The Prairie Grid Series: A brief history

Why we celebrate all things Prairie food and drink every fall

It all started with an idea in the sky.

Flying over the Prairies–whether that means Manitoba, Saskatchewan or Alberta–offers a bird's eye view of a landscape that is more distinct than most other parts of Canada. It’s one that a simple highway drive just doesn't do justice to.

With farmers' fields as far as the eye can see, I had alway been mesmerized by the patchwork, quilt-like overhead view that the Prairies offered.

During one of many flights across the country for work in mid-2016, inspiration struck and I began scribbling out jot notes about bringing a dinner series to life using this “prairie grid” visual as inspiration.

Fast forward to one year later and things were in motion.

The inaugural Prairie Grid Dinner Series

Eat North’s first Prairie Grid Dinner Series kicked off in late September, 2017 with five chefs from across the Prairies, two fellow food writers, along with a couple other workhorse friends ready to help make my vision a reality. The ten days that followed after our inaugural dinner in Calgary were intense and, at times, unforgiving, but for the most part the adventure was invigorating.

Chefs Jamie Harling (Calgary), Lindsay Porter (Edmonton), Christie Peters (Saskatoon), Adam Donnelly (Winnipeg) and Pamela Kirkpatrick (Winnipeg) worked together to create a beautiful tasting menu inspired by the Prairie landscape. They did so in tight time frames and unfamiliar event spaces. We quickly learnt that a four city tour in just ten days (Calgary to Edmonton to Saskatoon to Winnipeg and back to Calgary) would result in plenty of hurdles, but being some of the best culinary talent in the region, they rose to all challenges.

To help amplify the proudly Prairie menu of the collaborating chefs, we worked with a variety of makers–from a ceramicist, a knifemaker and an illustrator to fashion designers–to create custom wares that embodied our “prairie grid” inspiration.

Becoming an annual cornerstone event for Eat North

The dinner series was well-received by both diners and the team that made it happen. It even spawned a short documentary, Proud to be Prairie, that screened at various film festivals across Canada and laid the groundwork for a second (2018) and third annual (2019) Prairie Grid Dinner Series, both successful in their own right. For 2020 we had settled on a theme of "homecoming" and were in the planning stages of bringing back a myriad of Canadian-born chefs working abroad to cook in their respective hometowns and celebrate their roots...and then along came the pandemic.

If you had asked me back in May if Prairie Grid would be happening in some shape or form this fall, the answer would have been a hard and fast–and solemn–no. Sitting down for dinner at a restaurant seemed like a stretch back then, so a pop-up dinner with 120-140 guests happening in four different cities with a team of people also from four different cities was an even further stretch of the imagination.

Transitioning to the Prairie Grid Market for 2020

Still, we here at Eat North do enjoy being confronted with hurdles and figuring out a way to jump over them. By June we came up with the idea for the Prairie Grid Market. This evolution of our roving pop-up restaurant of sorts would still allow us to work with different chefs, producers and makers, but in a different format and one that felt much more suited to the current climate.

Things are undisputedly different now with the pandemic ever-looming overhead, but that doesn’t mean things can’t happen.

While many events and festivals have pressed pause for 2020, I am happy that we found a safe way to forge on and keep Prairie Grid, our annual celebration of all things Prairie, alive. This wouldn't have been possible without the help of Carter Cadillac for believing in our Prairie Grid series since day one and also Calgary Produce Marketing Association who has believed in our Prairie-themed vision since 2019 as well.

TL;DR - I hope you all enjoy your time exploring this pop-up market as much as we loved bringing it to life and I hope it makes you feel proud to be Prairie.

Watch: "Proud to be Prairie"