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!
And keep scrolling for my recap (plus recipes) from this year!
As a guest of Gastropost, it was my job to attend, tweet, Instagram, and blog about my Christmas in November sessions and overall experience!
Really, I would do all of that regardless, so this hardly felt like work ;-)
On our first night we got all silly sweater-ed up for the first-ever Christmas in November Silly Christmas Sweater Reception!
The night features copious amounts of food (a theme for the weekend) and lots of holiday cheer.
— Linda Hoang (@lindork) November 7, 2015
— Linda Hoang (@lindork) November 7, 2015
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!
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!
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
Check out my recap of the Cory Christopher session (including some great ideas on holiday decor for your front door, mantle, centrepieces and table settings).
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!
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!
The last session I did during that first full day was cook up ravioli and ragu with the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge’s ORSO Trattoria restaurant chefs.
This session was especially fun because chefs had participants come up to help roll out long pasta!
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!
- Check out my recap of Andrew’s class
- Get the recipe for the spinach and ricotta ravioli
- Get the pappardelle ragu bolognaise
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
Luckily after Giselle’s class I was able to pop into the tail end of Anna and Michael Olson’s session.
They are always one of the best sessions because of all the amazing meat they make!! I was able to get a few plates of copious amounts of the most incredible pork belly… yum!
— Linda Hoang (@lindork) November 8, 2015
The cool part about the weekend’s lunch and dinners was that they featured local producers! Each meal had a different “Alberta” producer featured such as Alberta Pork, Alberta Chicken, Alberta Pulses, Alberta Beef, Alberta Milk, and Alberta Turkey! It’s a great way to highlight the food grown right here in our province.
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!
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!
— Linda Hoang (@lindork) November 8, 2015
Finally, my last session of Christmas in November was led by Chef Massimo Capra!
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.
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
- Check out my recap of Massimo’s class
- Get the recipe for his roasted quail
- Get the pickerel sauce in taglierini pasta recipe
- Get the endive salad recipe
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!
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!
Here are my also my Twitter notes from each session I attended if you’re interested in seeing how it all played out live ;)
- Christmas decorating with Cory Christopher
- Chicken and churros with Edgar of Rostizado
- Ravioli and ragu with ORSO
- A talk about sustainability with Taste Alberta
- Making macarons with Giselle of Duchess Bake Shop
- Steak with our tablemate – Roger Mooking
- Northern Italian cooking with Massimo Capra
This old video from the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge also captures Christmas in November nicely too!
And here are just a few more photos! :)
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!
Disclaimer: I will always provide my 100% honest opinion on this blog. I was invited to Christmas in November as a guest of Gastropost. This has no impact on opinions stated in this post.