Where were you born and where did you grow up?
was born and raised in the Cowichan Valley. I always took for granted how beautiful the Cowichan region is with its endless outdoor activities. We have multiple rivers, the ocean is a short drive in almost any direction, there are unbelievable trees and forests and a plethora of amazing organic farms, wineries, distilleries and artisan producers. As a chef I would not want to be anywhere else. Chefs in the Cowichan Valley are just starting to scratch the surface of what can be done with all these amazing products at our fingertips. I hope to be on the leading edge for our future culinary scene.
Where did you train?
I attended Malaspina University in Nanaimo, straight out of high school, attempting to obtain a BA of Arts. Early on, I realized academics were not really piquing my interest. Instead of writing term papers and research projects, I was watching cooking tutorials and reading Escoffier and The French Laundry Cookbook. With encouragement from my family, I dropped out of university and enrolled in the culinary program at Vancouver Island University. I completed my two-year diploma program and wrote my red seal exam before I had actually spent a lot of time in real kitchens. My real training began when I moved to Calgary to work at River Café on Prince’s Island. River Café had just been voted best restaurant in the city and I was very excited to be learning and working with like-minded, passionate young cooks.
How long have you been at your current restaurant?
I have been working at the The Old Firehouse for three and a half years. I was hired as the Chef de Cuisine my first year, and took over in year two.
Where before that?
Most recently I worked at Unsworth Restaurant for a short time and was the executive chef at Merridale Ciderworks for a year or so. I also did a lot of training at Stage Wine Bar in Victoria’s Fernwood neighbourhood. We had a great team and great chef and it’s here that I learned the basis of how to run and operate a successful restaurant, as well as how to make charcuterie, etc.
What are you best known for as a chef?
I am still too early on my culinary story to really be known for one thing yet. I would love to be known as a chef that boosted the awareness of fine food and wine in the Cowichan Valley. Someone who has a tenacious work ethic and strives for perfection, while preparing dishes with the bounty of the Cowichan Valley in mind, and utilizing refined techniques and preparing dishes that are approachable and delicious to the average dinner. Flavour is everything to me. If it doesn’t taste great, don’t put it on the plate!
What are the 10 or so most important ingredients in your pantry?
Kosher salt, butter, ginger, shallots, garlic, sherry vinegar, fennel, chicken stock, wine, fresh herbs.
What’s your favourite dish to cook and eat on a cool winter day?
I love making comfort food for my family. Beef cheeks or some sort of braised, cheap cut of beef are always favourites in our household. I like to mix up the flavour profile each time I cook them, so as to not get bored with the same dish. Sometimes it’s Malaysian Reng Deng. Other times it’s classic French red wine braised cheeks; either way it’s delicious. Cheeks can be one of the most luxurious ingredients if done right.
What’s your go-to item when sampling other chefs’ fare?
I will always search for something that is creative. If I haven’t thought of a dish or seen a dish like it, I am definitely going to try it. House-made charcuterie is always a great option as well.
Would it be odd to say cooking? I love food! Also, although I don’t get much time for it anymore (having a toddler at home limits the opportunities), golfing is probably my secondary passion. I love being on the golf course. Spending time at home cooking for my wife, Kim, and son, David, would be my current hobby.
Pecorino Gnocchi Romano
1 shallot, minced
1 Tbsp ginger, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
250 ml chicken stock
250 ml 2% milk
250 ml semolina flour
1 Tbsp butter
250 ml grated Pecorino Romano cheese (parmesan would work as well).
Sweat shallot, ginger and garlic down in butter until translucent. Add chicken stock and milk. Season with salt and cracked pepper. Bring liquid to simmer and whisk in semolina flour.
Reduce heat to medium and stir mixture with wooden spoon for 5 to 10 minutes until it’s a thick, smooth paste. Finish gnocchi with grated cheese.
Line a baking sheet with plastic wrap and lay cooked gnocchi mixture out in a 1-inch layer. Cover with more plastic wrap and place in fridge to set for 1 to 2 hours.
Cut desired shape out of gnocchi and pan fry in a small amount of oil until both sides are golden brown and delicious.
These gnocchi are delicious on their own or serve them with classic basil pesto or salsa verde.
1 cup parsley
1 garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
3 white anchovies, minced
2 Tbsp sherry vinegar
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
– Story by Susan Lundy/Photographs by Don Denton