The best way I describe Christmas in November is it’s a festive, all-inclusive pampered getaway in the mountains, filled with great people and even better food. And it’s kind of like a food/Christmas conference.
You register for food, drink and decorating classes that are all meant to help prepare you for a wonderful holiday season. And it’s especially neat because the classes are led by celebrity chefs and local experts. (Food Network fan? You would LOVE the special chef guests at Christmas in November!)
Each interactive session comes with delicious samples, and you also get breakfast and three-course lunch and dinners, plus little treats delivered to your room, all in picturesque Jasper. If you’re lucky (or just Canadian weather), you’ll also welcome snow because then it’s truly a winter wonderland, kicking off the Christmas season!
When you attend Christmas in November, you basically need to prepare your mind and stomach for three days of excessive eating and drinking (if you’re a drinker, I’m mostly a water kind of gal, but Mike sure took advantage of all the Christmas cocktails included in your Christmas in November registration!) I always enjoy the opening reception because it sets the mood for the rest of the weekend. This year’s Silly Sweater competition added another fun element to the evening – Mike didn’t win but I think he was a high-up there contender!
The first night is also when you get introduced to all the amazing presenters that will be leading sessions all weekend!
The best of the best chefs/presenters at Christmas in November!
Our first full day of sessions (Saturday) started off with a Christmas decorating session with Cory Christopher.
It’s cool to sit in on celebrity chef-led sessions at Christmas in November but I always make a point to attend sessions from local presenters too!
We have so much local (Edmonton/Calgary/Alberta) talent, it’s great they can get a big platform like Christmas in November to show off / share those talents to a wider audience, on a much more intimate level!
Lots of Christmas decorating inspiration from Cory Christopher at Christmas in November!
Some top table setting tip ideas from Cory:
Feature a Christmas terrarium – a terrarium is generally a glass bowl that is filled with different types of plants. Make a Christmas terrarium by adding cotton ‘snow,’ miniature trees, and a house. It’s quick, easy, and a fun project to do with kids
Spray paint old vases and feature a Christmas bag vase – select three tones of green paint and spray paint clear old vases. This is a very easy way to give life back to something old. You can also place a simple vase inside a fun, brightly-coloured Christmas bag and arrange flowers in the vase
Showcase ornaments – look for vases with interesting shapes and show off keepsake ornaments by hanging from branches within an interesting vase. Put ornamental balls on old candle holders. Use a colourful sharpie and write names on ornaments to use as place settings. It’s all in the little details
Mike and I split up for our next sessions (he was all about the alcohol-based sessions) so my next one I went to solo with Edgar Gutierrez of Rostizado!
In it, I learned how to make a delicious Mexican pollo rub for a roasted chicken, and everyone’s favourite Mexican donut – churros!
Delicious churros from Rostizado at Christmas in November!
Top roast chicken tip from Edgar:
While trussing a chicken, Edgar also said he doesn’t like to stuff the chicken. While some people or recipes call for putting garlic or lemon inside the bird, Edgar says what you stuff ends up cooking off in the oven, releasing water, resulting in a less crispy skin. You always want a crispy skin!
This session was especially fun because chefs had participants come up to help roll out long pasta!
How long will it go? (From one end of the room to the other, easily!) at Christmas in November.
Fun fact (or legend) from this session:
Apparently ravioli was introduced to Italy by Marco Polo, after he experienced dumplings during his travels to China. Whether that’s true or not, ravioli can be stuffed with pretty much anything, and the spinach and ricotta combination we had was wonderful. It also cooked so quick – another fun fact: fresh pasta tends to cook a lot quicker, you just need a couple of minutes in the water and then they’re ready to go!
After the last session of the day, you’d normally have a few hours to decompress before packing in more food at dinner but we wanted to sit in on the Taste Alberta fireside chat about local food!
A fireside chat about food and sustainability – hosted by Taste Alberta.
The fireside chat topic was on sustainability and there was some really interesting thoughts shared from panelists including what sustainability and food means to them.
Julie Van Rosendaal said sustainability is about raising food ethically, treating animals properly, supporting local producers.
Michael Olson said sustainability is about finding sustainable business models too – you can’t pretend it’s all about being clean and environmentally-friendly, when we think about sustainability we need to think about how to keep farms viable.
On that note, Alberta Milk thinks sustainability means you need to compensate the farmer properly for his or her effort. If he fails, you don’t get the product anymore – it’s not sustainable if the farmer can’t make a living off of his farm.
Darcy with Alberta Pork made a point that the first thing the average person looks at when grocery shopping is the price and that sadly often trumps sustainable/local buys.
A fact that struck a chord from Julie was that in North America, we throw away 50% of the food we buy. People do not know how to preserve food. There is so much food waste! That’s obviously a big sustainability problem.
There was a lot of great takeaways and I think most people left (hopefully) thinking about how they can be part of the sustainable food solution. I know I’m guilty of looking at price when shopping, and also guilty of wasting a lot of food. I need to become better educated so I can do more with the food I have right in my home, and do more to support local farmers and producers.
Lots of food for thought!
So, even up to this point, you can probably tell Christmas in November is as hectic, jam-packed or relaxing as you want it to be. A lot of people choose to skip breakfast, sometimes even lunch because they’re so full from all the food in the session (that means I usually end up getting double the lunch appetizers because no one is there to claim theirs, hehe).
You can register for sessions to fill your day or you can choose to just leisurely hit up a couple sessions in between strolls by Lac Beauvert or a hike through the trails. For my Christmas in November purposes, it is important I attend as many sessions as possible but I still try to wake up a bit early or sneak out between sessions just to take a moment to enjoy our beautiful, natural surroundings.
Just beautiful! Winter wonderland at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge for Christmas in November.
Before we set off on our Sunday session, we stopped to take in the wonderful snowfall that fell overnight! I had been wishing for snow since we arrived in Jasper and we got it!
Not as much or as fluffy or scenic as I wanted for photos (that came after we left!) but still lovely. What’s Christmas without snow?
Lovely, right? Lac Beauvert, Jasper. Basically right outside our hotel room!
My first session on Sunday was with Giselle Courteau of the famous Duchess Bake Shop! Now I’m not too interested in desserts/sweets but I was excited to attend Giselle’s session and hear more about her amazing success story and see how she makes her famous macarons.
Candy cane macarons from Duchess Bake Shop at Christmas in November!
Here are a few macaron-making tips I picked up:
Really whip that meringue. It should be so whipped that you can hold the mixing bowl upside down and nothing will come down
It can help to use a template to ensure the macarons are as uniform as possible. Giselle just printed and laminated a template she got from the Internet, or trace parchment paper with shot glasses
Piping technique: hold the piping bag straight up, above the baking sheet, and just push it out. Your bag should not move up and down, or all around at all. It should be fairly little, steady movement
Bonus: create heart-shaped macarons by piping out a “V” shape instead of a circle. When it bakes it will bake into a heart
Great news for Edmontonians as well – it was at Christmas in November that Giselle announced Duchess would be expanding! Liane has more about that here.
During the weekend, one of our tablemates for meals was Chef Roger Mooking! It was really fun to learn more about him (for instance, did you know he was raised in Edmonton? Was a north side kid!) so Mike and I were both thrilled to attend his Christmas in November session where he gave some great tips for grilling steak, made a delicious black bean shrimp sauce, and showed us a different way to prepare broccoli!
Roger Mooking’s grilled steak, black bean shrimp sauce, and broccoli dust = fantastic!
Some of his great steak grilling tips include:
Tell if a steak is seasoned enough by pressing your finger down several times on the steak and tasting that. What you taste is how your steak will taste. If it tasted a bit bland – season it!
You can check the doneness of steak by pressing down on the top and feeling it. You should get the same feeling as when you pinch your fingers and touch the ‘meaty’ part under your thumb. With index finger touched to thumb, the feeling is rare. Middle finger to thumb, the feeling is medium rare. Ring finger to thumb, the feeling is medium.
He had tons of energy and was so funny! And really I am still just so surprised he grew up in Edmonton – such a small world!
Italian food is right up there on my list of food genres I couldn’t live without (Vietnamese and Japanese are also on that list!) so I was excited to have some more pasta, this time with Massimo.
Pasta with the expert – Chef Massimo Capra at Christmas in November!
Here are some cooking tidbits I learned from Chef Capra:
After cooking, the first layer of an onion is typically leathery in texture – don’t serve it but do use it in a future stock
Your pasta sauce should contain the trinity of flavours: celery, onion, and carrots – always. This is the mirepoix – sweetness, freshness, and a little bit of crunch
Chef Capra also loves to use simple tomato juice (literally just a small can of Heinz tomato juice) for his pasta sauces. He’s been using it for 20 years and finds people are always shocked he does but it delivers – every time. It is exactly what it promises to be, “don’t be close-minded” especially about using products that some might turn their nose up at
Always season your pasta water with salt – it doesn’t matter how much, just make sure there’s some salt in there because without the seasoning, your pasta will be on the blander side
It looks good for presentation, but the main reason chefs pile up pasta is that it helps maintain the heat
Mike actually got well-acquainted with Chef Massimo Capra during the dinner/after parties! A nice thing about Christmas in November – you make a lot of new friends!
As you can see (/read), it was a very busy – satisfying, and inspiring – weekend!!
We had to leave the Gala Dinner (the last big meal of the weekend) early because Mike needed to get back to work on Monday – but the Gala Dinner (four amazing courses) is definitely the best meal of the whole weekend! It’s always so fun because some people get so dressed up, and they roll out the winter white carpet for you that night. We also got to take a photo with Santa!
A lovely Christmas in November tradition – photos with Santa Claus!
As I write here, Christmas in November is truly special, and the best way to kick off your Christmas season.
I can absolutely see why so many Christmas in November attendees return to the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge year after year, bringing with them new and old friends and family.
It was so nice to see sisters, mother/daughters, best friends, (there was even a bachelorette party group at Christmas in November!) and husband/wife (treat yo self!) just kicking back and having a blast / getting pampered at the Fairmont.
I certainly hope to return next year, and would encourage you to as well! Just a lovely getaway weekend that is the perfect kick off to the holiday season!!
I would recommend going for the first package because everything is shiny, new, and extra exciting – though with the second or third packages, you’re more likely to get snow!
This giant gingerbread house at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge set up for Christmas in November is incredible!
Here are my also my Twitter notes from each session I attended if you’re interested in seeing how it all played out live ;)
And be sure to check out the Christmas in November Gastropost website – where I’ve linked to recipes and recaps, but where you can also find more recipes and recaps from other sessions from other awesome Edmonton/Calgary bloggers!
So have you been to Christmas in November?! Please leave a comment/share your memories below!
Linda Hoang is an Edmonton blogger who writes about food, travel, lifestyle/events. She's also a social media/digital specialist with a journalism background. Linda is in love with her city and loves exploring and promoting Edmonton and other cities she visits with her husband Mike. Linda is also the founder of the Edmonton International Cat Festival…