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Food meets flowers at Bluebell Eatery, Yellowknife’s newest restaurant

The Bluebell Eatery had its grand opening on Valentine’s Day in Yellowknife. From left are Sandeep Rai, Leslie Francis, an employee of the Bluebell Eatery, Harmilanjot Singh, Mayor Rebecca Alty, and Gaurav Arora. Photo courtesy of Bluebell Eatery

The newly opened Bluebell Eatery in Yellowknife is being well-received in a city that loves its variety of ethnic food.

The owners three — Gaurav Arora, Sandeep Rai, and Harmilanjot Singh — chose the name of their restaurant carefully and thoughtfully to portray the offerings on their menu - Asian, Chinese and Indian dishes, to be garnished with colourful, edible flowers, as the name Bluebell suggests.

The interior design further emphasizes their idea of incorporating flowers into the overall theme, said co-owner Arora.

“We are decorated with flowers — we have flowers on the wall and also on the ceiling as well,” Arora said.

“It definitely makes the restaurant unique compared to other restaurants in Yellowknife,” he added of the all-encompassing floral ambiance.

But while the restaurant is enjoying the sweet smell of success with its offerings of such dishes as Potato Passion Burger, Marinara Basil and Butter Chicken Platter, the edible petals that were to further brighten the food and enlighten the patrons have been temporarily left in gardens afar.

“We wanted to provide all the dishes with some kind of presentation like flowers, and we had a contract with a supplier of the flowers, but unfortunately we did not get the permit to serve the flowers on the food because all the flowers would come with some kind of chemicals,” Arora said.

Not deterred and looking for a solution to the predicament, the trio soon was in contact with Janet Dean, executive director of the Territorial Agrifood Association to discuss the unexpected issue.

Dean said such an occurrence is overall very timely right now in the NWT, as the association is trying to grow its sector to enable it to provide more local produce to restaurants and to retailers.

“Edible flowers are a perfect example of that and the problem (the restaurant owners) are having is ordering from a commercial florist,” Dean said.

“Their flowers are not food-grade flowers and so that means at some point in the processing chain, those flowers may have been treated with a preservative or soaked in a preservative or have an additive that is not considered a food grade.”

This means that although a flower may be deemed edible in the wild, once it is in the commercial floristry system, it is not, she said.

Garden of eating

There are, however, edible fresh flower wholesalers, Dean said, adding that if the restaurant was in a larger centre such as Edmonton, Vancouver or Ottawa, they would have easy access to the product.

Because the flowers would have to be shipped North, however, it would be costly and freshness could not be guaranteed.

Dean said this is where the Agrifood Association has stepped up to encourage local growers to grow edible flowers.

“It’s not the season to start, but certainly this summer we can talk to our NWT growers. And I think our growers would be excited to have another retail outlet.

“And I think the other thing is, I’m talking to some of our growers to see about maybe doing hydroponic smaller flowers in the meantime. They can be started any time of the year,” Dean said.

“But definitely we are trying to get systems in place because it is such a unique fun thing to do. And you know, Yellowknife needs creativity in our food establishments, so we want to support them in everything that they’re trying to do.”

During this week’s Territorial Agri-food Conference being held in Yellowknife, Dean said she was going to ask the question of whether anyone in the growing sector would be ready and able to take on such a project and start growing flowers right away.

“You know, if somebody wanted to start their own business, just doing edible flowers, I think they’d have a viable business.”

Dean said the food sector is not comprised of individual participants, but instead a collaboration of “restaurants, retailers, farmers, and growers who can work together” to make the agriculture sector stronger in the North.

So while the future looks rosy for the Bluebell Eatery to have flowers garnish their menu selections, for now, Arora said customers are enjoying the ambiance and their array of lunch and dinner selections all the same.

—By Jill Westerman