Harling has brought about change through local suppliers and her love of cooking for others

Tucked away between a Subway and a Starbucks sits one of Calgary’s top restaurants: Brava Bistro. Behind every great restaurant there is a great chef whose passion and dedication pushes the restaurant to better heights, and at Brava this great chef goes by the name of Andrea Harling.

Toronto-born Harling, 34, started working at Brava in 2014 and immediately took charge. In her white chef jacket and her black striped apron she is a friendly ball of energy while her raspy voice talks passionately about food.

After finishing school Harling started working in a kitchen, and found her career path.

“That moment, on the second I stepped into a kitchen, I knew something inside of me was like ‘this is where you are meant to be.’”

In 2000, she attended Fleming College in Ontario for chef training. Training consisted of an intense two-year program before moving onto a 6,000-hour apprenticeship, and then after six years of training and interning she eventually began working at Chemong Lodge in Bridgenorth, Ontario.

“I started as one of the morning line cooks and then within maybe three months I had been put into the sous chef role, and then I was running the place in about a year. Not even, maybe about six months later.”Andrea Harling behind the scenes in her kitchen at Brava Bistro with her staff while they prepare for the lunch line 

Photo by Andrea Roberts

Finally Harling moved to Calgary where she started working at District on 11th Avenue, then in early 2014 she heard through connections about the opening at Brava after the chef left. She immediately felt a connection with the restaurant and shared ideals with the general manager. The rest they say is history.

The restaurant’s general manager known by the sole name ‘Dewey’ speaks of Harling in the highest regards. In fact, he says that one of the things he most admires about her is the fact that she cares about food and people.

“She is the kind of chef that has the talent, but also has the kindness.”

Something else he points out about her is that: unlike many of the egotistical chefs he has worked with, who cook the food for themselves, Harling cooks for people. This idea she brings up during her interview.

“I cook food and I make people happy. I enhance their experiences of being friends and that’s what its about.”

The Alberta Pork Board (for 2) meal ($52) 

Photo by Andrea RobertsUpon taking up her mantel as the executive chef, she began to make changes to the way the kitchen was run as well as the menu. These changes reflected Harling’s beliefs in sustainability, and good local food. Since the Bistro’s opening in 2000 the menu had not been changed and the regulars had gotten used to the menu, the way the food tasted and even where they sat; it was a little community. So naturally the change was met with some resistance, says Harling and Dewey, but already she had proven her case.

While she may have made a few changes to the menu she kept some of the fan favourites like the Lobster Poutine ($17) which is a Brava staple and the Salt Spring Island Mussels ($17), a meal which Harling puts her own secret spin on. The latest menu was released on Mar. 19 in order to incorporate the spring foods that are on the market.

The menu change is where she faced the most resistance, but Dewey was completely behind her. He was willing to change the menu because they’d had the same menu for so long. With the changes he said that she met him half way during their discussions, which is also something that more ego-filled chefs would not have done.

Harling plans to change the menu at least three to four times a year in order to put what is in season on the table while leaving the staples on the menu. Although currently she enjoys the Crispy Duck Leg meal ($30), Harling doesn’t have a preferred dish herself and finds that her cooking style continually changes.

“I don’t really have any favourites, because I think it is using the good quality ingredients that is the fun part of it.”

As they move into spring she talks about how in Kelowna they are already planting while the restaurant will be getting in fresh nettles from Oregon. It is obvious how enthusiastic she is about food and sticking to her sustainability beliefs.

In the kitchen some of the changes that Harling made were to install a proper recycling program as well as send the oil from the deep fryer to a man who uses it for biofuel to run his greenhouse.

Then to help with sustainability, and to ensure that only the freshest food goes out the kitchen, they try to make most products in-house, for example its pasta. The kitchen is also working towards a bread program, however, because such a program takes a long time to perfect they currently get their bread from a local bakery.Brava Bistro before it gets busy for lunch

Photo by Andrea Roberts

In keeping with the other changes Harling has made, Brava is sticking to local suppliers. She lists the foods she gets and from where. From Alberta she says they get root vegetables like beets and potatoes and, in summer, crisp lettuces. However because the province is landlocked, in the off-season she has to look towards small suppliers from B.C. for foodstuffs like seafood.

“Andrea is the full package: she has values, her kind personality, and talent. I haven’t worked with anyone that authentically has all three.” Dewey says.

Her beliefs seem to be there to help the community by supporting local suppliers while she wants to make food that makes others happy.

aroberts@cjournal.ca