Sep 10, 2011

The Cow Town Low Down: People Food

Sorry for the drought of posts of late.  Heavy into field season here on the Prairies so I've spent more time here and here.  

Brule Coal Mine 1920s

CPR Barn, Vulcan County (built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1910s to encourage settlement)

We also finally bucked up and bought ourselves a fancy new charcoal bbq from Weber and have been lounging in our sparkly new backyard eating copious amounts of smoky meat. Alberta is famous for its beef and since we moved here we have thoroughly enjoyed exponentially increasing our cholesterol to dangerous levels.  

Patiently waiting for the coals to heat

Apart from recycling houses, I am strongly attuned to supporting local markets, eating locally.  I am constantly harping on my kids and husband to learn the difference between food grown/raised locally and that shipped in from Mexico or New Zealand. The 100 mile diet is tough in Alberta.  The growing season is short and winters are nippy.  Sufficient for growing wheat and canola and ranching. But certainly not the most well rounded diet to eat locally.  So whenever possible, I buy local produce and meat and have attempted to grow what I have deemed my experimental garden (results revealed in a future post*). 
I buy most of my meat from People Food in Spruce Cliff. They work with local farmers like TK Farms who care about their animals, just like they do in Portland...  

People Food is also one of the few spots in Calgary that is gluten free.  I have been gluten free(ish) for the last year and a half and have had a difficult time sourcing gluten free products in Calgary. So People Food is a one stop shop for gluten free products, organic meat, and gluten free meals and deserts. I had the opportunity to tour the People Food kitchen, (and sample) meet the gracious staff (while sampling) and interview owners Brent Boeckx and Linda Nainaar**.   
LMCMHP: People Food.  Love the name of your shop.  Can you tell me about why this name has meaning for you?

Gluten-free pastas, coffe and Seinfeld
Chef Jordan preparing some fresh salsa
People Food: i have had a few places that i have owned and i always liked naming the companies.  When we started thinking about naming this place we were still amazed at the names that people give their companies, they were so.... common.  everyone seems to outshine everyone else in their names: paramount, pinnacle, summit,  the list goes on and on.  with this, i really wanted it to be different, something so different and something so common.  that was the exercise and it took some time to make it simple.

we knew we wanted to have a company making food for people. that was what it came down to. as it stared at us in the face for god knows how long i just told linda that it should be people food. i said i have no idea how to make dog food or cat food (and it's been done to death by the good folks at Purina) but people food??  we looked at each other and laughed at how funny and great it was at the same time. from there i was 100% sure that some company or someone would have had to come up with that name, but they didn't.  before we started up our company, i bought the domain names and secured the name.  the next day we went to my lawyer and formed the company.

the name of people food is quite important to linda and i.  everything was important and everything was a very conscious decision.   down to the school bus yellow to the generic way the text is written.  i wanted everything to look common, like no name food: something that people have seen all of their lives and know it, but don't pay attention to it.  i wanted everything that we do to look like it has been around forever, and yet it was all brand new. to that, every designer we met with told us how completely wrong it was.  how plain everything looked and how embarrassed these people were to work on our project.  we ended up doing everything on our own because it seemed that it was only us had an understanding of what we wanted and how simple and effortless we wanted it to look. 
Yummy goodies!

LMCMHP: I am officially blaming People Food for my recent weight gain from those scrumptious gluten-free Chocolate Zucchini muffins. What inspired you to go gluten-free at People Food?  

PF: we never really set out to do it, but as luck would have it, about a month before we opened we figured that i had Celiac disease; we were going to open in a month and:
 a) if i did not do gluten free food, i would not be able to eat my own food.
 b) i was truly amazed at what my choices were for gluten free food.  you can always buy a cookie or a snack, but food was really hard to find. we knew that the goal was to make all of our food taste like food.  it didn't give us a lot of time to prepare but we certainly knew what we wanted to do.  it was tricky, but we had no choice, and timing is everything.

LMCMHP: You chose to set up shop in a mid century strip mall in the Spruce Cliff neighbourhood.  Naturally I am a big fan and love seeing new community driven shops that help to revive forlorn mid century strip malls.  How did you come to choose Spruce Cliff?  Why not Kensington or Mission or Inglewood where foodies are germinating en mass?  

PF: there are a lot of answers to that question, and although they may seem flippant, they are completely true.

there are no strip malls in wildwoodlinda worked at 5 million restaurants in the downtown core. we thought about how much rent you pay downtown, and how important it is to have the coolest place and spend more money than the joneses on the interior.  we were done with that, it made more sense to me to make the place all about the food. moreover, if we had people that would come in and complain about the interior we knew right away that that would not be our clientele.   we thought it would be great to show people how simple and easy you can make food and a place.  how it should be non threatening getting your food.  it should not be about how intimidating your food and place are. think of all the fine restaurants in the city, or anywhere, chances are there will be quite a few items (or ingredients) that most people will be quite unaware of.  in my opinion, that is more about pretension than about food.

Kensington, Mission, most of those areas would work, but we kind of wanted to start the first one here.  as for where the foodies cluster and hang, we didn't really care about that. i have thought that if you can produce good food people will find you, and tell others about you.
Mr. Ubiquitous in the kitchen
LMCMHP: Can you tell me about the farms that supply your fabulous selection of local, organic meats and produce?  What is your criteria for farm selection?  

PF: this one is quite simple.  there is a man named Rudy Knitel.  i started using him when i had my first restaurant back in '97.  Rudy is now in his mid 70's and drives into Calgary from Lethbridge every Tuesday and Friday, he has a whack of farmers that produce everything imaginable: vegetables, meats, dairy, you name it, i can get it from Rudy.  Rudy concerns himself with the best farmers and so far for the past 14 years he has done very right by me.

LMCMHP: The slow food / 100 mile diet are important movements for the resurrection of people's connection with food.  But we can't deny that we in Alberta have some very real challenges with our inclement climate.  Is it possible to have sustainable and local food year round on your menu? 

PF: you would think that, but for what it's worth, you can still get quite a few things throughout the winter.  it is more limited, but there are still quite a few choices.  many of the farms that Rudy uses have greenhouses and can still produce quite a bit of produce throughout the winter months. 

LMCMHP: What is your vision for the future of People Food? 

PF: we have some grand ideas for this place and concept.  we are very sure of what we are doing, we do not compromise on any ingredient or product.  we would be quite happy if these sprouted up all over Canada.  just think about Canada, it is such a great place for growing food, we have access to clean water, Canada is built for people food.  we have set up our company to take it across Canada. we feel that every Province can benefit from this. we feel that everyone who tries this food will FEEL different.  we want the food that we make to not only sustain you, but to make you feel good and hopefully better than how you have felt before. We know we can do this, and we can do it with food.  we don't look at food as something to fill you up. nor do we look at food and think "AWESOME, KFC is still doing toonie tuesdays!!! now i can feed my whole family for $10!"  For what it's worth, that disgusts us.  food should be far more respected, the people who farm for us work harder than anyone i know.  these people are directly  affected by all of us.  these farmers do not work with Wal-Mart.  i believe that when people start to learn at what has been put into the food that they are eating and what they have been given, they will then start to become a bit more conscious of their health and how they actually feel.  When we learn of products like "pink slime" that goes into our hamburger, or "meat glue" that is being used to glue different meats together to once again make a man made product, we sit back and are truly appalled.

so little by little we want to make a difference, we want to feed people and grow as a company and try do what we can for others.


Inspiring non?  And the take out meals and deserts are really incredible.  So incredible, that I often pretend that I cooked it myself. Hubby has no idea... 

Drop in to say hello at their main pad: 8 Spruce Centre SW
Or the following distributors: Without Papers (who serve their gluten-free pizza crusts), Market 17, Bite and Cabin Cafe


Last year I got 3 radishes and some lettuce, this year 2 pumpkins and 250 green tomatoes. 
** People Food prefers small caps - they blame it on ee cummings [don't we all]