Blair Lebsack grew up knowing where his food came from. If he wanted a glass of milk, he would wait for his dad to milk the cows. If he wanted ice cream, it was made from scratch. This experience has stayed with him throughout his life and came full circle with the opening of his restaurant RGE RD, located in the popular 124th street neighborhood. RGE RD takes the farm to table mantra to the next level, and is a hit with Edmontonians.
Lebsack was born on a farm in Red Deer and eventually moved to an acreage. Once he completed high school he was determined to head off to the mountains and be a park or forest ranger. In his final year of forestry studies he experienced building roads in the back country, and quickly realized he enjoyed people more than the isolation of being in the woods. So Lebsack decided to get back to his roots and headed to Canmore where he worked in his first kitchen.
“That was it,” he says. “I haven’t left the kitchen since. I was instantly hooked. They told me to make hollandaise, and then after that I had to make a mayonnaise, which I’d never done before in my life and I thought this is really neat and I don’t think I’ve ever looked back.”
In the early days of Lebsack’s cooking career he traveled and lived all over the world. He spent a year living in Vancouver to see what the city was like and spent a good portion of it eating. “Vancouver was probably the place where I started to understand restaurants a lot more. I saw how creative they were and what they were doing. By traveling and seeing what others were doing, I realized that restaurants can be a platform for being creative and it’s not just about pumping out food. It can be more about if you believe in an idea…people will come see what you’re doing.”
With that mantra the idea of RGE RD was born, although it took around eight years to come to fruition. A trip to Europe three years ago, was the trigger for Lebsack and his partner, Caitlin Fulton, to really pursue their business idea of farm to fork dining.
Farm to fork dining was taken quite literally by RGE RD in the beginning. Their original idea of farm dinners at Natures Green Acres Farm is what got things started for the pair, a concept that felt natural for Lebsack. “We would head out to the farm and plant a garden in mid-May. We would plan a menu based on what we planted in the gardens; we’d raise pigs, chickens and cows. Pick wild berries off the land. Basically we didn’t use anything we couldn’t get off the farm.” From there they would set up a table, white table cloths and all, and guests would drive out and enjoy a meal right there on the farm.
Lebsack and Fulton, who is now RGE RD’s front of house manager, continue their tradition of holding dinners at Edmonton area farms while serving farm fresh dinners each night at their restaurant. Just like when he was growing up, the menu is dictated by what comes in from the farms he works with, and Lebsack wouldn’t have it any other way.