If you could cook alongside any other chef, dead or alive, who would it be?
Marco Pierre White. He is an English Chef who gained notoriety in the late 80's & 90's. Not only was he recognized for his renegade image but he was also the youngest Chef (27) in Britain to receive 3 Michelin stars. He was extremely demanding and sacrificed his personal life, and even 2 marriages to achieve his goal. Although I don't see a direct correlation between himself and I, I find his drive inspirational. His books are among my favourites.
What is it you love so much about seafood?
Seafood is very delicate, and requires a concise understanding of the ingredient itself. Aside from that it is also expensive. Patrons pay for quality and freshness. It is my job to use it as a focal point and present it as naturally as possible. Our customers love our raw preparations because of the simplicity. I like being creative with different oils and acids to accent natural, fresh flavour. The key is to not complicate things, and know when to stop cooking.
Fish can be an intimidating dish -- it can often be over flavoured or overcooked. Do you have any go-to tricks?
Practice cooking fish and shellfish. I have cooked many different types of fish and shellfish. Each one is different and requires specific understanding. At the end of the day it's all about what you like. For example I prefer salmon cooked to about medium, where as some would prefer it cooked through. If I could offer some advise, I would say to cook fish unilaterally. One side only in your oven. That way you can control the doneness. And use butter. Everyone loves butter.
What is your favourite seafood?
Oysters. They are truly amazing. There are so many different varieties each with their own differences in flavour and texture. They are unique and require no cooking whatsoever. Oysters are the most civilized thing you can eat on the planet. Worth a try to those who haven't already. Plus they are inexpensive.
What is the weirdest ingredient you have ever used?
I love this question. I wish I could offer up an answer to do it justice. I once sautéed alligator meat for a southern style rice dish. Not so weird sounding, but it was in Lethbridge, AB which I always found weird. It tasted like rubbery chicken.
How would you describe your cooking philosophy?
It takes a while to figure that one out. When you are young, you are influenced by cookbooks written by big chefs and in a way take their philosophy as your own. At that point its more principal that you are taking on. Once you have principals, you develop philosophy. My philosophy is to push yourself and personal limits in what you can accomplish in a day. Every day is different and you have to be ready for that. Never make excuses and be the best you can be. After all, you are the only one you have to look at in the mirror. It's simple.
Who or what inspired you to become a chef?
I used to teach snowboarding at Lake Louise. I got tired of not riding for myself and got a job as a dishwasher with a fellow snowboarder who was a Chef. His crew had so much fun and listened to awesome music. He eventually brought me up on the line and got me to hold down a station. I was 19, and had no idea that could be a way to make a living. I enrolled in culinary school months later. It was great timing.
Many home cooks assume that professional chefs were in the kitchen at an early age, was this the case with you? Did you always want to be a chef? At what age did you start cooking?
Thats not the case in North America. I spent a year in Lyon and was one of the oldest. Cooks start at as early as 15 in France. I started cooking young because I had to. It was my sister and I's responsibility to make dinner a few nights a week. My parents were always busy, but held nightly family dinner as a high priority. It's interesting how we as kids were burdened by it, and overlooked the importance of that time together. I would give anything to cook with my parents regularly. My dad reads a lot and is getting better every day. My Mom has done enough. She has reserved the right to pick the music and drink wine.
What is your earliest food memory?
Smoked oysters out of a can. I still love them.
What was your first job in the industry?
Dishwashing at an Old Spaghetti Factory in Banff, AB. It was a 200 seat monster and I worked alone. I had no concept of how a restaurant ran. All I knew is that I could snowboard until 3pm, drive to work for 4 and work my ass off until 1am. That job enabled me to set a personal record of 72 consecutive days on snow. A record that will never be broken. It was a game-changer.
What is your go-to comfort food?
Asian-style noodles. It's a predictable answer among most cooks. Pho or ramen because you can have it in front of you minutes after ordering. I like oily, wok fried noodles with chillies and pork. I don't cook that way at home because I know I can go pay $8 and it will be way better. I like supporting Vancouver's underrated cooks. Watch the 55 year old guy hand pulling dough and tell me that its just a bowl of noodles. It's not.
Do you have a favourite ingredient to cook with?
Not so much a single ingredient, but two. Eggs and flour. I have a deep rooted passion for pasta. I honed my skills with Andrey Durbach at La Buca. He taught me so much about how the Italians cook.
What is your current favourite on your menu at the Cork & Fin right now?
I'm really into our raw preparations right now. Most cooks don't see themselves as artistic, but when dealing with cold plates it opens a lot of doors to be just that. As long as the flavours are there it's easy to make something beautiful. Our patrons appreciate that. Our cured Salmon with shaved Pork Belly is a favorite. It looks awesome.
Are you cooking up any new recipes for the menu for Fall? Can you let us in on some things to look forward to?
We change our menus regularly. About every two months or so. That way you can ensure that you use seasonal ingredients. I believe that way you can really be inspired by the time of year, and the way people eat. You won't ever see a tomato or strawberry on my menu during the winter. We have to be patient and wait for summer months. I am currently developing a brunch menu for the beginning of March. Well thought out and interesting brunches are few and far between in this city.
Where do you get ideas and inspiration for your meals?
I read a lot of cookbooks. Most professionals do. We collect them and are proud of our bookshelves. It's a great way to get your imagination going. Once and idea is formed you then think about execution, THEN presentation. I stick to a 3 ingredient rule. Have your focal point (i.e. a scallop) and then focus on 3 accompaniments. Utilize different flavours and textures (tart,sweet, salty, crispy etc)
When you are spending time at home, do you cook for yourself or do you order out?
A bit of both. Sometimes you just don't feel like cooking and appreciate someone else's. My fiancee is a fantastic cook so it is a treat when she makes dinner. We don't have much time together so a meal together means so much. She has a daughter so it is easy for me to make dinner after getting a request like mac & cheese or "something healthy". I am lucky that I have a family. It's the ultimate motivation.
In a world where you can buy everything pre-made and ready to eat, what do you think home cooks should really take the time to make – sauces, fresh pasta – where should we spend our time?
I think stock making is important. Spend your time with vegetables. Make interesting salads using different oils/vinegars like I mentioned earlier. Use different grains and rices highlighted with spices. You can really impress others by introducing them to different flavours. Everyone knows what a grilled steak tastes like. And soups. Practice making soups.
If you had an impromptu dinner party for five tonight, what would you make?
I would knock out a "one pot wonder" as I like to call them. Perhaps a braised chicken thigh ragout with root vegetables. Accompany that with some potato gnocchi and a salad or some marinated vegetables. Get some good bread and you are done. Nothing beats comfort food with friends. I always supply the food in exchange for wine. My friends know more about wine than I do.
Do you have any favourite cookbooks, cooking shows, or websites?
I have too many favourite cookbooks to list, but I am reading a book about authentic food from Jeruselam. It is interesting reading about food you know nothing about. It's the only way to expand your repertoire of recipes. It's easy to dominate your library with French and Italian books. Read something else. I also check out Eater.com every morning with coffee. I like seeing what the Americans are doing.
Tell us one kitchen utensil you cannot live without. What tools would you suggest every home cook should invest in?
One good chefs knife is important, but I love proper cookware. A high quality enamaled cast iron pot is by far the best. You can do anything with one. And I like stainless steel bowls for keeping prep organized.
What three ingredients can you not live without?
Olive oil, onions, salt.
If you could travel to any part of the world and eat free for a week, where would it be?
Japan. The Japanese have the highest number of Michelin starred restaurants in their country and have the highest attention to detail and precision. Plus they have noodles and sushi. I could never afford to visit there.
What would you want your last meal to be?
Properly made Spaghetti Carbonara. Classic Roman style with Guancale and one too many egg yolks. Pecorino Romano on top for the win.