook of the year. The Random House-Penguin published book, “Earls. The Cookbook.”, was a best seller within two weeks of release and sold out the twelve thousand copies printed. A second print will be in retail stores in February.

The cookbook looks back at our 35 year history in Canada, beginning in Edmonton, Alberta. It features 110 recipes, some of them iconic, and highlights dishes from Earls' “Chef Collective”, past chefs and guest chefs. Included is Lupo restaurant’s Julio Gonzales, The  Pear Tree’s Scott Jaeger, Calgary’s Michael Noble and Edmonton’s Larry Stewart; Chefs Rebecca Dawson, Chuck Currie, Karen Lyons, Dawn Doucette and Chris Remington,  even David Hawksworth (seasonally returning pear and goat cheese salad) has a recipe included. The book, along with other Earls memorabilia, will be featured in the Royal Alberta Museum's Western Canadian History Food Story when it opens this year.

Some of the best moments from the cookbook launch were traveling around Alberta with Stan and his Dad, founder, Bus Fuller, now 87, meeting so many long time and loyal guests as well as the day all the chefs came to Earls head office in Vancouver to sign books. There was not a dry eye in the house following Chef Chuck Currie’s impassioned speech about his early years at Earls, both for the walk down memory lane and Chuck’s very acute sense of humour. 

One of the most loved dishes on the menu is included in the cookbook, Chris Remington’s (now Executive Chef Penticton Lake Side Resort) Santé Fe Salad. We're including the recipe for you just in case you haven’t seen the book. 

It was a good year but it’s nothing compared to the great year ahead as we mark the 35th anniversary of Canada’s most successful family owned and operated restaurant chain. We will see two new locations open, one in Dallas and a second Boston location, following on the success of our restaurant in Cambridge, Mass (2014), and guests can expect to see all sorts of fun things happening around the 35 year anniversary, especially in Edmonton, where it all started back in 1982.  

Wishing you all the best for the New Year. 

 

 

SANTA FE CHICKEN SALAD

 The best dates to use are the Medjool dates, but any variety of dried dates will do. Instead of using a knife, use a pair of kitchen shears to cut the dates into pieces. Periodically dip the shears in water once the stickiness starts to build up.

4 brined chicken half breasts

¼ cup (60 ml) Cajun blackening spice (recipe follows)

8 oz (225 g) greens mix

8 oz (225 g) chopped romaine hearts

1 15 oz can (approximately 1 ½ cups/400 ml) rinsed and drained black beans

1 cup (250 ml) fresh or thawed frozen corn

½ cup (125 ml) ½” chopped dried dates

1 cup (250 ml) peanut lime vinaigrette (recipe follows)

½ cup (125 ml) crumbled feta cheese

1 cup (250 ml) fried tortilla strips

1 avocado

1 lime, cut into 6 wedges

1.      Remove skin from the chicken breasts. Dredge the chicken in the Cajun blackening spice until lightly coated on all surfaces.

2.      Place on a preheated grill or pan fry in a heated skillet with some vegetable oil, flipping the chicken after 4 minutes to ensure even cooking. Cook for a further 4 minutes, check for doneness on the thickest part of the breast. The meat should register 160F on an instant read thermometer.

3.      While the chicken is cooking, assemble the salad by combining the greens mix, romaine, black beans, corn, dates and peanut lime vinaigrette in a large salad bowl. Toss together with tongs until all ingredients are coated lightly with the vinaigrette.

4.      Divide evenly into bowls and top evenly with feta cheese and crushed tortilla chips.

5.      Cut the avocado in half and remove the seed. Slice lengthwise into ¼” slices and scoop out using a spoon. Garnish each bowl of salad with ¼ of an avocado, approximately 4 slices.

6.      Add a lime wedge and serve immediately.

Peanut Lime Vinaigrette:

3 tbsp (45 ml) roasted peanuts

1 tbsp (15 ml) minced garlic

¼ tsp (1.25 ml) ground cumin

4 ½ tbsp (67.5 ml) lime juice, divided (freshly squeezed)

1 tbsp (30 ml) olive oil

1 tsp (5 ml) sherry vinegar

2 tbsp (30 ml) chopped cilantro (tightly packed)

1 ½ tbsp (22.5 ml) lime juice

½ tsp (2.5 ml) fine salt

¼ tsp (1.25 ml) ground black pepper

½ cup (125 ml) vegetable oil

1.      Using a food processor or hand held blender, puree the peanuts, minced garlic, cumin,  2 tbsp (30 ml) of lime juice, olive oil and sherry vinegar until extremely smooth, almost like peanut butter.

2.      Add in the cilantro, remaining lime juice, salt and pepper. Continue to puree until the cilantro is finely incorporated into the dressing and chopped into pieces no greater than ⅛”.

3.      With the machine running, continue to puree the vinaigrette while pouring the vegetable oil in a slow stream. This will create a strong emulsion so the oil does not separate.

4.      Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate. The peanut lime vinaigrette can be held refrigerated for 5 days.

CAJUN BLACKENING SPICE

Increase the amount of cayenne if you desire a spicier blend.

2 tbsp (30 ml) dried oregano

1 tbsp (15 ml) dried thyme

1 tsp (5 ml) red pepper flakes

½ cup (125 ml) paprika

1 tbsp (15 ml) ground black pepper

1 tbsp (15 ml) ground white pepper

1 tbsp (15 ml) fine salt

1 tsp (5 ml) ground cayenne

1.      Grind the dried oregano, thyme and red pepper flakes in a clean spice grinder until it is the same texture as the paprika.

2.      Combine with the rest of the ingredients and mix very well until thoroughly distributed.

3.      Store in a dry container, sealed well.

BRINED CHICKEN

Brining the chicken not only improves the flavor greatly, but it also causes the protein strands in the chicken to retain water during and after cooking. This results in flavorful, moist chicken that makes all the difference compared to unbrined chicken. The same brine can be used for pork chops, turkey or any lean meat.

Chicken breasts/pieces (skin on bone in or boneless skinless depending on recipe)

1.      Place chicken pieces in a large lidded container, ensuring that there is ample space between each piece to have contact with the brine.

2.      Cover with enough brine to submerge each piece of chicken completely. Seal well.

3.      Refrigerate on the bottom shelf for 24 hours before using.

4.      Once the time has elapsed, strain off the brine and discard. Transfer the chicken to a clean rimmed bake tray.

5.      Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Use according to the recipe.

CHICKEN BRINE

2 cups (500 ml) water

¼ cup (60 ml) fine salt

½ cup (125 ml) parsley leaves and stems (tightly packed)

1 tbsp (15 ml) honey

1 tbsp (15 ml) black peppercorns

6 bay leaves

4 smashed garlic cloves

2 thyme sprigs

1 halved lemon

1.      Combine all ingredients into an appropriately sized pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 1 minute.

2.      Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

3.      The brine can be held refrigerated for up to 7 days if made ahead.