Sunshine Skillet in Medicine HatIt’s a three hour drive from Calgary to Medicine Hat. A long, flat, straight stretch of highway connects the two cities. I listened to Terry O’Reilly’s Under of Influence podcast to pass the time. One episode was about Tourism Marketing. He talked about how destinations need to find an angle, a story, a reason for people to come and visit. Las Vegas chooses debauchery, Paris chooses romance, while Australia chooses adventure.

Medicine Hat, it would appear, has chosen culinary tourism as its niche to work. And a delicious niche it is.

I went to explore the city of 65,000 and their Sunshine Skillet festival. The weekend is filled with cooking demonstrations, competitions and eats. Lots of eats. The opening event for the weekend is an exclusive dinner under the Saamis Teepee.

The teepee in Medicine Hat is the tallest in the world, the structure overlooks Seven Persons coulee on the south edge of town at the site of an ancient buffalo jump. Millions of artifacts from the meat processing that was done here are estimated buried at the valley below.

It’s not a place for vegetarians.

The sunset dinner had 5 young chefs from Medicine Hat and Edmonton serving a wonderful sunset dinner for guests under the broad teepee. The al fresco experience was wonderful on a beautiful 20 degree spring day. Last year guests dined with snow up to their ankles. Such is life on the prairies. Regardless, the setting is gorgeous, and the food wonderful.

Sunshine Skillet Menu

Chef Meghan is from Vancouver Island, committed to local and uniquely sourced food, and at the age of 24, convinced her mom to move to Medicine Hat where they run the Heartwood Cafe.

Sunshine Skillet Medicine Hat
Chef Meghan Bidinger’s micro green salad with Saskatoon berry vinaigrette and organic gouda

Alberta has been a casting call hotspot for culinary shows. Chef Omar appears on Chopped in the summer and promised his beef cheeks were “like clouds.” They didn’t disappoint.

sunshine skillet
Chef David Omar’s beef cheeks.

Chef Todd’s restaurant, Skinny’s Smoke House, is all the talk at our table. “I order two pounds of it at a time,” says the man next to me. The chef doesn’t go off script, plucking a recipe from his menu that pleases.

Chef Todd Lindsay's smoked Alberta brisket with Bow Island beans.
Chef Todd Lindsay’s smoked Alberta brisket with Bow Island beans.

Chef Shane grew up outside Red Deer, hunting and fishing with his father. As a First Nations’ Chef, he’s passionate about bringing his cultural recipes to the people. Chef Shane speaks of cooking as an emotion. “It’s not about a recipe, it’s about a feeling,” he says as he serves his dish which he wants to represent spring.

Chef Shane Chartrand's wild elk tartar.
Chef Shane Chartrand’s wild elk tartar.

I’ve had corn ice cream before, but never as delicate and light as this. The salty sweet of jerky, dried fruit, and lard in the pemmican cake was like trail mix. It was perfect.

Chef Debbie Clauss' trio of pemmican cake, corn ice cream, and Saksatoon berry cobbler.
Chef Debbie Clauss’ trio of pemmican cake, corn ice cream, and Saksatoon berry cobbler.

Another portion of the podcast episode discussed the history of the Michelin Guide. It was created by the tire company to get people driving and wearing out their tires. One star meant it was worth a stop. Two stars meant a place was worth a detour. Three stars, the ultimate award, meant a hotel or restaurant was worth a special trip of its own.

Someone call the Michelin brothers, and give Medicine Hat three stars.

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