Tucked into a corner of the Calgary Farmers' Market, beside a door I always try to park close to — Shef's Fiery Kitchen dishes out some of the city's best Indian and Thai-inspired curries, along with fresh butter and garlic naan cooked in a tandoor oven.
Owner Shefali (Shef) and her sister Sharon grew up with a mom who loved to cook — first in Mississauga, then Dubai before landing in Calgary 30 years ago.
"I hung out in the kitchen with my mom all the time — I was always interested in food," Shef says.
After earning a bachelor of arts degree at the University of Lethbridge and a brief stint as a pharmacy technician, Shef decided that coming from a family of entrepreneurs, she didn't want to work for anyone else anymore. Since food was her first love, she knew that was the direction she wanted to go.
"I always knew I wanted to run my own business, like my dad and grandpa," Shef says. "It's in my blood."
Shef spent some time traveling around Thailand, learning new cooking techniques and teaching cooking classes, then took a six-month business course before securing a space at the original location of the Calgary Farmers' Market in Currie Barracks.
Shef called her sister, Sharon, who shared her love of cooking and had also spent time studying cooking in Thailand and Bali, to come home from Chicago and join her.
When the Calgary Farmers' Market moved to its new location off Blackfoot Trail the sisters followed, expanding to incorporate a tandoor — an intensely hot upright oven, traditionally used to cook fresh naan.
Their curries, salads and tandoori chicken gained popularity, as did their naanwiches — pockets of chewy bread stuffed with their famous butter chicken.
"We needed a quick sandwich-type meal, for when you need to take something to go and don't have time to sit down with a curry and rice," Sharon says. "Lots of our Indian dishes are our mother's recipes, but we didn't grow up with butter chicken and naan."
Their menu, which always includes butter chicken and naan, changes about every three weeks, rotating through about 60 dishes to keep things interesting.
"And my sister's mother-in-law has Burmese recipes, so we have these great Burmese curries," Shef adds.
Their curries are available ready to eat or frozen to take home, as is their latest creation — a butter chicken pizza built on a naan base.
And if you're looking for good ingredients for your own curries, Shef and Sharon also sell small jars of their own house-made, roasted dry spice blends.
Besides a classic curry, they make dhana jeera and garam masala, as well as intensely flavourful marinades, like chili-lime, harissa, kashmiri and tandoori.
They offer cooking classes and do catering and other events, bringing the traditional flavours of their childhood — and the skills they've learned along the way — to other Calgary kitchens.