Provision restaurant keeps things cozy, close to home

The small, stand-alone building in Calgary’s oldest park, once occupied by Boxwood, sat empty for just a few months before Jackie Cooke of nearby Avec Bistro jumped on the opportunity to transform it into a new eatery experience.

'We love having tiny restaurants'

Provision owner Jackie Cooke with executive chef Daniel Pizarro. Cooke says she has always liked smaller spaces for restaurants. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

The small, stand-alone building in Calgary's oldest park, once occupied by Boxwood, sat empty for just a few months before Jackie Cooke of nearby Avec Bistro jumped on the opportunity to transform it into a new eatery experience.

"It's a beautiful oasis in the middle of downtown," Cooke says. "And the park is so special to so many people."

They called it Provision, in recognition of the history of Central Memorial Park and its connection to the military.

It opened in early December after Connie Young made a few upgrades to the interior.

Pastries and roasted B.C. Brussels sprouts are just some of the features at Provision in Central Memorial Park. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

There are comfortable banquettes replacing the counters around the windows looking out onto the park, and smaller tables took the place of high community table in the main dining area.

"We really wanted to keep the bones and the heart of this space," Cooke explains.

"Everything is designed around the size of the space. The tables had to be small, we went with stemless wine glasses. The menu, the plates, everything had to fit within the smallness of the space."

All told there are less than 50 seats, including a few perches at the bar, with warm wood and tons of natural light. It's cozy, inviting and well-suited to conversation.

Being surrounded by businesses and the nearby Sheldon M. Chumir Centre, they offer lunches to go, including four sandwiches and a hamburger, made with grass-fed beef, with your choice of sides on house-baked bread and buns.

On the weekends they do brunch, and when the weather warms, there will be another 60 seats on the patio.

"We love having a tiny space," says Cooke, a sommelier and longtime restaurateur with a background in environmental studies.

"We look back to a time when we owned Petit, which had 28 seats. We love having tiny restaurants."

Cooke and Kirk Shaw are the proprietors of Avec Bistro, a contemporary French restaurant nearby on 11th Avenue at 5th Street.

Executive chef Daniel Pizarro — who trained at SAIT and did his apprenticeship at Catch before moving to Paris to attend Ferrandi, L'ecole Francaise de Gastronomie — was at the Relais et Chateaux Chef's Table with chefs Duncan Ly and Michel Nop before moving to Avec.

"Daniel, with his experience with chef Alain Passard of L'Arpege and Chef Daniel Rose at Spring (both in Paris), really knows how to make vegetables the star of the plate," says Cooke.

More freedom to play with local, seasonal ingredients

These days, he's back and forth between Provision and Avec, working with a team that includes pastry chef Kevin Yang.

Yang was previously in the kitchens at Market and Corbeaux Bakehouse, who makes all their pastries and breads (try the espresso chocolate chunk cookies and cinnamon buns on the weekends), and is experimenting with incorporating vegetables into their desserts. His chocolate cake with a brilliant green kale ganache is already becoming legendary.

As for the menu, they've left the French focus at Avec. At Provision, Daniel and his crew have more freedom to play with local, seasonal ingredients, which they admit can be tough when you've just opened and it's January in Alberta.

The owner at Provision says everything was designed around the small space. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

Right now, they're making roasted B.C. brussels sprouts, butter basted cauliflower, caramelized parsley root and smoked Heritage Isle potatoes with a softly poached egg, roasted garlic and arugula.

"We look forward to the menu changing frequently," Cooke explains.

"Daniel is working closely with local suppliers who can custom grow things, which is pretty cool. We can say 'We're looking for this vegetable or this herb, can you grow it?' And of course keeping it in Alberta, we all talk about how hard businesses have been hit, we want to do as much as we can to keep the money close to home."

Provision is located downtown in Central Memorial Park. For more information visit them online.