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Local chefs bring sizzle, international flair to food scene

From cooking classes to private, in-home dinners to tutorials on Tik Tok, these chefs are cooking!

A couple of local (and celebrated) chefs have put it out there: if you're after a unique, intimate private dinner (maybe a cooking class too?) the creme de la creme are ready to share what they've got to offer.

Many know Chef Doreen Prei from her time as executive chef at Zinc Restaurant or as the cooking columnist on the CBC afternoon show, Radio Active. For aficionados of cooking competition shows, Prei may be familiar for her turn as a contestant on Food Network Canada's Fire Masters (Season 2), or as a regular at Canada's Great Kitchen Party, which wrapped another successful go-round at Edmonton's regional qualifier event.

"These are phenomenal experiences--they connect chefs and give back to the community," said Prei. 

The busy mom of two is currently executive chef at Glasshouse Kitchen/Bar inside Salisbury at Enjoy, and a just-as-busy corporate chef with Passionate Hospitality Group. While Prei admits diners tend to like familiarity, she says it's consistency that's most important. So, the German-born and trained chef focuses on locally-sourced, seasonal and organic ingredients which she uses in both expected--and unexpected--ways.

A big fan of the Alberta farm community, Prei says she's able to shop local for everything from mushrooms, lettuces and greens to fresh sausage, pork, chicken, beef and new vegetables. "Combining local fare with specialty items like Ocean Odyssey's fresh sea urchin; it's a super fun way to create things with International flair."

"It takes a long time to change dining habits--we're getting there," said Prei, adding farmers markets and spots like Edmonton's Alberta Avenue are a great introduction to unusual produce and African, Caribbean, Korean and other cuisines. "It's an education for me--visiting the different supermarkets in that area, and asking what I can do with something like a sun choke? Sometimes a way to introduce people to new tastes is to start with something familiar, and then experiment with a few other tastes." 

The sun choke, Prei explains, looks a bit like a ginger root and acts like an artichoke. At Glasshouse, the chef sometimes uses the sun choke in a salad, or as a vegetable puree--its creamy, velvety texture roasted and finished with truffle oil. "They're a bit like water chestnuts," she said.

Prei says cooking classes are another way to empower people to try making soups, curries, stews--even basics like crepes or lasagna. "People come into the kitchen for one-on-one classes--the intimate setting helps people feel less intimidated to make new foods and try different techniques."

Never one to shy away from the experimental, Levi Biddlecombe is making a name for himself as a master of Asian fusion cuisine. The Red Seal chef is known for putting an Asian spin on North American comfort food--think a Korean-style corn dog made with Panko and KD; or his signature duck tots (braised duck over tater tots). 

"We push the envelope, but people are also more willing to try unusual things today," said Biddlecombe who, at his former food truck Atilla the Hungry, and now at Backstairs Burger, often includes unusual Asian add-ons to familiar fare. 

A self-professed addict of competition shows, "If someone challenges me, I'll do it--I love the controlled chaos," Biddlecombe has taken a turn on Chopped and Fire Masters, but is proud of his fine-dining efforts too. The creative 31-year-old continues to vie for the local Gold Medal Plates win, achieving Top 5 status every time he's competed. 

While he continues with pop-ups and collaborations with other chefs and restaurants in Edmonton, (and has worked at the likes of Zinc, Packrat Louie and Why Not), Biddlecombe is busier than ever with Backstairs Burger and regular gigs as a private chef. But social media has come calling for the colourful creator too.

"My style isn't the cleanest--I think some companies want a 'raw' person to highlight their products," said Biddlecombe, who has over 71,000 Tik Tok followers watching his made-at-home short cooking videos. And some businesses have started paying him to feature their product in his videos, creating another source of income for the chef.

Both Prei and Biddlecombe are taking advantage of a growing interest in private dinners, where groups of two to 20 engage the talented cooks for a memorable evening of food and conversation. The intimate settings offer the chefs a chance to educate patrons and impress with dishes that stretch their creativity.