The Shaw Conference Centre (SCC) is no doubt Edmonton’s largest venue and a top contributor to hosting the city’s biggest meetings, conventions and trade shows, and catering to banquets, galas, parties, and weddings. I have seen the main halls transform in so many different ways, from the annual Festival of Trees (who can forget cookie decorating and finger casting?), my own high school graduation (seems ages ago), concerts and performances, and in the past few years, an array of food and wine conferences. So when the Shaw Conference Centre’s team invited me to check out their kitchen space and have a sneak peek at their newest venture, I was all up for it! As of October 14th, the Shaw Conference Centre’s award-winning culinary team now offers an authentic and regionally diverse East Indian menu which features over 60 items. I don’t think I’ve ever tried that many dishes in one sitting! They sure do things big!
Our evening started off with a tour of the kitchens by Executive Chef Simon Smotkowicz himself. What felt like a maze underneath the Shaw Conference Centre, our group was given a first-hand look of how food is prepared, cooked, and served. I’ve never actually given it a second thought but if you think about it, feeding up to 2000 guests is a huge undertaking! All food menus are made in-house and the SCC uses local produce whenever possible. Even the breads, with the exception of white sandwich bread, are made in-house which means that those dinner rolls you’ve eating at catered events were baked fresh that morning. During our tour, carrots were being cut by hand in preparation for another event. Can you imagine cutting carrots for that many people?! Or God forbid, onions. Makes me cry just thinking about it.
A solid team of internationally experienced chefs really made the new East Indian menu possible: menu development by Sous Chef Lalit Upadhyaya, recipe testing by Chef de Partie Rahul Chaudhuri (I like his job!) and dessert development by Senior Chef de Partie Sony Abraham. After our quick tour of the kitchens, we sampled over 30 East Indian dishes, most of which I had never heard of!
I’m thankful that Chef Lalit described each dish and gave us a brief description of its origin, traditional ingredients and cooking techniques. It was definitely East Indian Cuisine 101 for me! You could tell at the Chef’s Table dinner that night that Chef Lalit was extremely proud of his menu, living by the words of “If you don’t cook with love, then don’t cook at all.” According to Chef Lalit, there are three things that make up East Indian Cuisine: the region, the religion, and the climate. Here’s to an onslaught of photos from the night!
Our starters for the night included:
PANEER TIKKA – Chunks of paneer marinated in Tandoori spices and grilled. Paneer is a fresh cheese common in Indian cuisine and one of my favourites as it’s quite neutral and can be mixed with all different kinds of sauces. The best part is, it’s a non-melting cheese so you can actually grill it or even pan fry it!
VEGETARIAN SAMOSA – Fried pastry with a savoury filling made with spiced potatoes, onions, peas & traditional spices. These were absolutely delicious and one of the most memorable bites of the night.
CHICKEN HARIYALI – Chicken breast meat rubbed with an aromatic paste made with cilantro, mint, and other distinctive flavours. Look how bright it is!
SHAMI KEBAB – Ground beef & chick peas. Patties marinated with fresh herbs & hot spices.
FISH AMRITSARI – Named after the city where it originated, batter fried fish spiced with Indian flavours of garlic, ginger, cumin and chaat masala.
VEGETABLE PAKORA – Fried vegetable fritters and another favourite of mine!
And the food didn’t stop there! Next were the main dishes:
CHANNA SALAD – Indian style spicy, sweet, tangy chickpea salad.
ALOO CHAAT – “Aloo” means potato and “Chaat” means tasting, so this was savoury potato snack or side dish. Or as Chef Lalit called it, Indian Potato Salad.
NIMBU CHAWAL – Refreshing and tangy lemon flavored South Indian rice dish and Chef Simon’s favourite!
GOAT NARIYAL – Braised goat meat in a coconut milk curry. Too many spices and not enough balance can make a dish bitter! Chef Lalit informed us that in order to neutralize the spices, coconut milk is commonly used in South Indian cooking, whereas North Indian cooking uses onions instead!
GOAT VINDALOO – A very flavourful, Goan-inspired goat dish that is hot, sweet, sour and spicy. Influenced by the Portuguese who occupied the regions, vindaloo was usually made with pork marinated in wine and garlic. Modifications to accommodate the regions, religions, and climates have now turned the dish into anything you can think of, from chicken or lamb of even mutton.
BUTTER CHICKEN – Grilled Chicken in tomato cream sauce and everybody’s favourite East Indian dish! The Shaw Conference Centre aims to make dishes nut-free, so cashew paste (added as a thickener in some recipes) is avoided in this version!
CHICKEN JALFAREZI – Marinated chicken and vegetables in oil and spices cooked in a dry, thick sauce.
CHICKEN KARAHI – A Pakistani dish noted for its spicy taste cooked in a karahi (wok). Loved the flavours of this dish!
CHICKEN TIKKA MASALA – Chunks of chicken marinated in yogurt and spices and then served in a tomato cream sauce.
ACHARI PANEER – Paneer in tangy and hot achari masala (pickling spice) gravy.
BAIGAN BHARTA – Richly flavored fire roasted eggplants cooked with tomatoes and fresh and dried spices. I’m such a big fan of East Indian vegetable dishes!
BHINDI MASALA – Stirfry okra in a spicy gravy made with typical Indian curry ingredients. This was surprisingly a pleasant dish since I’m not usually a fan of okra!
VEGETARIAN KORMA – Vegetables braised in a spiced sauce made with yogurt, cream, poppy seed paste.
CHILLI FISH – Indo Chinese style marinated Tilapia, batter fried and then cooked in freshly made chilli sauce. Surprisingly enough, the dish isn’t spicy but has more of a sweet and sour flavour profile!
GOAN FISH CURRY – A fish curry that blends together spices and coconut to bring out the mild sweetness of the tender fresh fish.
Dal is a staple in Indian cuisine, a sauce or stew made of lentils. Served with roti, naan, or rice, dal is one of my favourite dishes to eat and super filling from the high protein content!
DHABA DAL – Lentils laced with an aroma of pure ghee and spices.
MAKHANI DAL – Popular dish originating from the Punjab region of India. Slow cooked black lentil with red kidney beans, butter and cream, flavoured with tandoori spices.
RAJMAH DAL – Popular Indian vegetarian dish consisting of red kidney beans in thick gravy.
PANCHARATNI DAL – Classical recipe of Rajasthani Cuisine. Panchratni (meaning 5 Jewelled) dal is a mix of 5 lentils cooked with masalas to make a creamy dish. This one was my favourite of the four! It’s amazing how each of them had a completely different taste!
Last but not least, Chef Lalit introduced us to three different kinds of raita, side dishes or condiments made of dahi (or yogurt), used to cut the heat in some of the spicier dishes. Drinking water after eating something spicy is typical of North American culture, but in East India, drinking water right after eating is believed to affect proper digestion and isn’t recommended! Hence, raita.
CUCUMBER RAITA – A famous Indian raita where yogurt gets flavored with grated cucumber along with hint of spices and cilantro.
PINEAPPLE RAITA – Delicious sweet and sour raita with pineapple pieces, curd and cumin powder, a raita more commonly found in south East India.
BOND RAITA – A side dish made with tiny fried gram, or chickpea, flour balls soaked in yogurt & seasoned to perfection with cumin and chili powder.
With East Indian cuisine, there are no courses, everything is served together and eaten together. The concept of desserts is relatively new as most sweet dishes were only made for festivals or events. Through globalization, these dishes are now considered desserts.
GULAB JAMUN – Spongy milky balls soaked in rose scented syrup. Hehe, squishy!
RICE KHEER – Indian rice pudding flavoured with cardamom & saffron. Other common flavours of this East Indian rice pudding include coconut (of course!) and mango.
RASMALAI – Bengali dessert consisting of soft paneer balls immersed in chilled creamy milk. This was the most interesting of the four desserts. The paneer balls were larger and harder than I anticipated!
GAJAR KA HALWA – Traditional Indian dessert made with grated carrots, whole milk, dried fruit, and nuts, with a delicious light fudge texture. A very interesting use of carrots and delicious!
I was absolutely stuffed by the end of meal, barely managing to get a bite of every single dish! Worst food blogger ever, I know. The evening was fantastic and truly an unforgettable experience. I’ve never had so many different East Indian dishes in one sitting before! Menus are available online at Shaw Conference Centre’s website. They’re ready for your next big event, no matter the size or scope! Big thanks to Chef Simon and Lalit, Imran and the team at Shaw Conference for the wonderful sampling! The menu was eye-opening for me and a much-needed lesson on East Indian cuisine! Now how to host a big enough party to do the menu again…Shaw Conference Centre
9797 Jasper Avenue