About Allan Suddaby
In 2008, I was in my last term of electrical engineering at the University of Alberta. I had mastered toasting bagels and boiling macaroni, but had only recently attempted cooking meat (mostly to impress my girlfriend, Lisa). I mean to say that I had little interest in food.
That spring I got a part-time job in the kitchen of Hulbert’s Restaurant (RIP) so that I could pay for my tuition and fund a trip to Greece. Slowly and insidiously, food took over my life. A little more than one year after taking the job at Hulbert’s, I had graduated from the engineering program, but was working as a full-time cook, attempting a 100-mile diet, writing on a blog called Button Soup, and had been accepted to the NAIT culinary arts program.
I am a unique brand of obsessive. In engineering school, I had a job at Spar Aerospace doing menial work in technical publications. While working at Spar, I enrolled in ground school at the Edmonton Flying Club, and also frequented hobby shops collecting parts for a plastic model airplane. To me, it was all related, and in some mysterious way, assembling that toy plane would make me a better engineer.
Spar closed down. I didn’t finish flight school, or even the model airplane. I started to wonder if I was fickle, and doomed to adopt hobbies only to neglect them. I realize now that what I wanted was to devote my time, my entire life, to one end. To combine hobby and career. To focus on one idea, and try to reconcile its various elements, large and small, old and new, theoretical and practical. To develop my own unified theory.
And all of a sudden, there was food. Food marries art and science. In a conversation about cake you are as likely to mention the hygroscopic properties of sugar as you are Marie Antoinette. When cooking, you are as likely to use an immersion circulator with a feedback temperature controller as you are a match or a piece of wood. Food encompasses endless variety that all drives towards the same, gratifying end.
Food is now my life, much to the exclusion of the many hobbies I have collected over the years. From the tiny kitchen at Hulbert’s, I have since worked at:
- the Cajun diner and Whyte Avenue institution Dadeo;
- contemporary fine-dining restaurant Jack’s Grill;
- gourmet Italian landmark Mercato, in Calgary;
- a collection of traditional kitchens in Semmering, Austria;
- the peerless “cult food truck” Nomad Mobile; and
- most recently, Elm Café and Catering.
About Button Soup
There are all kinds of posts on Button Soup, but as time goes on, the best posts are those that attempt the above-mentioned reconciliations. A good example of what I am trying to do on this site is the Potatoes page. The text contains all sorts of contrasts:
- pop-culture and high-culture
- past and present
- old world and new world
- abstract theory and practical application
Of all the above dichotomies, the one that has always interested me the most is past and present. When I cook, eat, and write, foremost in my mind is food’s relation to history and culture. We’re pretty good at tracing that connection in the traditional cuisines of Europe, but have difficulty finding it in food in Alberta.
Though the posts on Button Soup take several forms, my ultimate goal is to take our idea of “local food” beyond ingredients and into dishes, flavour combinations, and traditions that make sense to Albertan landscapes and sensibilities.
Some representative posts: buffalo tongue and marrow, mead, headcheese, pickles, and rumpot. Along similar lines are posts about common, local food that is usually forgotten, like rabbits, dandelions, and chokecherries.
Thank you for reading this far. This “About” section has been kind of masturbatory. But then again, most blogs are.