Chef Mel Lafleur, One Horn Group, Calgary, AB

In some restaurants, the ‘jerk of the week’ is likely to be that customer who pisses you off, not a menu item. But its just one the ideas Chef Mel Lafleur is kicking around for The Libertine, a rocking gastro-pub on Calgary’s Stephen Avenue Walk, in the heart of the oil town’s business core.

That’s jerk, as in beef jerky BTW, the dried and seasoned meat treat that’s big in the West, but more typically found by the cash register in truck stops than the fresh sheet of an urban eatery.

“What can I say, I like meat,” laughs Lafleur, a Calgary-born chef who has done a full tour of the city’s corporately owned fine dining establishments, with stints running the kitchens at restaurants owned by the Vintage group, Concorde Entertainment Group and Redwater Rustic Grille.

Lafleur is now Corporate Chef for One Horn Developments, running The Libertine, The Unicorn and Below Deck Tavern, an East Coast-flavoured drinkery that also happens to serve great food.

She’s not kidding about the meat thing. “I’m a big fan of braising things and using sub-primal cuts,” say’s Lafleur, who confesses she’s not shy about of tackling whole animals, either.

“We do a pig roast every Wednesday,” says Lafleur of The Libertine’s regular Swine & Wine event. “We do three or four pigs a week and in our chamber cooker we can cook three at a time.”

Lafleur says events like this are important, with lunch service and après five busy with corporate types and more of an effort required to put bums in seats after 7 PM when the suits toddle home to their wives and offspring in the distant ‘burbs.

As for trends, Lafleur says she’s definitely seeing the local food scene become more casual at the same time local chefs are kicking it up a notch. “Look at a place like Market on 17th Avenue. It’s a really nice place, but it’s not hoity-toity.”

Even two years ago, the menu at typical pub would lean heavily toward staples like nachos and burgers with a steak sandwich for variety and little or no local content.  That’s changing and Lafleur is leading the way.

When she took over The Libertine seven months ago, Lafleur revamped a menu she says was definitely “too pubby”, turfing 95% of the sheet and adding items like a charcuterie board, a flatbread topped with bison salami and a confit duck clubhouse.

With 18 rotating taps of North American craft beer, Lafleur says food and beer pairings are a natural, with events like “beer makers dinners” on the restaurant’s schedule.

Trying to stay on or ahead of the trends, but not become a slave to them is an ongoing challenge for many chefs. When asked if there’s any food trend she’d like to stick a fork in, she picks kale without any hesitation. “Fuck kale,” she says simply. “I’m so over that.”

Lafleur only grimaces slightly when the conversation veers inevitably to what it’s like being a female executive chef today, narrowly resisting the temptation to stab the interviewer in the throat.

But she does admit to “seeing more women in the kitchen”, suggesting that’s a good thing. Especially now that a company like Medium Rare is actually starting to design kitchen gear with women in mind so they can be comfortable when they’re working.

Lafluer, who provided input into MRs new women’s line, points out that girls have boobs, narrower waists, and hips, while guys are essentially boxes. These basic facts of female/male anatomy “seem to have escaped the people designing chef’s wear before Medium Rare came along.”

For our part, the crew at Medium Rare can confirm that we have indeed, and very respectfully, noticed the difference between girls and boys and we’ll join Lafleur in raising a locally crafted beer to that.

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