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There are a few tried-and-true Alberta-based brands that have become synonymous with the basics of home cooking here in the Prairies. We’ve got Company’s Coming and Best of Bridge cookbooks and, since 1929, the Blue Flame Kitchen. Originally devised by Canadian Western Natural Gas Company Limited (CWNG) to help home cooks navigate their new gas-powered stoves, it continued being a source of recipes and advice after ATCO purchased CWNG in the early 1980s.
While it’s constantly changing, the BFK brand shows no signs of slowing down and may be in the midst of a golden age.
Through decades worth of cookbooks and classes, BFK has taught many of us how to cook, but as it moves into the future, it has become increasingly interested in also cooking for us. The BFK website is still packed with a mind-boggling number of easy-to-follow recipes, how-to articles, and meal plans but in recent years, the kitchen has launched some new ventures.
BFK, like everyone else, found itself scrambling when the pandemic hit in 2020, which led to the development of grab-and-go meals designed to ensure customers had a convenient and healthy source of comforting things to eat. That led to the new BFK Express line of frozen meals: imagine a version of those frozen boxes of lasagna or mac and cheese that have been ubiquitous in grocery stores since the ‘80s, though made by Red Seal chefs with fresh ingredients that actually taste good and look like real food. The meals are available throughout Canada at stores like Circle K, Calgary Co-op, and Blush Lane, and through the Spud delivery service.
Even though entering the frozen meal market might seem counter-intuitive to the mandate of teaching Albertans how to cook for themselves, BFK’s manager of culinary programs J.P. Gerritsen, says the wholesome nature of the frozen meals fits perfectly within the company’s goals.
“BFK has always been about looking after people,” Gerritsen says. “We’re in your home – we’re like your grandma or your mom’s cooking. We wanted to provide easy, comfortable, relatable food that would remind people of a good home-cooked meal.”
This mindset has extended to the cafe at ATCO Park, the company’s modern campus located at the south end of Crowchild Trail, which opened in 2018. The complex features a large, light-filled common area that not only serves ATCO’s employees but is also open to people from the local community looking for a place to meet to have coffee, play bridge or Mahjong, or just have lunch outside of their own home.
The food follows the same principles as the BFK Express meals: it’s fresh and healthy and while the chefs get to practise their skills, they aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel. The menu changes seasonally, but visitors can expect daily cream and broth soups ($7), a variation on a burrito bowl ($15), and robust sandwiches with fillings like bulgogi beef with jalapeño aioli ($15) or turkey with cranberry and brie ($15). The idea here is to have enough variety and healthy options to keep ATCO employees happy while still enticing neighbours to pop in for a quick lunch.
While ATCO Park and the cafe provide a service to the local community, one of BFK’s biggest acts of community service these days is its increasingly popular holiday to-go meals. Available at Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas (mark your calendars: pre-orders start on Nov. 12), the kitchen prepares full dinners with turkeys and other proteins as well as all of the sides (potatoes, vegetables, stuffing, and perhaps most importantly, gravy), which are available a la carte for customers who need to take a little pressure off of their holiday meal prep or don’t want to cook their contribution to a potluck dinner themselves.
It’s become incredibly popular. When the program launched five years ago they started with about 40 turkeys – this year they’ll sell well over 500. For anyone who has come to loathe having to prepare their family’s Christmas dinner, this is a game-changer and undoubtedly spares many a home cook from a full holiday-related breakdown.
“I want you to be comfortable in your own home and have a glass of wine or visit with people and not stress out,” Gerritsen says. “It’s a couple of clicks on the computer and then you just have to drive up and we put it in your trunk. There’s even a video on how to carve your turkey and what goes into your oven at what time and on which shelf. We’re trying to make life as easy as humanly possible on those busy holidays.”
This is exactly what Blue Flame Kitchen has been doing this whole time: we’re just seeing it evolve and modernize. So many of these practical resources have been lost over the years — as Albertans, we should count ourselves lucky that the good-natured values of this service, operated by a utility company of all things, continue to exist. For recipes, food orders, and more information, visit atcoblueflamekitchen.com.
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.