You may’ve found yourself cozied up to the fireplace at the Living Room sipping some wine and snacking on some killer charcuterie. With their stellar ingredients for a night out, it’s easy to see why the Living Room is a 17th Ave staple, whether it be for a warm night in or a sunny patio hang. We caught up with Head Chef, Stu Kirton, the man behind their innovative modern comfort food menu that keeps us coming back. Not only does he creatively combine bold flavours with fresh ingredients, he’s an expert in the nuances of the cured meat found on your charcuterie board. See how his love for salumi led him to the start of his own small batch curing business, VDG Salumi and where he likes to hang on the Ave when he’s got a little downtime.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born and raised in Calgary. After elementary school, my family moved to a small town called Bridgenorth, Ontario. I moved back when I was 18 to attend SAIT and obtained my Professional Chef Diploma, then attended George Brown College for my Post-Graduate Diploma in Italian Culinary Arts. I became accustomed to never staying in one place and wanting to immerse myself in the culinary world, it led me to attend Alma La Scoula Internazionale di Cucina Italiana in Parma, Italy, then staged at La Capinera in Taormina, Sicily. Fast forward to four years ago, I packed it up and came back to Calgary – I knew deep down I always belonged here.
What gets you up in the morning?
Literally, a single espresso and a smoothie. Figuratively, knowing that every day is pushing me further to where I want to be. The support of my family & fiancé are the reasons why I’m able to strive for this.
Being head chef at The Living Room, how did VDG come to be?
I discovered cured meats in my early teens, where I developed an interest in the art of charcuterie. It was at first this ‘unicorn’ of how such a thing came to be, but as I studied, tasted, and watched my family cringe while I fermented sausages on a saw-horse in a bathtub, I began to learn the language. When I studied in Italy, I learned traditional ways of making Italian-style charcuterie. Testing my knowledge, I began making salumi at home for family and friends. I continued this for several years until I met Ivo Andric. Ivo being an avid salumi enthusiast himself, we decided to team up, and boom, VDG Salumi was born.
Do you supply restaurants on 17th Ave?
Our VDG team supplies Cibo and a few other restaurants on the Ave. Most of our products are delivered through the tender hands of local businesses such as The Fine Food Stop, Community Meats, and Meta4 where they bring VDG all over the city and surrounding area. I also serve ‘VDG Riserva’ at the Living Room. That’s our ever changing list of meats exclusively for the Living Room. We do a lot of our recipe development through there, the Living Room guests are our ‘guinea pigs’.
Supporting and supplying local is important to you.
The largest part of supporting local is that not only are you pushing someone else towards their goal, you’re helping them put food on the table, care for their family, and do things they enjoy. Supporting local will always tell a story, if I see Pillars smoked meat, I think “oh, Rueben sandwiches”, and when I see a Banded Peaks Brewery label, it’s two guys in rubber boots washing barley out of a burlap sack. There is a closer appreciation. I feel good about supplying local businesses with an authentic, hand crafted product that is made by people who care, that love the product, and think you will too.
With over 400 services on the Ave, do you get any of your ‘to-do’s one on 17th?
The awesome thing about being located on 17th Ave is that it’s central to absolutely everything. Most of my time is spent either with VDG or The Living Room, but you can find me at a coffee meeting at Analog or Philosafy throughout the week. I do my banking on 17th, and who doesn’t buy distilled water for salami at Shoppers Drug Mart?
What is your favourite thing about 17 Ave?
The energy is nothing like I’ve experienced before. It’s definitely the hub of diversity within Calgary, and my favourite thing is that there’s something for everyone. Calgarians have an irresistible thirst for the Stampede, Flames, or any annual festival.
Favourite place to shop?
My closet is primarily Frank & Oak, therefore they are the most logical answer.
Best place for a night out or favourite restaurant?
I enjoy my time outside of the restaurant scene. Anju seems to be a usual spot for me but often it’s a midnight stop at Thai Tai and I’m always willing to crush some tex-mex at Blanco Cantina.
What would you like to see on 17th in the future?
Guitar shops. I play bass guitar need to go off the beaten path to find what I need.
What’s up next for you?
We’re working on expanding VDG into small, local, retail suppliers with the city. In addition to finding us on some restaurants menus, you can purchase our Salumi at places like Bite in Inglewood or Mountain Mercato in Canmore. We’re putting focus into the packaging to make an authentic product and for a customer to proudly to say it’s locally handmade. For the Living Room, it’s to make it better than it was the day before, and VDG to be the first that comes to mind for those who love moldy meat.
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