Sensory in Canmore offers a literal taste of the mountains

0612 ba the sensory.BA.jpeg jpeg, BA

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Chefs like to talk a lot about food that evokes a sense of place, a consideration that can be particularly important when they’re cooking from a location that attracts tourists looking for a regional experience. For chef Tracy Little, creating a sense of place through food means literally using ingredients she finds on foraging trips to make playful dishes that can turn a trip to the Rocky Mountains into a multi-sensory experience.

Little is the chef at The Sensory and Wit Bar, an aptly named and newly opened restaurant in Canmore located within the Shops of Canmore, a new development just east of the town’s main drag. Opening the two-level, fine dining restaurant and wine and cocktail bar was a lifelong dream for owner Terry Jensen, who previously owned the McDonalds’ franchises in both Canmore and Banff. After a McDonalds’ customer told Jensen that he knew a chef who could make his restaurant dreams a reality, Jensen brought Little on board and gave her the freedom to work her magic in the kitchen.

And that magic is considerable. The immensely talented Little grew up in Fort McMurray: her dad was a forester, so the family spent a lot of time outdoors, where she would forage for ingredients to make experimental meals. Little honed her skills at culinary school in Ontario and then returned to Alberta, taking a job in the kitchen at Rouge in Calgary. But the mountains were calling, so she left the city to lend her skills to places like the Rimrock Hotel in Banff and Canmore’s Sage Bistro and Crazy Weed Kitchen before joining Jensen at The Sensory.

“This is the first place where I’ve been able to go full-on with my vision,” Little says. “There’s so much food available here in the Rockies that could be considered exotic.”

Little’s culinary vision is best expressed in a seven-course tasting menu dubbed “The Hike” ($85), showcasing dishes often featuring ingredients picked up on one of the staff’s regular foraging trips. Since Little’s menu is so often dictated both by what’s in season and what she’s able to find, the selections change constantly, but a recent version included items like foraged greens with chamomile-infused golden beets and confit wild mushrooms dressed in a pine and honey vinaigrette, as well as a corn broth with wild boar bacon and spruce ash. It’s equal parts fancy and woodsy, with each element plated to showcase Little’s creativity. For guests who want to go on a less intense journey, Little’s a la carte menu is full of alpine takes on more familiar items like a rose-crusted beef tenderloin with pine flour gnocchi ($45) or a half chicken roasted in pine, juniper and wild grass with potato puree ($29). Little also offers a “Trust Me” three-course meal ($45) for anyone looking for a surprise.

Little describes the upstairs of The Sensory as her “playground,” whereas the more casual downstairs Wit Bar is Jensen’s baby. The Wit menu is full of cheeky takes on bar food, all marked with Little’s signature touch: things like the Let’s Taco Bout It grilled bison tacos with local greens ($20), Reuben Hood pastrami sliders ($15) and Taters Going to Tate campfire potato wedges ($8). Puns, it seems, are the one thing Little loves as much as she does foraging.

Both halves of the operation share a pretty impressive cocktail list, with flavour combinations to match the kitchen’s carefully constructed food. Look for oddly delicious concoctions like the Bullet Proof Old Fashioned ($15), which is made with duck fat-washed bourbon (don’t worry, the fat just enhances the mouth feel — it tastes neither fatty nor ducky) or a cold brew coffee sour ($13).

The Sensory and Wit Bar is located at 101, 300 Old Canmore Road in Canmore and can be reached at 403-812-0837 or thesensory.ca.

The Sensory chef Tracy Little. Photo Marie Conboy. jpg, BA

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