Having earned a reputation as the executive chef of Mercer’s Catering, Edmonton chef Lindsay Porter assumed the reins at El Cortez Mexican Kitchen + Tequila Bar three years ago. A culinary traveller, she fell for Mexicali cooking in Los Angeles, eating her way through everything from taco stands to Michelin-starred restaurants in the name of research. From a late-night taco stand operator, she also learned the nuances of tortilla making. Back home in Alberta, Porter’s patrons enjoy the fruits of her epicurian education.

Porter is now the executive chef at Woodwork, known for its immense liquor collection and superb cocktails such as the chai-spiced, whisky-forward Paisley, and delicious sharing plates. Crispy polenta cakes with candied pecans and fried sage and the smoked beef short rib with blackstrap molasses succotash and pickled carrot and mustard seed gremolata emerge from its crackling wood-burning ovens.

Porter opens up about the Edmonton food scene, why pairing food with booze-forward cocktails requires taking a sip or two every now and then, and more.

What are the challenges of being a chef?

This industry is demanding and getting through the training can be tough. I’ve been fortunate to work with great chefs in Edmonton like Shane Chartrand [River Cree Resort and Casino], Blair Lebsack [Rge Rd] and Eric Hanson [Prairie Noodle Shop].

How do you execute Mexican cuisine in a northern climate?

Staying true to a “sourcing local” mentality is the ultimate challenge because of the imported ingredients the cuisine can call for. I factor in as many Edmonton food producers as I can.

How do you perfect the art of pairing food with cocktails?

I test all the drinks and think about what I would love to drink with certain things. I love sipping on bourbon alongside my smoked chocolate walnut dessert with torched meringue. Incorporating spirits into my cooking is always fun, too!

Why is travel a must for chefs?

I travel often and explore a range of street food and high-end restaurants. Mexico has been a great country to discover vibrant, fresh-food preparations. I adore Montreal. Also, I always enjoy a quick trip to Calgary for inspiration!

What’s new in Edmonton’s food scene?

More restaurants are accomplishing that farm-to-fork ideology while being creative and edgy. I draw a lot of inspiration from local chefs.

Porter’s three favourite Edmonton restaurants

Corso 32, photo by Randee Armstrong

Corso 32

“I love pasta so much, and it really is the best Italian food, in my opinion.”

Prairie Noodle Shop

“It’s just down the street from where I live, and I love their ramen.”

Japonais Bistro

“I constantly find myself migrating there for the calamari and the sushi rolls. It’s relaxing and the food is fresh.”