Donna Mac chef returns from a U.S. stint with delicious new flavours and techniques

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Circumstances keep bringing Laetitia Chrapchynski back to the kitchen at Donna Mac. After graduating from SAIT’s culinary program and paying her dues in a few restaurants around the city, the immensely talented chef was tapped for a gig at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. in early 2020. Like everything else, that adventure was rerouted by COVID and Chrapchynski found herself grounded at home in Calgary, with her more expansive dreams temporarily put on hold.

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Chrapchynski had a great professional relationship with Donna Mac co-owner Jeff Jamieson (who is also a partner at Proof cocktail bar and Vine Arts Wine and Spirits) and he offered her the head chef position at Donna Mac while she waited for pandemic restrictions to blow over. While there, Chrapchynski (or “Chef LT” as the Donna Mac crew affectionately call her) gave the restaurant a much-needed burst of energy, creating some of the city’s most coveted pandemic-era take-home fare and comfort food.

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Donna Mac
Culinary director Laetitia Chrapchynski, left, with owner Jeff Jamieson and general manager Juile Dalton at Donna Mac. Jim Wells/Postmedia Jim Wells/Postmedia

By the fall of 2021, the Canadian Embassy came calling again and Chrapchynski was whisked away to create Canadian-centric meals for important dignitaries meeting with the ambassador. She spent almost two years developing dishes that told stories of Canadian ingredients and traditions before setting her sights on a restaurant gig in Toronto. But circumstances once again intervened and, after a bad cycling accident, she found herself back home in Calgary, close to her family and medical team. Jamieson once again offered her a job, this time as a culinary director, overseeing both Donna Mac and Proof.

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Donna Mac
Tuna Crudo (Aji Amarillo, macadamia nut, sunchoke and cucumber) at Donna Mac. Jim Wells/Postmedia Jim Wells/Postmedia

During her time at the embassy, Chrapchynski honed a lot of skills as well as her approach to thinking about our national cuisine, resulting in an exciting new menu at Donna Mac that restores the restaurant’s identity as a neighbourhood joint that happens to serve inventive food with a distinctively Canadiana flare. The signature Sylvan Star Gouda perogies ($19) and buttermilk fried chicken sandwich ($18) — both holdovers from Chrapchynski’s first stint at the restaurant — are still on the menu, although the former is now an appetizer item and the latter is only available at lunch. New dishes include a pemmican-inspired, Saskatoon berry-laden beef tartare with oyster mushrooms ($22), an updated and delightfully bright tuna crudo ($18), agnolotti filled with Nostrala cheese and kabocha squash ($33) and a half brick pickle-brined chicken served with potato cake ($45). Ingredients are the star of the show here and Chrapchynski likes playing with things like candy cap mushrooms, which appear in an ice cream that tastes more like maple syrup than fungi.

Donna Mac
Agnolotti (Kaboca squash, nostril cheese, brown butter, sage) is shown at Donna Mac. Jim Wells/Postmedia Jim Wells/Postmedia

“Donna Mac has always been a bit of a chef-driven restaurant,” Chrapchynski says. ”Our new menu is a fusion of my upbringing and Ukrainian and French heritage, with some Vietnamese notes, some of the ingredients I learned how to use at the Embassy, and the idea that Canada has an eclectic and evolving cuisine.”

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Donna Mac is located at 1002 9th St. S.W. The restaurant is open daily for lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch. The restaurant can be reached at 403-719-3622 or through donnamacyyc.ca.

Donna Mac
Tuna Crudo (Aji Amarillo, macadamia nut, sunchoke and cucumber) at Donna Mac. Jim Wells/Postmedia Jim Wells/Postmedia
Donna Mac
The bright interior at Donna Mac restaurant on 10th Avenue S.W. Jim Wells/Postmedia Jim Wells/Postmedia

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Donna Mac is also one of the more than 85 restaurants participating in this year’s YYC Food and Drink Experience (also known as YYC EXP), which has expanded into a 17-day event for 2024, running from March 15 to 31. As in previous years, the festival has two components: a small selection of special events held at higher-end restaurants as well as a range of prix fixe menus available daily.

This year, there are three categories of prix fixe menus: three-course brunches and lunches (priced at $25 or $35), three-course dinners ($35 or $45) and multi-course gourmet tasting menus ($65 and $75). Participating restaurants will offer one or more of these options, giving customers a good taste of what each restaurant is all about. The slate of restaurants includes old favourites like Charcut, Pigeonhole, and River Café as well as newer restaurants like Primary Colours, Business and Pleasure, and Bar Chouette. Some of the more interesting choices include a 30-minute “light-speed” omakase lunch at Nupo, a breakfast tasting at OEB, and an Indian feast at Calcutta Cricket Club. All of the menus are posted online so that there are no surprises. Restaurants tend to book fast, so make those reservations well in advance.

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This year’s signature culinary events include collaborative dinners at River Cafe, Francine’s, Model Milk, and The Wilde on 27, along with wine and spirits dinners, a one-night-only residency from chef David Leeder at Teatro, cocktail masterclasses at FinePrint and more. Many of these will sell out (or already have), so snag those tickets where you can.

For tickets and more information, visit yycexp.com.

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Finally, congratulations go out to The Wilde on 27 at the Dorian Hotel, which was just awarded the prestigious Distinguished Restaurants of North America (DiRōNA) Achievement of Distinction. The Wilde is only the second restaurant in Calgary to receive this designation — the other is Teatro. The Wilde’s kitchen is led by chef Joshua Dyer, who had become known for his opulent and inventive fine dining dishes.

Elizabeth Chorney-Booth can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Instagram at @elizabooth or sign up for her newsletter at hungrycalgary.substack.com.

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