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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Traveling Cowboys: The Best View for Spot Prawns in the Bow Valley at Juniper Bistro, Banff, Alberta

Spot Me a Prawn

Chef Angus An of Vancouver’s Maenam Restaurant is a good friend of Chef Chris Irving. Chris is a good friend of ours, so we managed an invitation to see what Angus can do with a very precious Canadian delicacy - Spot Prawns.

It is part of the "Chef's Series" hosted at the Juniper Bistro in Banff, where Chris invites his best friends from around the world to cook for the sophisticated palates of the Bow Valley.

Yeh! Spicy street food! This was what we thought when we heard Thai and Prawns. What we discovered were the familiar flavor explosions you'd expect from Thai. Yet, it was done with a sophisticated bistro twist. If fermented rice sorbet gets your attention, then join us for the highlights of the evening as it unfolded.


Three things came together, and a fourth was missing.

Let's start with the star of the attraction. The venue, Juniper Bistro is arguably the restaurant with one of the best views in Banff. Chris confessed that his famous chef friends are all too eager to make the trip up the valley. When they hear Banff and Juniper Bistro, they don't need a second invitation. The setting makes it a sought after opportunity to cook in a place that is on the bucket list of many travelers. The view of the evening of the 23rd of May didn't disappoint. It was Spring. The valley was green. The waters were turquoise and the sky, a powdery blue. The setting was perfect for a pinnacle food event.

Secondly, two very talented chefs collaborated in a special menu to celebrate the start of the highly-anticipated Spot Prawn season. Angus and his restaurant Maenam is the reigning champion of “Restaurant of The Year” in the Vancouver Magazine‘s Restaurant Awards. He has held a Gold rating for Best Thai since 2009. Maenam is considered #32 in Canada’s 100 Best. The second member of the team, Chris Irving, is used to rub shoulders with celebrities. He cooked for David Beckham and his family three days a week. The other two days for Gordon Ramsay. Now we are fortunate that he cooks for us, the Two Cowboys, in the Bow Valley.

Number three, the Spot Prawns, were flown in alive and fresh for the day of the dinner directly from the icy waters of the Pacific Ocean. Wild BC Spot Prawns are a delicacy known around the world for their sweet, delicate flavor and firm texture. They are most recognizable for their reddish brown color which turns bright pink when cooked.


We had the view, the talent, and the ingredient. What could be missing? This is where we may ruin our newly formed friendships.

We loved the evening. Everything was perfect. The service was outstanding! The prawns were poached, grilled, crackered, oiled and downed to perfection. However, we missed the familiar spiciness and heat of Thai. In our opinion, the chefs were not at fault. We know it is hard to balance delicate flavors and make a very fragile ingredient the hero of an extensive and creative menu. Rather, it is something else that is all too familiar when authentic oriental foods are involved. In our opinion, something is wrong with the Canadian palate.

It reminded me of a chefs' revolt we witnessed a couple of years ago when an authentic Indian restaurant opened in Okotoks. The chefs were principally imported from India to provide a truly authentic curry experience. After two months of Vindaloo complaints, they refused to cook one more curry and packed their bags promptly back to Bangalore. The chefs refused to adjust the authentic recipes and departed for a market where their cooking is appreciated.  The verdict? Canadians cannot stand the heat.

If there was one thing missing from the evening, it was the heat. I have a suspicion that if we met Chris and Angus in a more private setting, it would be there. Until then, we will have to settle for "Canadian Thai" - if there ever was such a thing.

Hendrik van Wyk
Hot Cowboy

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Final Touches 
Prawn Team

The Hero



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