Philanthropic restaurateur and family push for global food with a local twist

Crystal Carwin Lee (@crystalcarwin) is working her way  through the Tomato’s 2013 and 2014 lists of best places to eat or drink in Edmonton. Restaurant profiles will be posted on TLG, and you can find her review of Wildflower Grill on her own blog.

Wildflower Grill (@LaziaWFEast), a mature, contemporary and upscale sister restaurant to the slightly more casual dining experiences provided at Lazia and East, has served its reputation well since it opened in downtown Edmonton back in 2008. Voted by readers to the No. 90 spot on The Tomato‘s list of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton in 2013, it has become a place to impress business colleagues, celebrate special events and romance lovers. I sat down with owner Richard Lim to discuss the establishment’s continued recognition by local foodies. He says that Wildflower Grill feels supported every day, and when regular patrons and new faces come in to eat, it is like they are experiencing something with them — the kitchen’s passion and innovation.

The appreciation of the support that the community provides encourages his chefs to cater to the city’s ever-evolving palette. In a culinary world that emphasizes fresh, healthy, local and sustainable ideals, Wildflower Grill has pushed to meet those criteria. If it can be made fresh in-house, it is. Everything from sauces and rubs to brioche loaves and desserts, to chai tea with hand-crushed spices are prepared in the restaurant kitchen. The eatery also works with local farms and families in and around Edmonton to source meats, seasonal fruits and vegetables, dairy products and other home-grown foods. Ethically, they do their research to bring in foods that are green — fish come from water sources that conform to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation’s Code of Conduct; the pork and beef are grass-fed, which is more natural for them than grains, and they are raised in environments that are clean, humane and low-stress. All of this leads to healthier choices. The restaurant strives to serve dishes with high nutritional impact (i.e. foods with omega 3-6 fatty acids, world-recognized super foods, foods that are easy to digest, manageable portion sizes, balanced food groups, and overall better quality ingredients). 

An indulgent meal of fresh baked bread, ravioli, gnocchi, duck and short ribs. Photos: Crystal Lee
An indulgent meal of fresh baked bread, ravioli, gnocchi, duck and short ribs. Photos: Crystal Lee

In addition, Wildflower Grill, in collaboration with the University of Alberta, Alberta Innovates Health Solutions, Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions and the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency, is taking food science and food safety further by helping in a study to analyze Alberta grown foods. The end result of that study would be to understand what is really in the food we eat, how it affects their flavour and our overall health. Wildflower Grill hopes that the information garnered from this research will guide and inform the development of their future menus.

Science aside, the establishment’s food philosophy stems from French cuisine and sourcing Canadian ingredients. Richard says that their dishes must represent Canadian ethnic diversity by combining local and global influences and introducing new and bold flavours. In terms of service, they strive to always be professional, sincere and personalized. The ultimate goal for this family-owned business is to make a living out of upholding the quality, creativity and uniqueness of the group of restaurants they own. Each eatery is considered a gem that Richard feels they can be proud of. The family isn’t done either. Wildflower Grill, as well as Lazia, were strategically targeted to be a part of the revitalization of downtown Edmonton, which has arguably been a successful move on their part. Now, Richard’s next initiative is to follow the expansion of the city by potentially looking south towards the Edmonton International Airport, and by considering the possibility of franchising.

Despite the big picture at hand, Richard says he will never forget that it is the Edmonton community that has bolstered the success of Wildflower Grill. Hailing from Malaysia and having owned or operated eateries all over Canada (Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Burlington, Toronto), Richard mentions that this city is a thriving environment for entrepreneurs like him and his family, particularly those in the restaurant business. That is because Edmontonians eat out more than individuals in other provinces, something Richard has verified firsthand at his restaurants for well over 10 years. Not only that, but he says that the down-to-earth people in Edmonton have made them feel very welcome.

As a family, they are committed to this city. Both of Richard’s children were born here, so they believe that it is important to put aside a portion of their annual budget to give back to the community every year. In Richard’s school days he used to play soccer at an international level and his daughter is named after an alpine skier so they regularly support our Canadian Olympic athletes at the annual Gold Medal Plates competition. Moreover, they have supported Camp fYrefly which encourages LGBTQ youth to pursue their passion in the arts, as well as FEASTival of Fine chefs, Change for Children, the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation, the Lois Hole Hospital for Women, the University of Alberta Hospital and the Grey Nuns Community Hospital, where Richard’s son was born. Taking part in Edmonton’s Downtown Dining Week is their way of nurturing the core’s continuing regeneration, and their occasional wine dinners are a chance for them to highlight Canadian wineries with Vinomania. In the future, they would also love to take part in Indulgence because it puts a spotlight on local restaurants and food purveyors by bringing them together. Furthermore, in the spirit of community, Richard likes to procure works from local painters, musicians, glass blowers and other artists, which are then showcased in each of his restaurants.

This need for them to give back to a city that has offered them so much shows that Richard and his family have huge hearts and a lot of love for this place they have chosen to call home, so one of my last questions to him was to ask if anything on the menu is highly influenced by Edmonton itself. Richard responded that they have done some fun things in the kitchen and behind the bar in the past, but as a long-time Edmonton Oilers fan, he says they have made a few dishes that showcase the Oilers colours.

The family’s sense of whimsy along with their philanthropy and, of course, their emphasis on global food with a local twist is what makes them the kind of restaurateurs and entrepreneurs that Edmonton needs and wants.

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  1. Pingback: Edmonton Restaurant Review: Wildflower Grill | Fa(shion).Fi(lm).Fo(od).tography

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