Cooking up community connection with Derek Dale
Derek Dale began his culinary career in 1987 as a line cook for the Calgary Stampede while completing SAIT’s Professional Cooking program.
Growing up, Dale attended summer camps in his home province of Quebec, where his mother was a chef. It was here that his interest in the culinary world began, and he describes his mother as a mentor who helped direct his path.
“I had some great introductions into the culinary field, and that’s what led me to SAIT,” Dale says. “They educate you in the culinary field, but as individuals, they make a connection with you and help you establish yourself in the community. They provide the tools and the contacts.”
Brian Ursalin, who was a chef and instructor at SAIT, introduced Dale to the Calgary Stampede just before the Calgary Winter Olympics in 1987. Eagerly, Dale began his career as a line cook.
While Stampede is known for being strongly pro-Western and focused on agriculture, Dale says the key to fitting in with the culture and working his way up was hard work and forging lasting relationships with other staff.
“We had the opportunity to work with many talented people,” Dale says. “We fed high-profile people like Queen Elizabeth and Bill Clinton, and obviously, there's pride in doing that, but it wasn’t just me. We had a humongous team to be able to accomplish everything that we did.”
In 2008, Dale launched the Grown Right. Here. initiative to spotlight locally sourced ingredients on Stampede’s menu. In 2020 and 2021, he spearheaded the Calgary Stampede’s partnership with La Tablée des Chefs, which led to over 200,000 meals distributed to those in need during the pandemic.
A winner of Calgary’s Chef of the Year in 2013, Dale says the crucial element to success for aspiring chefs is to expand their focus beyond cooking and create partnerships within the industry.
“As an up-and-coming chef, attending SAIT is important as the knowledge and connections impact your career upon entering the hospitality industry,” Dale says. “Keep an open and broad view of the entire workplace you’re in, and ask questions.”
After 36 years in the kitchen, Dale says he struggles to pinpoint a favourite recipe. Surprisingly, the Stampede crowd favourite, beef, is not at the top of his list.
“In my career, we prepared well over a million pounds of Alberta beef,” Dale says. “But, I still love my mom’s cabbage rolls and pierogies. Simplicity and local ingredients are key to any great recipe. I also love making paella at home — it’s got great flavours and is a conversation piece around the dinner table.” After leading the Stampede culinary team for over three decades, Dale retired on February 24, 2023 — but he’s not ready to put down his knives just yet. Dale says teaching may be in his future, and he’s looking to SAIT for his next great opportunity.
Serves 4-6 people
Salmorra (smoky tomato and garlic sauce)
- 12 cloves of garlic
- 3 nora peppers (purchase at Spice Merchant on 9th)
- 16 ounce of canned plum tomatoes, drained
- 1 teaspoon local honey
- ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
Soak peppers in warm water until soft – remove seeds.
Heat oil in pan, add garlic, saute for 2 minutes. Add pepper, tomato and honey until water has evaporated. Add smoked paprika. Transfer mixture to a blender and puree then season with salt.
Mixture can be stored in the fridge, covered and wrapped for 2 weeks.
NOTE: You will need either a paella pan or a large fry pan
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 6 boneless “Country Lane” chicken thighs (cut into quarters)
- 2 “Meadow Creek” chorizo sausage (cut into 8 pieces)
- 8 “Waterford” shrimp (available at North Sea Fish & Farms)
- ½ lb oyster mushroom chopped (available at North Sea Fish & Farms)
- 4 oz red onion, diced
- 2 oz green pepper
- ¼ cup Salmorra
- 1 cup Spanish rice
- Pinch of saffron (add to chicken stock)
- 3 cups of hot chicken stock
Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in the pan, sear shrimp for 1 minute, remove from pan, sear chicken and sausage for 3 minutes – remove and set on a plate.
Heat remaining olive oil, add garlic, onion, mushroom – saute for 2 minutes.
Add the salmorra, rice, chicken and sausage. Stir so items are coated – add in hot stock and saffron, gently stir while mixture reaches boiling.
Lower the heat to simmer and gently cook. After 8 minutes add shrimp and green pepper – cook for another 3 to 4 minutes until all water has been absorbed.
Remove from heat and cover for 5 minutes.
Enjoy with family and friends!