If dill-pickled veggies, house-cured hams, homemade bread and butter, Gruyere and the like sound like European gastronomy-heaven, you might want to drop by Chef and Owner Kelsey Johnson’s Café Linnea next time you’re in Edmonton.
Chef Johnson is the mastermind behind this Scandinavian-based hot-spot known for sourcing local ingredients, and … wait for it … a no tipping policy. She believes in paying staff competitive living wages and benefits, which is worked into her pricing model—much to the delight of locals and tourists alike. Even with her busy schedule, we managed to get the skinny on Chef Johnson’s Café Linnea and how she likes to combine Switzerland Cheeses into her menu.
Switzerland Cheese: Where were you born, where did you grow up?
Answer: I was born in Edmonton, Alberta, and raised in the country right on Pigeon Lake. The nearest town — population 800 — was a 15-minute drive away and that is where I went to school. My family worked in the construction trade.
Chef Kelsey Johnson: When did your passion for culinary arts start to brew?
A: I have always loved cooking. My grandpa and grandma had a cafe when they were younger and they always had a garden when I was growing up. I loved to learn about vegetables and fruits from them. Whenever my family would have company, I would try and cook something special for them and they would eat it with a smile, even if it was a terrible first attempt. My mom and my aunt also did a lot of baking with me when I was younger, so I feel like I have always been happy and at home in a kitchen.
Q: Why Scandinavian and French Cuisine inspired flavours at Café Linnea?
A: When I first wrote a menu for Cafe Linnea, I thought it was going to be 100% French inspired. However, as I showed it to people, everyone kept pointing out the Scandinavian influences that were popping up. My heritage is both French and Scandinavian and I guess it shows in what I love to cook and serve people. I love that both countries try and let the ingredients speak for themselves and both use technique to elevate as opposed to cover up or muddle flavours.
Q: What is it about what you do that you LOVE?
A: I love the creativity, the space we have built, the team I work with each day, the farmers, producers and procurers of everything we use in the space. I love the pace of the restaurant and I love serving people and seeing them eat my food and drink and relax and enjoy.
Q: Tell us a little bit about Café Linnea and yourself; how did this project evolve?
A: I have been cooking in Edmonton for about eight years in different locations, trying to learn as much as I can from every opportunity. Most recently I was at Duchess Bakeshop and after spending five years there, I wanted to follow my passion for savoury cooking, and so I approached the owners of the bakeshop to join forces and open a brunch place. We found the perfect space and started building in early 2016 and began in July of the same year.
Q: How long have you been working with Switzerland Cheeses?
A: We have been working with Gruyere cheese since before the restaurant opened. Duchess has been using it since day one on their tartiflette, and as soon as we decided on the concept of traditional buckwheat galettes, we knew we wanted to do the Complete Galette, which includes Gruyere, house smoked ham and an egg.
Q: Why are Switzerland Cheeses some of the best?
A: We love the deep rich flavour of the cheese and the nicely balanced salty tang it gives our food. It melts perfectly as well—a must for our galettes!
Q: If you had to give up one or the other, chocolate or cheese, which would it be and why?
A: I would give up chocolate over cheese any day, and I am a chocolate lover! But think of everything you would be missing out on with cheese. The pasta, pizza, galettes, cheese boards, everything! And it can be used for savoury or sweet applications, so your choices are doubled!