The chef and owner of the newly opened Butternut Tree, Scott Downey, had always planned to return to Edmonton to open his own restaurant—but he wanted to ensure he had something to return with. “I realized if this was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I wanted to get the right training and the right base to be able to support that,” says Downey. “If I was going to be showing someone how to do something, it needed to be the correct way.”
While in business school, Downey started as a dishwasher in a Vancouver restaurant and fell in love with the atmosphere, and he soon followed that love to New York to train at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America. His repertoire now includes positions at Michelin-starred restaurants Daniel (New York City) and Noma (Denmark), both of which Downey credits in helping to shape The Butternut Tree: “I found that balance between the two—the warm and approachability of French food, but still utilizing and showcasing some of the products here in unique ways that I’ve pulled from Noma.”
In particular, both restaurants work with the availability of the land to help plan and execute their dishes, and Downey worked with their experienced foragers—sometimes scoping forests, fields, and beaches for 12 hours a day. “It was such a cool thing that all these things we were eating came from the wilderness,” says Downey. When he returned to Canada, he was surprised to discover similar plants and herbs, and the concept clicked: “I started asking, ‘Why aren’t these being utilized here? Why can’t we explore our ecosystem more in depth?’” The menu at The Butternut Tree thus seeks to reflect the Canadian landscape and to show guests what’s available all around them.
Downey’s excited to rediscover his own backyard and to witness the changing seasons in Alberta. “It’s different from the environments that I’ve been foraging in before,” he says. “I’m still learning about the Alberta products.” But as a life-long learner, Downey is eager to share his discoveries and grow with his community.