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My TV Dinner

Every Friday The Social's digital correspondent, Jessica Allen, answers two questions we face every day. What should I eat? And what should I watch? The answer for one is frequently found in the other.

Food (and life) in Calgary is a study in contrasts

I just got back from my first trip to Calgary, where I was filming at the Stampede for my day job. I saw real-life cowboys. I even saw hail — in July! But mostly I saw Calgary as a city of contrasts.

Take the political scene: The 44-year-long PC reign ended back in May when the NDP won the provincial election, not to mention that for the last five years, the young, charismatic, liberally minded Naheed Nenshi has been mayor. Yet everyone with whom I spoke had something to say about their new bike lanes: mostly that they hated them.

And the Stampede itself — a 10-day-long annual event that’s defined the city for nearly 100 years — is a study in contrasts: Cuffs and collars can come courtesy of iconic Lammle’s Western Wear or the celebrity-dressing fashion designer Paul Hardy. Entertainment can be found at the Cowboys Casino, where bartenders make Hooters’ servers look modest, or at any number of champagne-flowing private events hosted by Big Oil’s top brass. And, depending to whom you speak, the Stampede is either a celebration of majestic animals or an abuse of them.

And then there’s the food: Sample classic corn dogs, funnel cakes, turkey legs on the Stampede fairgrounds. (Pizza topped with cockroaches almost made it on to the menu). Or visit any number of eateries, like the River Café, Model Milk and Charcut, which consistently rank on the country’s best restaurants lists, for innovative comestibles on another level.

I did both styles, eating a lobster corn dog, mac and cheese topped with pulled pork and funnel cake one day and devouring four memorable courses at the River Café the next.

Alberta’s optics can be confusing — even more so when you consider that the vast province has been the landscape doppelgänger for Montana, Texas, Wyoming and Colorado. Although older films, like River of No Return (1954), Little Big Man (1970) and Days of Heaven (1979) — maybe one of the most beautifully photographed films ever — filmed scenes there, it was Clint Eastwood’s Academy Award-winning 1992 film Unforgiven that put the province on the map, so to speak.

Legends of the Fall and Brokeback Mountain followed. And Christopher Nolan seems to have a special penchant for it: He shot scenes for both Inception and Interstellar in Alberta.

Most recently, the province doubled as South Dakota when Oscar-winning director Alejandro González Iñárritu hauled Tom Hardy and Leonardo DiCaprio on what’s become a notoriously difficult shoot to film scenes for The Revenant, which will be widely released next year.

I was only there three days. But I’m going back, not only because I saw just the silhouette of the Rockies from car windows, but also because the people are warm and wonderful and it’ll be like exploring a Canadian province and five American states all in one trip. And also, I suppose, because opposites attract.