5 flavourful facts about Ernest’s, an OpenTable Top 100 restaurant

Facility delivers hands-on learning for students and high value for diners

It’s time to raise a glass to – and, better still, at Ernest’s Dining Room.

On Nov. 20, 2023, NAIT’s on-campus restaurant joined the ranks of OpenTable’s Top 100, an exclusive cross-Canada culinary club that includes the likes of Edmonton favourites Tzin Wine and Tapas and Uccellino, owned by grads Kelsey Danyluk (Marketing ’02) and Daniel Costa (Culinary Arts ’05) respectively.

The award is based on factors including reviews and ratings from diners and number of reservations made.

nait ernest's executive chef rylan krauseBut what makes the honour even more special, and perhaps surprising – as it was to executive chef Rylan Krause (Cook ’12) – is that Ernest’s is, in effect, a laboratory.

For the students of NAIT’s culinary and Hospitality Management programs who serve as cooks and servers, Ernest’s is a place to advance skills and knowledge and test those in a safe simulation of industry.

It’s where they might make mistakes and try again under the supervision of Krause and other instructors. Evidently, it’s also where the students most often succeed.

“This is 100% because of the students,” says Krause of the award. “I'm proud of them, and I'm proud to work in a place that has this kind of reputation.”

What goes into building that reputation? We go behind the dining-room door for a look at five factors that have put Ernest’s on this list of foodies’ favourites for the fourth time since 2015.

Make a reservation at Ernest’s

1. A focus on students

nait students in cooking lab

All cooking students in third and fourth semesters spend time learning and working in Ernest’s. While the menus are designed by instructors, learners are responsible for execution.

“We're trying to help students get their feet wet in running a live service and dealing with day-to-day operations,” says Krause.

2. Donor support

plates of food ready for serving at ernest's at NAIT

Ernest’s is named after Edmonton food industry pioneer, Ernest Hokanson, a successful entrepreneur who ran his own oilfield catering company. He started washing pots and pans as a teenager at the Hotel Macdonald, kickstarting a lifelong passion for the business.

In 2003, Hokanson’s family helped raise $3.25 million to create the Hokanson Centre for Culinary Arts in 2005. As part of it, the dining room was named in Ernest’s honour.

3. Strong mentors and leaders

2022 hokanson chefs in residence connie desousa and john jackson teaching students at in a NAIT kitchen

Industry veterans who make up NAIT’s culinary instructional staff are guiding students, with Krause in the kitchen’s lead role.

Before starting at Ernest’s in 2019, the executive chef’s career was focused on helping other small restaurants develop their culinary programs.

“I appreciate the idea of helping someone that needs help,” he says. “I've worked for a couple of big hotels and it just feels too impersonal for me.”

To provide further insight, Ernest’s hosts the Hokanson Chef in Residence. Each year since 2009, the program has invited world-renowned chefs to offer students a taste of what it might take to rise to celebrity status. Alumni include Lynn Crawford, Vikram Vij, Amanda Cohen and more.

Read more: A brief history of NAIT’s Hokanson Chef in Residence

4. Local ingredients

students peeling potatoes in nait kitchen

Each week, Ernest’s places its order with a supplier that draws its produce from farms within the province. Krause knows the practice makes for a better dining experience and a stronger Alberta, too.

“Anytime we can work with anyone local we will always select that, because the health of the local economy is part of what NAIT is built on.”

5. Great prices and experiences

server at ernest's, nait's on campus fine dining restaurant

Full disclosure: NAIT does not pay the students who staff the kitchen or serve Ernest’s diners. At the same time, the institute does not make a profit on the restaurant, given that it is an educational tool. That is, Ernest’s is Edmonton’s only fine-dining establishment intentionally operating on a cost-recovery model.

“When we price out a menu, I'm pretty much looking at exactly what it costs us to put it onto a plate,” says Krause. “Then we charge that. The goal is not to make money. It’s to provide students with a positive learning experience.”

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