By MICHAELA RITCHIE
Who doesn’t love an adventurous dish prepared with exciting new methods and piled high with unusual ingredients? Nothing feels quite so top-of-the-line as imported ingredients and menu items with names you can barely pronounce, right? Well, not according to chef Andrew Keen, leader of the charge at Murrieta’s Bar and Grill.
Born in Ontario, raised in England, and a culinary prodigy of Canada’s west coast, Keen may be a citizen of the world, but he still insists the best menu around is the one grown right here in Alberta’s backyard.
“I love the simplicity,” Keen says of the steakhouse fare he’s cooked for over 17 years. “It’s about showcasing and respecting the product and the skill of cooking it. It’s tempting to get creative, but the simplicity of a perfectly cooked steak sometimes gets a little lost. Salt, pepper, a great piece of meat and a hot grill—those are really the only ingredients you need.”
After abandoning his former career as an insurance broker in London to live the life of a ski bum on the slopes of Whistler, Keen first stepped into the kitchen when the money for his lift tickets ran out. He cut his teeth cooking omelets at the Nancy Green Lodge, a natural choice for a part-time gig, he says, given the town’s history as a hospitality hotspot.
“You’d do your best, and sometimes you’d cry yourself to sleep in the store room to make sure you were there bright and early for the next morning, but the camaraderie of the kitchen was like nothing else.”
While long days in the kitchen could prove daunting for Keen, the lessons he learned there proved invaluable and before long he made the move to Calgary and opened his own venture, The Living Room, in 2000. He’s since lent his talents to a vast buffet of local dining establishments, including Redwater Rustic Grille and Vintage Chophouse, infusing inspiration from his days in the mountains into every dish along the way.
“There’s a huge amount of talent in kitchens here, being able to be flexible and make use of product that’s not available all the time. You know, cooking local in southern California, that must be pretty easy—everything grows around you all year round. So the fact that Calgary chefs are doing local, and doing it well, I think is a huge compliment to this city’s ingenuity.”