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Chef's Table: Parker Regimbald serving fire-grilled sausages with a smile

Ever since humans discovered cooking sausages over fire, people have been barbecuing and grilling, and loving every moment.

In that spirit, St. Albert chef Parker Regimbald just opened up the city’s first restaurant serving gourmet sausages barbecued over an indoor wood-fire grill.

After more than a decade working in professional kitchens, he’s taken all his experience and put it together to create Links Woodfire Sausage Co. located in Campbell Park.

Sausages are a year-round classic and the best way to maximize taste is to cook them over a traditional fire.

Yes, it’s quite a sight to see crackling yellow flames slowly cooking rows of sausages resting on a specially constructed grill.

“I made a big push for charcoal and wood fire. I didn’t want a gas grill. A gas grill doesn’t make us anything special. Fire grilled sausages makes us different,” said Regimbald.

Step into the restaurant and the meats’ spicy aromas mingle with a light smoky scent arising from burning cherry wood, mesquite, oak or sugar maple that activate salivary glands into overdrive.

Achieving barbecue perfection, Regimbald takes the crisp-on-the-outside, juicy-on-the-inside sausages fresh off the fire and lays them on horizontal bread buns.

Deftly he whips each one into a new age version of a hot dog smothered with loads of specially blended sauces, crunchy vegetables and uniquely crafted toppings.

“It’s been a slow build. People are happy to see a good quality product. It’s almost all scratch and locally sourced.”

Regimbald opened Links on Jan. 3, listing about a dozen menu items with funky names such as Chicago Dog, Big Sicily, Meatball Mafioso, Breakfast Bomb and a vegetarian option titled simply Beyond Brat.

Not only are these wicked sausages made exclusively at D’Arcy’s Meats from Regimbald’s private recipes, but where else could a person eat inventive accompaniments such as cherry pepper caponata, relish meringue, charcoal mayo or hand-cut potatoes fried in traditional beef tallow?

Early years

Although Regimbald’s family has deep family roots in St. Albert and Legal going back to his grandfather, his early years were spent in Mississauga, Ontario. The auto industry created thousands of jobs and his parents took advantage of the booming economy.

Both his mother and aunt were great cooks, setting a high bar for palate-pleasing food. In addition, his mother ran a children’s playground service. Adjacent to it was Adriana’s, a restaurant no longer in existence. As a seven-year-old, he remembers his mother taking him to it regularly.

“A gay couple ran it. One was the chef. The other, the maître d’. They showed me the ropes. I still remember peeling squid at the back.”

During that era, food shows morphed into the next big reality television frenzy.

“I’d come home from school and watch them and think how I could put my own spin on things.”

Still today, the interplay of food flavours trigger, evoke and recapture memories.

“My love of food comes from my experience of eating. It can transport you to your childhood. Sometimes just taking a bite of something that takes you back to a nostalgic moment. Food involves all the senses – sounds, sights, smells. It’s all-encompassing.”

By the time he was 13, the family moved back to St. Albert where he eventually graduated from St. Albert Catholic High in 2007. While in high school, his first professional job was working at Star of the North Retreat’s kitchen.

“They’d have a buffet three times a day. Everything was done from scratch. It was down-to-earth, homey. It wasn’t a big brigade. There was a cook and someone peeling potatoes and cleaning up.”

Skateboarding had always been a hobby and after graduation, he landed a job at the now defunct Fs Skateboards and Snowboards. But after a year, he asked a question many young adults do.

“What am I doing here? I don’t like my job. I’ve always been a good cook so let’s try that.”

The six-foot chef enrolled at NAIT’s nationally acclaimed culinary program, but when he broke his leg mid-way through the program, it temporarily threatened to derail his ambitions.

Hanging out with a couple of buddies, the group decided to take a shortcut to an event. It involved jumping over a fence.

“I fell off the fence and took a three-foot drop. I broke my ankle in two spots and my ankle shattered.”

Hobbling throughout NAIT’s corridors in a cast was no easy feat. However, Stanley Townsend, a St. Albert chef who was a major driver of the culinary program, put Regimbald’s classes in a different order.

“That gave me enough time to get off my crutches.”

Looking back at his 2013 graduating class, the St. Albert chef estimates there are less than a handful of colleagues still working in kitchens.

“It’s not an easy life and it’s not always good pay, and you’re at the whim of customers. You have to be dedicated to the craft or you won’t stand the test of time.”

While still a NAIT student, Regimbald joined the Northlands Corporate kitchens, which at that time included Northlands race track, Edmonton Expo Centre, TELUS Field, Rexall Place and a food truck.

Not counting servers, bus boys and dishwashers, the culinary team numbered 60. It provided exciting opportunities and challenges for any chef and certainly created memories.

One of Regimbald’s fondest memories was the annual Edmonton Motor Show that featured a 1,000 plate high-end reception prior to the opening.

“There were all kinds of cars from Lamborghinis and Mazeratis down to Corollas and Civics. I like the rush – taking an elevated dish and executing over 1,000 portions and cooking it by someone with little training. I enjoy problem solving.”

Another memorable event was the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry’s anniversary celebration.

“We prepared steak and lobster for 2,000 people. The challenge was trying to make sure the lobster was perfect and the steak was not overcooked.”

But it was the Fort McMurray fire evacuations that were the most emotional. Edmonton Expo Centre became an evacuation centre where 17,000 displaced individuals were processed, fed and housed.

“We worked non-stop but it was very rewarding. I saw some remarkable things happen during those four weeks. It was definitely our biggest order of food. But there was a sense of community. Everybody came together in this desperate tragedy.”

During his decade tenure, Regimbald worked a diverse range of events from Porkapalooza, Comic Expo and sports tournaments to intimate, high-end 12-course gourmet dinners that looked like plated art.

“For the 12-course dinners, we didn’t repeat a menu. They allowed me to build a repertoire of different styles. I liked to play with nostalgia and things people are familiar with, but also tie it into something more abstract.”

Regimbald, who by 2019 had worked his way to interim executive chef, began to reassess his job after a persistent virus brought about vertigo and tinnitus.

“Some days I was working 15 to 18 hours straight for weeks. Why kill myself for another company? If I’m going to put in that time and effort, I’ll do it for myself.”

At the suggestion of Kyle Iseke, owner of D’Arcy’s Meat Market and long-time supplier to Edmonton Expo Centre, Regimbald opened Links, a casual eatery that caters to the entire family.

“I believe in doing things right – not taking shortcuts. It’s all about good quality ingredients and making a good quality product.”