Steven Brochu of Chartier in Beaumont: Maverick Chefs 2018
Each year, Quench sets out in search of Canada’s culinary visionaries – The Mavericks – those chefs who are leading the charge of what’s fresh and exciting from coast to coast. This year’s Maverick Chefs are four innovators focused on incorporating sustainability into everything they do – from planning to creating to planting to cooking. We’ve already met chefs Mitchell Bates and Todd Perrin; this week, Amanda Siddall speaks with Steven Brochu.
Aspiring restaurant owners Sylvia and Darren Cheverie had a vision of opening a rustic and charming Quebec-style restaurant in downtown Beaumont, Alberta, that would honour the community’s historic French-Canadian roots. They launched a Kickstarter to turn their dream into a reality, which became the most successful restaurant Kickstarter in Canada. In that campaign, they put a call out for chefs, and that’s how they came upon Steven Brochu.
Edmonton-born Brochu started his career by moving to Vancouver prior to the Olympics to work the British Columbia food scene, including at a steakhouse, a few hotels and even a fishing lodge. With this experience under his belt, Brochu took a break to rediscover his goals and taught English as a Second Language in Taiwan. Time off helped him realize that what he really wanted was to pursue cooking on his own terms. He returned to Edmonton in search of the perfect fit, and came across the Kickstarter for Chartier. When the Cheveries saw how Brochu’s cooking philosophies were entrenched in community, local cuisine and fresh ingredients, they knew they had found the missing part of their team.
Why is sustainable cooking so important to you?
This question is so big because sustainable cooking is such a large-scale philosophy. For me, what makes it important is the ripple effect that it causes. It’s a farmer taking a holistic approach to cattle. We want to work with that supplier because we want to help encourage them to keep doing that, and we want people to taste and see that doing it that way makes a difference in not only how you feel when you’re eating but how you’re feeling after you’ve eaten. If we support that supplier, they get the chance to grow with us.
It’s so important to not only highlight our local producers, suppliers and techniques in our restaurant, but also to show our community that these are available to them. We do a night market at the restaurant once a month where we bring in our suppliers and allow them to sell their products to our community, kind of like an informal farmers’ market. People can come and get the beef that we use in the restaurant, here in the restaurant, and take it home and play around with it. This all came out of doing something for our community and giving back a bit. We are first and foremost a community restaurant. We want to be able to be involved and help the community because they are involved with us.
How did the idea of a homemade bread window come to be?
That’s a cool story. It came from a need the community wanted. We weren’t open yet as we were still under construction, but we needed to start running through a few of our menu items and we wanted to test out our bread ovens and see if the recipes, ratios and temperatures we had were going to work. But unfortunately, we couldn’t serve the public yet since we were still under construction. We ended up one day with 20 to 40 loaves of bread, which were good but could not be sold. We went onto a Beaumont community page on social media, and encouraged people to come see what we’d been working on at Chartier. We just opened the window of our restaurant to hand out the bread, and we were out within 15 minutes. People loved that! As we started to develop our baking program, we realized we should turn the window into a retail section. Our bakers create the bread for the day but also pastries for the restaurant, which we would then sell at the window. It became so successful that we moved our bakery window indoors and we changed our main greeting area to what is essentially a small bakery.
Chicken or egg: Are you a chef turned cook or cook turned chef?
I’m a cook turned pastry chef! When I first joined Chartier, the owners sent me to the San Francisco Baking Institute to learn how to make sourdough and immerse myself in bread. I started the baking program at Chartier but was able to pass it off to some very talented people who came on board. We’ve enabled them to create some really cool products for us. I’m very proud to have them operating in our kitchen. So, I guess, I’m a chicken with eggs!
What’s the biggest challenge associated with sustainable cooking?
One of the challenges we face is finding a supplier or suppliers that can provide us with a consistent product that matches our static menu. We do change our menu with the seasons, but when we meet a new supplier, we need to have that conversation: can you keep up with our volume? The last thing we want, which goes against sustainable cooking, is to get involved with a farmer and purchase all their pigs in a season. We don’t want that. We want other people to utilize these products and experiences.
What do you grow in your Chartier garden?
We’re growing a ton of really cool things in there, like basil, thyme, rosemary, purple cabbage, pea varieties, beans, carrots, leeks, raspberries and snapdragons. It’s like a handyman with a great tool belt. We have an amazing tool belt around us in having the garden. We might say, “You know what this dish needs? Some fresh sage!” And then one of the cooks says, “I’ll be right back!” and, within 10 minutes, we have fresh sage in our restaurant. If we have a massive growth in herbs in a season, we’re preserving them in salt, such as sage salt. It’s a really old way of preserving herbs, but it helps us elevate our own cooking. Some people dismiss what a herb can be, but they add so much background flavour. Plus, through our preserving system, we’ll be able to highlight our garden even in the winter.
How often do you forage for local ingredients?
Sylvia’s mom and dad own a tree farm. Darren was doing some work on the farm and noticed it was spruce tip season, so he snipped them and filled a couple of bags and brought them to the restaurant. And that’s how we ended up incorporating spruce tips into a couple of dishes. Unfortunately, we don’t have a ton of time in our day to go on a nature hike and forage for mushrooms and wild asparagus, but when we do get the opportunity to do it, it means so much to us. It’s so important for us to bring those ingredients back to our restaurant and be able to highlight them in a way that people wouldn’t have previously experienced. We made a spruce tip vinegar and we might garnish our foie gras with it, and you’ll taste a bit of pine (it’s similar to rosemary). Now people will understand how spruce tips work and how easy it is to forage them on a daily basis.
How do you incorporate local Alberta ingredients into your rustic Quebec-style dishes?
Through this experience at Chartier, I’ve learned a lot about how Canada got settled, where influences came from and how pioneers interacted with each other and the locals of the time. For us, we like to consider ourselves, especially in the small town of Beaumont here, as pioneers. We’re out here on the fringe of the prairies creating Quebec-style cuisine. That’s always in the back of our mind when we are creating a dish. We may not always have the exact same ingredients as a recipe from Quebec, so we add our own flair to it. That has been exciting and energizing to both pay respects to what they’re doing in Quebec and what started this whole dream for us, and also to try and make it our own and own it a little bit more.
What’s your favourite dish on the menu to eat?
One of my favourite things to do if I’m hungry is to grab our house-made sourdough. I’m going to slap on some blue cheese, pickled red onions and maybe a couple bits of bacon. I’m going to go sit in the cooler where it’s cold, sit on a milk crate, and check out some of our local sports teams. It’s not glamorous but it’s a really nice moment for me. It’s a little bit of “me time” with a little bit of fuel.
What’s your cooking mantra?
I started saying this quote: “We are a five-star restaurant in a five-star town.” The first time I heard that, it was Christmas time, and my family and I were listening to the Vinyl Café. Stuart McLean was telling the story about Dave and the turkey. He had to get the turkey cooked quickly for Christmas, and he asked the local hotel if they had a restaurant with a special oven to speed the process and the concierge says, “Of course, sir. We’re a five-star restaurant in a five-star town. We can do anything you want.” I loved that and it has stuck with me.
What do you think will be the next big trend in Canadian cuisine?
For me, I’m hoping it will be story and connection. Canada is so big, that you go to a region and you’ll find that highlighted ingredient. But what people really want, I believe, is to understand why the restaurant is doing it, why they are cooking it and why they made that dish. When people watch cooking competition shows, people aren’t invested so much in what they are making, but why they are making it. The background story, basically. That’s what people are drawn to. Honest storytelling is what I hope will be shared in the Canadian history of food.
Each Tuesday, you make theme burgers (inspired by the TV show Bob’s Burgers). Which has been the most popular?
Sylvia and Darren live above the restaurant, so it’s like we’re the family [on the show]; it’s really sweet. We make five to five burgers with a theme — like Back to School, Christmas and even an Avengers theme. It allows us to be creative. We make the burger buns and grind our own meat. It’s also one of those things our community wanted. They wanted a burger. We took our slowest night of the week, which is Tuesday, and we do burgers. It took our Tuesday nights from 20 [customers] to 130 — people love it.
One of my favourite burger nights was the chess theme night, in which we did a Prawn Sacrifice and a Bobby Fischer burger. One of our cooks is married to the top-ranked female chess player in Canada, so we invited her to come down and play people for their meals. She went 30 and 0 against all the customers, and it was fun. The best were the kids who came with their own chess boards and they played her. Then the kids sat down with their moms and dads and played together while they ate their burgers. For 90 minutes, Chartier became in their eyes more than just a restaurant but an experience. That was so special to me.
What advice would you give to those looking to pursue a career in the culinary arts?
I just recently spoke at a career day at a junior high school. For young people still in school, what I would say is take your time. Food isn’t going to go anywhere. The restaurant scene isn’t going to change. You’re not going to miss out on anything. Enjoy building your friendships and having experiences, because you are not going to have a chance when you graduate culinary school or get into a kitchen full-time. Once you get there, get ready to work and listen, and say “yes” to a lot of experiences that are going to happen to you for the next eight to 10 years. It’s going to be hard. Surround yourself in your personal life with people who understand that; people who understand why you can’t go to the lake this weekend because you have to work. I am very fortunate that I have a lot of those people in my life. The other side is when you do go into a kitchen full-time, make sure you’re comfortable. Ask questions of your chef, ask questions about the restaurant. Be open and honest with yourself. If you get put into a situation where you’re going to hate cooking, then you’ll hate cooking.
tourtière à mamma
1 tbsp unsalted butter
2 lb ground pork
1 lb ground bison
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp thyme
2 tsp rosemary
2 whole yellow onions, chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
12 button mushrooms, sliced
1 cup grated potato
2 tsp maple syrup
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 l veal stock
1lb duck confit, pulled
Heat the butter in a pan and sauté the ground pork and bison. Cook the meat until halfway done and then set aside in a bowl.
Add the spices, onions and garlic to the pan. Your kitchen should smell like Christmas!
Continue to cook over medium heat the until onions turn golden brown, then add the mushrooms.
Sweat the mushrooms until they have lost most of their liquid, then add the grated potato and maple syrup.
Deglaze the pan with white wine, then add the veal stock and bring to a simmer.
Return the partially cooked bison and pork to the pan along with the duck confit and continue to cook for 5 to 6 minutes.
Season to taste.
Remove the mix from the heat and let cool.
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
2/3 cup unsalted butter, cold and cubed
1 tbsp water
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blitz until crumbly.
Empty onto a piece plastic wrap and force the dough together into a ball with your hands.
Wrap tightly and let rest for at least 2 hours in the fridge.
Divide the chilled dough in two. Roll out each piece of pie dough until 1/6 inch thick.
Place one piece of dough overtop a greased deep-dish pie plate.
Fill the pie plate with tourtière mix. (Note: a 6-inch pie plate requires approximately 8 oz mix)
Seal with the second piece of dough.
Crumple the edges and cut 3 or 5 air vents in the top.
Brush with an egg wash and bake at 350˚F until golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes (or 60 to 75 minutes if tourtière is frozen).
8 cups diced rhubarb
8 cups diced onions
2 cups vinegar
1 tbsp salt
3 cups brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp black pepper
3 cups raisins
Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan.
Simmer slowly on low-medium heat until the mix breaks down, approximately 45 minutes.
Let cool for 10 minutes then roughly blitz the mix in a food processor or blender.
Label and store in the fridge or preserve in sterilized mason jars.
Pets de Soeur
1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup maple syrup
4 cups brown sugar
2 tbsp cinnamon
Pie dough scraps
Cream the butter, maple syrup, brown sugar and cinnamon together in a stand mixer.
Roll out the pie dough until 1/4-inch thick and cover with almost all of the butter and sugar mixture.
Roll the covered dough into a long rope and cut into 2-inch pieces.
Place pieces face up in a greased 9 x 9 square oven pan. Ensure the pieces are barely touching as they do not puff up or rise too much.
Sprinkle the remaining sugar mixture overtop.
Bake at 325˚F for 12 minutes, or until golden brown.