Deeply satisfying dining experiences are about clever, delicious combinations. Maple Creek’s Star Cafe & Grill masters that in its menu but it even manages to go a bit further.
How about restaurant/heritage building, restaurant/art gallery, restaurant/culinary school and restaurant/ambassador-for-possibilities-in smalltown-Saskatchewan? All of the above.
These things will slowly dawn on you as you gather in the ambience and attitude that fills the former frontier supply store. Owner and hostess Tina Cresswell is as passionate about the stories and ambitions behind the restaurant as she is about the food she serves. These narratives are seamlessly woven into her presentations of perfect steaks and exquisite ice cream.
Let’s start with the ice cream.
The Star may not be the only place where the ice cream is made in-house. It’s a safe bet, though, that no other restaurant invests as much in a serving of vanilla ice cream with a local fruit topping. The investment is in the form of staff specifically trained to make the seemingly simple dessert from pure, basic ingredients. The results are, in short, worth the effort. An ice cream at the finish of a meal rarely commands as much attention as it does at The Star.
And therein lies at least one of the secrets of The Star’s remarkable presentation: ordinary things can still surprise with rich tastes and freshly imagined ingredients.
Perhaps that is why The Star can successfully bring people back again and again for such staples as steak, roasts and soups.
Cresswell’s unapologetic emphasis on excellence may have something to do with it, too. Seminal to great food, in the estimation of the former journalist, is staff that is trained to perfect the food they prepare.
“There is a dearth of trained kitchen staff,” Cresswell states flatly. “It’s all about training.”
To that end, the second floor of The Star has been renovated to house Etoile Culinary Art International, a cooking school that is affiliated with Saskatchewan Institute for Applied Sciences and Technology (SIAST). Taking the same level of expectations for food that reign in the restaurant upstairs to the school will be no problem as Star chef Noy Lim will be the instructor.
“We’ve designed a short-term training program to help kitchens in extreme distress,” says Cresswell.
And by “kitchens” she means all kinds of kitchens, not just the top end category into which The Star falls. She means cooking environments like work camps where her husband David Turner worked for years before the couple undertook their Maple Creek enterprise. “Just because it’s big,” she says, referring to the scale of cooking that’s found in a camp kitchen environment, “doesn’t mean it isn’t good.”
The school is attracting students from Canada and Saskatchewan but Cresswell has put an emphasis on the Philippines where many aspiring chefs are eager for good training.
In the meantime, The Star retains its focus on local ingredients, including Saskatchewan wines and beer, as their menu and their place in Maple Creek’s cultural mix evolves.
As winter settles in, The Star will be settling in for comfort foods.