There’s Some Magic
The Hollows restaurant, love child of chefs Christie Peters and Kyle Michael, is celebrating two years of “high-quality, sustainable and seasonal” dining in Saskatoon. In July, I talked to Peters about the experience of opening a restaurant, and cooking with the seasons in a province buried in snow six months of the year.
“We handle it by being really true to where we are,” says Peters. “We just had a pork dish on the menu with sauerkraut and sea-buckthorn berries. I was using a lot of preserves right up until June. Perennials and wild foraged stuff is really good in May and June, things like spruce tips are ready, so we incorporate that into the menu. We also have tempura dandelion flowers on the menu right now. People didn’t know you could eat the flowers, but they have a really crispy exterior and chewy interior. They’re a really good bar snack. So people are really excited about that.
“We compost all the food waste and recycle all the packaging that comes through the restaurant, so we make very little garbage,” Peters goes on to say. “We have a giant permaculture garden a few blocks away that is growing with the restaurant. We also work directly with a local farm, which grows us vegetables and takes our pig slop or chicken feed or compost as well. We also use only whole animals and whole fish, so that nothing is wasted. So it’s a full-circle kind of thing — and we can’t imagine doing it any other way.”
Originally from Saskatoon, Peters previously worked in renowned kitchens in Vancouver and Amsterdam. So, where does she find inspiration? “My grandmother was amazing at entertaining. She would have these huge garden parties in her backyard, and it was really inspiring to me. I always wanted to be the host of a party like that, and owning a restaurant I feel like you get to do that every day. But my parents never cooked, and I think that’s what inspired me to want to cook everything from scratch, using whole foods.
“I also get inspiration from whatever is around Saskatchewan. Whenever we go to the farm or into the garden, whatever is growing, I try to find a way to use whatever is there. For example, some of the first things to appear in the garden are chive flowers and different wild weeds. There’s pigweed and mallow and parsley, which is a perennial. So one of our dishes on the summer menu is a herb and cashew pesto with chive flowers and housemade spaghettini. It’s pretty much composed of whatever wild weeds and herbs are popping up; we collect those and make a pesto fresh daily with some really good Grana Padano, cashews, olive oil and garlic, and then add chive flowers. It’s a simple dish, but it’s using exactly what’s in season and growing around us.”
What’s Chef Peters’ advice for aspiring restaurateurs? “It’s easy to get lazy when you’re your own boss. You have to be extremely self-motivated, and also very curious and very in touch with the inspirations that are out there. And you have to be pushing yourself all the time.”
Being in charge is also her greatest reward. “I was a pain in the ass of all my bosses because I’d always be asking, ‘Why don’t we compost here? I want to do this or that,’ or ‘Why don’t we buy more local vegetables?’ But it wasn’t up to me. I had to keep my mouth shut, and I got sick of that quickly! I knew I needed to get where I could do my own thing — and I love it. I can work as hard as I want, do things exactly the way I want, and everything has meaning to me. That’s the most important thing; I feel good about everything I do.”