Once a year, celebrity chefs descend on Jasper en masse for the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge’s annual Christmas in November. Among this year's honoured guests: Vikram Vij and Corbin Tomaszeski. The former is a French-trained Indian chef and TV personality, and the latter an Alberta farm-raised chef and veteran of multiple Food Network shows
Christmas in November is a nine day long celebration of food and merriment that happens each year at the historic network of lodges located across the Athabasca River from the town of Jasper. During this time, the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge transforms into a utopia of cedar wreaths, sparkling tinsel and aromatic baking. (Pro tip: this event often sells out far in advance so we recommend booking next year’s tickets, like, now.)
With holiday season approaching, here’s some guiding principles as provided by two very different chefs from very different backgrounds, who nonetheless agree that nothing brings different people together like food. As Tomaszeski says, “food is a connector. When you cook, people just show up. And that’s the way it should be.”
Vikram’s Top Tips
Do the work ahead of time
The point of breaking bread with loved ones is to make memories, not stress. Preparing the food ahead of time not only keeps you present in the lead-up to the meal, but even makes it taste better, particularly with Indian food. It allows the flavours to meld. And when you make it, make extra. If you try to make a fresh batch of masala every time you need it, Vij warns that you’ll never make it again because of the amount of work involved.
Have fun with it
You should cook the way you’d play music – with a style all your own. The recipes should be just guidelines. Recipe books should only be for baking, because it’s a science. When you follow it to a T, it’s just too much work. It’s too much effort. If you’re too serious as a cook, it’ll show in your food. Have a sense of humour in the kitchen.
Don’t salt until the end
When making Indian food, Vij says to save the salt until the end. This practice was passed down to him from his mother and though he admits he doesn’t know the exact reasoning behind it, he says that many common Indian spices have a bit of sodium content from the soil they came from, so to taste the dish and add salt at the end as needed.
Corbin’s Top Tips
No marbling, no flavour
Alberta beef is renowned. When selecting a cut, look for “marbling” -- those faint lines of fat that spiderweb across the meat. For good flavour, you want that marbling. A related tip: stop fiddling with meat while it cooks. Three minutes per side, and don’t touch them in the interim.
Use your senses
Most chefs, Tomaszeski claims, hate recipes (and based on Vij’s comments, we’re inclined to believe him). Instead of having a superficial relationship with your dish and treating a recipe as your bible, engage deeply with what you’re making using each of your senses. Smell and taste it, sure, but also look at it, touch it (with a utensil if too hot) and listen to it as it cooks.
You should always practice safe habits during cooking, but if you do get burned, Tomaszeski says that you can avoid getting a blister by dunking the area in a cup of cheap white vinegar with an ice cube in it.