Maverick Chefs 2010

By / Mavericks / November 17th, 2010 / 3

Forward thinking, visionary, fearless — these are the adjectives that describe the many maverick chefs Tidings has introduced to you over the past five years. Now we bring you six more: Jason Schubert and Paul Harding heading up The Only on King in London, Ontario; Dan Walker from Weczeria Food and Wine in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; Chuck Hughes manning the kitchen at Garde Manger in Montreal and hosting Chuck’s Day Off on the Food Network; and finally, John Bil and Wes Gallant teaming up at Ship to Shore Restaurant and Lounge in Darnley, Prince Edward Island.

This year’s flight of maverick chefs share a common mantra — partnership. Imagine, if you will, Fred without Ginger, Batman without Robin or steak without frites. Each one alone is great, but together, they make an unbeatable team. This, folks, is synergy. These mavericks, while they are culinary forces to be reckoned with on their own, have pushed the frontiers of their gastronomic expertise by teaming up with like-minded partners. The result? A tangible synthesis. Together, they’ve developed creative restaurants that have sparked initiatives like a recycling program, kids’ cooking classes, and local food festivals. Not satisfied with simply being great chefs, they forge strong ties and change the nature of the communities in which they live. Everyone has his or her part to play in this food equation, from the farmer who provides the raw ingredients to the individual kitchen staff who invent dynamic food pairings (try pizza fritta with arugula pesto and Fontina), and ultimately, to us, the customers, who eat it all up.

Passionate about their craft, this year’s six drive home the spirit of teamwork and culinary imagination par excellence. As you travel this vast country, make sure to drop in and visit these maverick chefs. You’ll love their awesome fare.

Jason Schubert, chef, co-owner
Paul Harding, chef, co-owner
The Only on King, London, ON

Jason Schubert and Paul Harding broke the mould when they opened The Only on King in London, Ontario. Their passion for all things local inspired them to go further than any other chefs in their community. Not only do they cook with products sourced almost entirely from area artisans, together they’ve spearheaded a plan that brings their philosophy full circle. In a city that does not offer a recycling program in its downtown core, Jason and Paul have taken the lead. They recycle everything they can at the restaurant, including all of their organic waste, which is sent back to the farmers who, in turn, feed it to their pigs or turn it into compost. Jason and Paul then take those pigs raised on leftovers, or vegetables that have grown in the compost, and showcase them in simple, creative and flavourful dishes at the restaurant.

Not wanting to stop there, both chefs have taken their message beyond the doors of the restaurant, too. With his brother’s help, Jason creates popular cooking videos for their website. Paul runs cooking demos in local schools, inspiring kids to try their hand at the culinary arts and to develop respect for food and its producers.

Where did you grow up?
Paul: In the small hamlet of Granton, Ontario.

Where did you get your culinary education?
Jason: I didn’t receive enough money from the government to go to school, so I just hooked up with one of Vancouver’s best chefs. Andrey Durbach pretty much showed me all the right stuff you need to know, from discipline to proper cookery to butchery. I’m glad I didn’t go to school, and I am extremely grateful I met Andrey!

What made you decide you wanted to be a chef?
Paul: Hunger.

Who has influenced your cooking the most?
Jason: I would have to say at this moment the largest influence is Bruce Poole of Chez Bruce in Wandsworth. He is very innovative in the way he puts together his dishes, very interesting combinations without all of the frou-frou crap.

What music do you like to play in the kitchen?
Paul: Ryan Adams.

Which cookbook changed everything for you?
Jason: White Heat by Marco Pierre White. He was like a rock star to me when I was younger, and I got to work for him in London, England at the Mirabelle for a summer, which was a very big step in my career.

Do you have a guilty secret ingredient?
Paul: I’ve started to use Rooster Sauce/Cock Sauce/Sriracha Sauce quite a bit.

What’s your favourite country or region to eat in?
Jason: Definitely Liguria, Italy. I had the most delicious and simple penne with pesto there. I still dream about it, and that was 15 years ago.

Name an overrated and an underrated ingredient.
Paul: Overrated — boneless, skinless chicken breast. Underrated — leeks.

What are you fanatical about?
Jason: Cleanliness and product!

What’s the most embarrassing thing that you’ve done while cooking?
Paul: I dropped a pan of perfectly cooked pickerel.

What’s your favourite wine?
Jason: Joie Farm “A Noble Blend.” A great everyday wine from two of the best people in the world, Heidi and Mike.

Is there a food that you really don’t like?
Paul: Lovage.

Is there something you refuse to have in your kitchen?
Jason: Yes, those bloody foams. I hate them. We call them fisherman’s itch!

Do you have anything surprising in your home fridge?
Paul: White trash mustard. Delish!

What rule of conduct matters more than any other in your kitchen?
Jason: Treat the food with respect. Oh yeah, and no talking when chef is.

What was your favourite meal as a child?
Paul: Spaghetti and meat sauce.

What’s your favourite meal to cook at home?
Jason: Goat curry.

What book are you reading now?
Paul: The Art of Mexican Cooking by Diana Kennedy.

You’ve got 24 hours left to live. What’s your last meal?
Jason: Anything my good buddy Victor Barry of Splendido would cook for me, but probably a charcuterie board served on a cow’s femur cut in half.

seasonal vegetable salad

Serves 4

Chef’s note: Add crispy bacon for a savoury touch. Remember to switch up the vegetables according to what is seasonally fresh.

2 large heirloom carrots (peeled)
3 turnips (peeled)
2 parsnips (peeled)
1 large celery root (peeled)
Olive oil
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
2 heirloom beets
8 large Brussels sprouts
2 cobs of sweet corn
2 watermelon radishes

dressing

1/2 cup of good-quality Tuscan olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 bunch chives, minced
1/4 bunch tarragon, minced
1/4 bunch chervil, minced
1/4 bunch parsley, minced

1. Heat oven to 400°F. Place large pot filled with salted water on high heat for blanching.
2. Cut carrots, turnips, parsnips and celery root into bite size pieces. Place in a large bowl and toss with a drizzle of olive oil, pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper. Place on a baking tray and cook uncovered in the preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes until the vegetables are al dente and delicious. Place the carrots, turnips, parsnips and celery root into a large mixing bowl.
3. In a separate pot cover beets with water and place cook for 30 minutes or until tender. Strain beets into colander and cool. Once cooled, peel the beets and cut into bite sized pieces. Add the beets to the large mixing bowl.
4. Cut the Brussels sprouts into quarters and core. Drop them into the boiling water and blanch for 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, lift the Brussels out and place in cold water; strain and add the Brussels sprouts to the rest of the vegetables.
5. Husk corn and blanch for 6 minutes. Remove from heat, and immerse in cold water until cool enough to handle. Using a knife cut the kernels off; add them to the vegetable bowl.
6. Cool the bowl of vegetables in the fridge for half an hour. Remove from fridge. Cut watermelon radishes into slices and add them to the bowl with the other vegetables. In the large mixing bowl, toss the vegetables with 1/4 cup of really good Tuscan olive oil, lemon juice and the herbs. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

The petrol notes in a good Riesling complement the root vegetables perfectly.


Dan Walker, chef-owner
Weczeria Food and Wine, Saskatoon, SK

Dan Walker is a pioneer. Almost single-handedly, he brought the idea of local, sustainable cuisine to his hometown of Saskatoon. Before Dan and his wife Nicole (a pastry chef) opened Weczeria four years ago, events like farmers’ markets and local food festivals were unheard of. Now that Nicole stays home to look after their growing family, Dan and sous-chef Lindsay Closson continue to push Weczeria past all the familiar limits. Dan is dedicated to building partnerships, sourcing as many of the menu items as possible from producers in Saskatchewan, and he makes sure the menu changes daily to reflect seasonality — a concept he fully supports. “The food that we do is all about here,” he says. “The local micro brew is the only beer we serve, and all the wine is Canadian.”

Dan admits that convincing the local clientele that Saskatoon could do local as well as Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal was an uphill battle at first. But now, “Weczeria enjoys a steady stream of regulars who love what we do. We want to enliven people’s experience. You’re not coming here to just feed yourself.”

How is the name of your restaurant pronounced?
Technically, it’s pronounced veh cheh ja. But, we just simplify it and say, veh che rya. We had a Ukrainian professor drop in to make sure we got it right. The word means “evening meal” in both Ukrainian and Polish.

Weczeria spins on the idea of “local,” doesn’t it?
Saskatchewan is a melting pot of people. We use lots of different cooking techniques and ingredients here. I wanted to combine all that, and I didn’t need to look beyond our own community. Our flour is produced not far from here; we make our own butter and buttermilk. We incorporate molecular gastronomy, sous vide, and meat glues … different things that the cultures that live here have been using all along.

Who has influenced your cooking the most?
Ray Henry was the one who instilled this passion for local cuisine in me. He’s been my mentor.

Where did you get your culinary education?
It took me about a year to find a school I could go to. I ended up at the Pacific Institute in Vancouver. After studying under all those European-trained chefs, I thought, I’m actually good at this. But, the first year I worked in a kitchen, I actually cried every day, “What am I doing? I gave up a good job to do this?”

What was your first job in a professional kitchen?
I was a prep cook for Don Letendre at the Moustache Café in Vancouver.

Which cookbook changed everything for you?
French Laundry. I thought that it was just crazy stuff. I did some of that kind of food in Vancouver. White Heat is another one I devoured. I have a fair size cookbook collection.

What music do you like to play in the kitchen?
Whatever’s on the iPod shuffle. It ranges from jazz to blues to rock to swing to country. Music is really important.

Do you have a guilty secret ingredient?
Bacon fat. I accidentally fed a vegetarian customer spinach sautéed in bacon fat. I was absolutely mortified, but the lady said that it was the best spinach she’d ever had.

What’s your favourite wine or drink?
Right now, it’s sangria. My favourite wine is anything from Road 13.

What’s your favourite kitchen tool or gadget?
It’s a heat-proof spoon-spatula.

Is there something you refuse to have in your kitchen?
I was going to say a microwave, but we have that now. So, I can’t say that anymore.

Name an overrated and an underrated ingredient.
Overrated? Nothing’s overrated. Underrated? Fresh vegetables. We tend to use too much stuff out of season.

What rule of conduct matters more than any other in your kitchen?
Staying clean. I’m extremely messy, and my sous-chef hates me for it.

What’s the most embarrassing thing that you’ve done while cooking?
When I was a breakfast cook, I overcooked a pot of oatmeal. I had too much water in it, so we strained it into a sink. The gluten that dripped from the oatmeal was thick and slimy enough to be used to make crackers. So, chef and I did, and everybody ate them. Then we discovered that we had strained the oatmeal into a sink that was only used to scale and gut fish. Those crackers were made with liquid that had been dragged out of the bottom of a fish tank!

What do you eat for breakfast?
Oatmeal Crisp Cereal.

Do you have a favourite food that would surprise us?
I love Kraft Dinner.

What was your favourite meal as a child?
My mom’s Hungarian Goulash.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
Spend time with my family, because I don’t get to do that very often.

If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing?
I’d be doing construction work. I’d be a carpenter.

gnocchi with asparagus, chorizo and roasted red pepper

Serves 4

This gnocchi recipe has been with us from the start. We change the garnish to the dish to suit the season. Our asparagus season only lasts about 8 weeks, sometimes 10 if we are lucky. We tend to put asparagus on everything in this time frame. We also hand make our chorizo sausage, but using your favourite sausage will work in its place. As the dish changes every few weeks, we also change what goes with it. This is dependent upon the season and what is available.

for the gnocchi
2 Yukon gold potatoes
1 egg, beaten
4 tbsp Parmesan, grated
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp butter, unsalted, melted
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp pepper, ground
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour

1. Preheat oven to 425˚F.
2. Bake potatoes in oven for 1 hour. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes.
3. Cut each potato in half and scoop out the flesh. Press though a food mill or ricer into a medium bowl.
4. Gently using your hands, stir in the egg, parmesan, oil, butter, salt, pepper and 1 cup of flour. Stir just enough to combine everything. Work the mixture into a smooth ball. The dough should feel a little soft and tacky, but not sticky.
5. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface then cut the ball into inch-thick slices. Roll each slice into a ball.
6. Using the palms of your hands, roll each ball back and forth on the work surface until it becomes a long snake that is 14 to 16 inches long. Sprinkle the dough with a little flour as needed so that it does not stick to the work surface or your hand.
7. Cut each snake into gnocchi-sized pieces, about 1 1/2 inches long. Cover with a cloth so they do not dry out.
8. Cook right away, or freeze them and store for up to a month.

to cook

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and keep a large bowl filled with ice water; set aside. Add a handful of gnocchi to the pot at a time. Do not lose the boil in the pot; once the gnocchi float back to the surface, wait a minute, then take them out. Place into the ice water to cool. Once they have cooled, you can proceed to the next step to sauté them.
2. Place a mid-size pan with a little oil and some butter over medium heat. Once the butter has foamed, add the gnocchi and some salt and pepper and cook until each side is crispy-looking. Plate the gnocchi with the rest of the dish.

Enjoy with a chilled glass of Rosé.


Chuck Hughes, chef and co-owner
Garde Manger, Montreal, QC
Chuck’s Day Off, Food Network Canada

Chuck has always been a passionate foodie. “I was always cooking,” he says, “making brunch on weekends, inviting girls over for dinner. But I wasn’t a professional.” Now, with five years of success at Garde Manger and Chuck’s Day Off in its second season on the Food Network, Chuck and his partners, Tim Rozon and Kyle Marshall, are having even more fun than they did in the beginning. “The clientele made it happen,” Chuck says. “We’re pretty lucky.”
I would say luck has little to do with it. Talent and dedication would be more accurate. Ten years ago, while working with Tim and Kyle at Globe Restaurant in Montreal, the dynamic threesome imagined creating a high-energy restaurant with an exciting vibe. Garde Manger is the result. Chuck is completely unpretentious and loving every aspect of the restaurant industry. “Even today,” he says, “I’ll wash dishes, and I love it.”

Where did you grow up?
In St Sauveur, just 45 minutes north of Montreal.

How old were you when you took your first cooking class?
I had my first cooking class in grade five. It was me and about seven girls — kind of a no-brainer.

Where did you get your culinary education?
Mostly from loving food. My mom was a stewardess. She’d travel to the east coast and bring back all kinds of stuff — big bags of shrimp or cases of oysters or lobster. As soon as she got home, our family would break into the stuff and start eating. She always got me involved in cooking.

Do you miss your career in communications?
To be honest, I do a lot more related to it now than I did 10 years ago, especially in terms of Chuck’s Day Off. I do feel I’ve come full circle. Schooling is never lost. You just might use it somehow. It all kind of comes together.

Which cookbook changed everything for you?
Martha Stewart’s first book, Entertaining, gave me a sense of direction in terms of my style and what I wanted to do in cooking.

What drew you to open Garde Manger in an historic building?
Legend has it that it used to be a bar for sailors in the 1960s, but it hadn’t been used in years. It was full of crap, but we could use it all — old windows, fire doors to make blackboards. This was gold for us, because we had no money. We found old historic pieces that we’ve refurbished, and gave it all new life.

What’s your favourite region to eat in?
There are so many to discover. I’ve travelled a lot, but the big one for me would be Japan. It’s really all about what you make of it. Don’t be afraid to try new things.

What’s your favourite kitchen tool or gadget?
A spoon-ula. I’m pretty boring when it comes to that stuff. Give me a pan and a flame, but the spoon-ula’s a revolution in the cooking world.

What are you fanatical about?
Cleanliness. It’s a good problem to have in a professional kitchen, but you have to make sure that you don’t bring that home, because it can make things just a little bit intense!

Do you have a guilty secret ingredient?
Ketchup.

What’s your favourite wine or drink?
Water — either sparkling or tap.

Is there something you refuse to have in your kitchen?
There are some things I won’t do — pineapple-mango sauce, anything with tropical fruit. If you’re in the tropics, it makes sense. Otherwise, it’s really important to cook according to your reality in time and place.

Name an overrated and an underrated ingredient.
Water is definitely underrated. It’s the thing I use the most, for boiling, washing, deglazing, sauces … Foie gras is overrated. Give me a piece of bacon instead of that.

What skill does someone most need to work in your kitchen?
Good attitude. You need to be able to work under pressure, work fast, efficiently and be clean.

What’s the most embarrassing thing that you’ve done while cooking?
When I’m cooking for television, it’s a non-stop embarrassment, like saying “beautiful cinnamon.” You just know they’re going to keep that in.

What are your plans for the future?
Open another restaurant with my partners and doing more of Chuck’s Day Off. I’d also like to expand into the US. Oh yeah, and score more goals at hockey.

What do you eat for breakfast?
Fruit, yogurt, granola — mostly I eat as much as possible in the morning. I grab a big scoop of Irish steel cut oatmeal, add a little milk, maple syrup and eat it with fruit.

You’ve got 24 hours left to live. What’s your last meal?
Oysters, for sure. I like them raw with a little lemon. If there were no oysters, then I’d want Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

What’s your favourite meal to cook at home?
I’m the pancake guy.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
Work out, run, play hockey, wake boarding, golf.

Where do you shop?
Mostly at farmers markets and my distributors for meat and fish. The people I’ve been working with for 10 or more years.

If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing?
I’d love to be a professional hockey player, but that probably won’t happen! My dream is to be an architect or creative director in an ad agency. I don’t really want to be behind an oven slaving away for hours after I turn 40.

wild salmon tartare

Serves as many as you can get around the plate. All ingredients are to taste.

Baguette, or any day-old bread
Olive oil
Steak spice
Wild salmon
Tomato
Capers
Parsley
Celery leaves
Chives
Lemon zest
Green Tabasco (jalapeño)
Fresh horseradish
Salt
Pepper

1. Cut bread into 1-inch cubes, toss into hot frying pan, drizzle heavily with olive oil, and sprinkle with steak spice. Toss until golden brown, finish in the oven until crispy.
2. Skin salmon, cut into small cubes.
3. Coarsely chop tomatoes and mix with chopped capers. Add parsley cut in a chiffonade and olive oil.
4. Toss all the ingredients left over together, garnish with grated horseradish. Enjoy!

Chilled Gamay is redolent with berry, which will accentuate the lively flavours in this salad.


John Bil, chef and co-owner
Wes Gallant, executive chef
Ship to Shore Restaurant and Lounge, Darnley, PEI

Meet one World Oyster Shucking Champion and one talented musician. John Bil and Wes Gallant are the dynamic duo behind Ship to Shore Restaurant and Lounge. Champions of all things local long before that idea had taken hold in the minds of other chefs or restaurant-goers, these two have become the authority on how to put fresh, delicious food first and foremost. John suggests that “there is an odd discipline involved in not following trends, or messing with simple, pure flavours, that the guys in the kitchen seem to dig.”

Freshness, discipline, respect for food and for each other have been their guiding principles from the beginning. This is where experience counts. Both chefs have spent more than 20 years crafting their expertise at the front lines of the industry. “I dropped out of high school” John says, “and didn’t go any further with formal education.” Having been fortunate to work with many talented people over the years, he admits, “I just paid close attention to them.” John spent 10 years in the oyster and seafood industry “doing everything from working on the boat, to buying and selling fish, to managing an oyster plant.” The experience he gained from working at every level of the industry taught him that sourcing is key to great seafood.

Wes completed a stint at the Canadian Culinary Institute and owned his own popular restaurant called Piece A Cake before joining John. Cooking is instinctual for this Mississauga, Ontario native. He recalls, “I was melting chocolate bars with marshmallows on the heating grate before I could reach the stove. By the sixth grade I would gather lunch money from classmates, take it to the Dominion and buy a box of chicken wings. The next day we would have a lunchtime BBQ in my backyard (until I got caught). I think my love of the food industry has just always been there.”

John and Wes claim that they’re not trying to change the world; they just want to make people happy. Voted sixth best restaurant in Canada, this culinary team is clearly doing it right.

steamed clams
Serves 2

Chef’s note: Also known as “soft-shell clams,” “steamers” or “piss clams,” these are available on PEI only in the summertime. Many people have had these, but not enjoyed them because they can be quite gritty. They live buried in sand and are dug up at low tide. There are many techniques for eliminating the sandiness, some effective, some not (tip: putting them in oatmeal is not an effective solution; soaking them in salt water is). But really, the only way to truly get them clean is to “float” them in constantly flowing ocean water for at least 2 or 3 days.

1 lb clams
1 oz butter, melted

1. Come to PEI. Buy clams. Put clams in pot. Turn on med-high. Cover tightly. Cook for about 6-8 minutes, until clams are opened, and meat has firmed up.
Serve with the juice that is produced and the butter.
2. One last tip: pull the “sock” of the clam off of the neck, for an extra clean experience. Impossible to describe this process in words. Drop by, and I’ll show you how.

A buttery, lightly oaked Chardonnay is a perfect match with shellfish.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rosemary Mantini has always loved words. When she isn't working as the Associate Editor at Tidings Magazine, she's helping others achieve their writing dreams, and sometimes she even relaxes with a good book and a glass of wine.

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