Western Living Magazine
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Take your culinary skills to the next level with these insider recommendations and pro tips from expert chefs from across the West.
Sure, it pays to have friends in high places, but we think it’s even more useful to have friends in hot places, too—namely, the kitchen. We grilled 28 chefs from across Western Canada for their pro tips, kitchen hacks and pantry essentials, and boy did they deliver. What follows is a culinary crash course: dozens of morsels of advice sure to elevate your home-cook game. Eat up.
“Salt. Most home cooks do not season adequately. Seasoning during the cooking process helps to build levels of flavour.”—Andrew Richardson, executive chef, Elisa and CinCin, Vancouver
Anchovies. “I use so many anchovies at home. Comical amounts. They have the magical effect of giving simple, quickly cooked meals so much oomph. I love to overload them in most things, but if you’re unsure, just get a small jar and melt them into olive oil and garlic over low heat, then wilt in some greens and season with a dash of red wine vinegar. It’s the perfect side dish, or magnificent tossed with spaghetti. When I’m tired I’ll just eat them on buttered baguettes with a squeeze of lemon. Heaven.” —Claire Livia Lassam, owner, Livia Forno e Vino, Vancouver
Fish sauce. “You don’t need much to make a difference in a dish—it adds a depth of flavour to most things you make at home. You don’t want to use enough that someone can say, ‘Hey there is fish sauce in there,’ but you want them to feel like something is missing if it isn’t there.”—Clark Deutscher, owner, Nowhere *a Restaurant and Hanks *a Restaurant, Victoria
Full fat everything. “You’ll end up using less to achieve body and fuller flavour in your dishes.”—Dawn Doucette, chef/owner, Douce Diner, North Vancouver
At farmers’ markets, at butcher shops, at the cheesemonger: the number-one tip our elite panel had was to ask the experts. “Just talk to a butcher,” advises Blair Lebsack, chef /co-owner, RGE RD and the Butchery by RGE RD, Edmonton. “If you can tell them how you plan to cook the meat, how long you want to take to prepare it, then there are multiple cuts they can point you to. Some are obvious, but most may be unknown to you and are typically less expensive that the prime cuts.”
Chanthy Yen, executive chef of Nightshade Restaurant in Vancouver, seconds the motion: “Be open minded to cuts that are considered a ‘butcher’s secret’ and ask for advice on how to process it.”
The same goes for the veggie pros, too. “At the farmers’ market, find a farmer when they have a minute of ‘down time’ and ask them about different products, where they’re grown and the practices they use. They like it! Maybe you’ll even get to snack on a free carrot or apple,” says Devon Latte, head chef, Acorn, Vancouver.
Knowing where to source specialty ingredients is half the battle—a battle Phong Vo, executive chef of Vancouver’s Laowai and Bagheera, doesn’t go into unprepared. “Build a Google map of your regional markets or destination spots for specific culinary ingredients,” he says. “My list includes Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Italian and farmers’ markets, and Granville Island in Vancouver.”
There are times to cheap out, and then there are times to splash out on the Kewpie. These are the brand-name grocery staples our chefs insist on.
When it comes to some ingredients, only the best won’t do. Here are the staples you don’t need to overthink, according to chefs: canned beans, canola oil, chocolate chips, dried pasta, canned tomatoes, flour, sugar, oats, white vinegar. (PRO TIP: “Don’t ignore the bulk aisle. You can get the right amount to fill up your storage containers.”—Joshua Chilton, chef, Clive’s Classic Lounge, Victoria)
We asked our gaggle of culinary pros: What ingredients do you always keep on hand?
Reducing food waste starts when you get home with your grocery haul. Follow these chef-approved storage techniques.
PRO TIP: Multiple chefs advised putting a cloth or paper towel at the bottom of your crisper drawer. (“It helps absorb moisture.”—Claire Livia Lassam, owner, Livia Forno e Vino, Vancouver)
Alex Kim, culinary director of Glowbal Restaurants in Vancouver, sings the praises of his low-budget vacuum sealer. “For less than $100 you can find a decent vacuum sealer these days. I use mine to keep my leftover food longer and fresher, but also for marinating steaks, pickling vegetables, slow-cooking some tough cuts of beef under water (sous vide!) and even just to organize my fridge and freezer.”
It’s a trick chip-hound Patrick Do (owner, Do Chay, Vancouver) swears by. “I learned this trick recently, but saving those little silica gel packs that come in those seaweed snack packs helps with preserving chips and kale crisps,” he says.
We don’t know who needs to hear this, but: your spices are ancient. Chefs agree that spices lose their potency around the six-month mark. “If you don’t remember when you bought them, it’s time to get a new batch,” says Rogelio Herrera, chef/owner of Alloy in Calgary. Give that bag of cumin a whiff: if it doesn’t smell like much, it’s not going to taste like much, either.
How do you reduce your spice waste? Buy in small quantities, toast before storage and store in sealed containers (toss the bag!).
PRO TIP: “Buy whole spices and grind small amounts as needed.”—Alex Kim, culinary director, Glowbal Restaurants, Vancouver
Just as important as a good chef’s knife? A smart storage system. Here’s what the pros use to pack up prepped ingredients and leftover lunches.
“I’m a fan of using commercial restaurant storage containers at home, like Cambro.”—Chanthy Yen, executive chef, Nightshade Restaurant, Vancouver
“Mason jars! Just try not to have too many different shapes, otherwise you’ll go crazy stacking and storing everything.”—Phong Vo, executive chef, Laowai and Bagheera, Vancouver
“Deli cups with lids are always the ultimate to store small quantities.”—Alexandre Carrière, chef, Au Comptoir, Vancouver
Wherever you stand on the “tomatoes are a fruit” debate, the fact is that these puppies do not belong in the fridge. “Tomatoes shouldn’t be stored in the fridge—even the subpar winter greenhouse ones,” warns Bryan Satterford, chef/owner of Juke Fried Chicken and Chickadee Room in Vancouver warns. “Leave them out and use them quickly.” If you fail to heed his warning, prepare for a mushy caprese salad.
“If your avocados are perfectly ripe and you’re not going to eat them anytime soon, then you can freeze them to prevent over-ripening.”—Phong Vo, executive chef, Laowai and Bagheera, Vancouver
“I hate chopping garlic,” admits Lawren Moneta, a food stylist in Vancouver. “I will chop a whole bunch of garlic in a food processor at the beginning of the month, place it in a Ziploc and section out little squares before placing in the freezer. I break off a piece or two of frozen garlic when I need it.”
“The concept of mise en place has been practiced in my home, along with labelling with masking tape and a marker,” says Chanthy Yen, executive chef, Nightshade Restaurant, Vancouver
Bryan Satterford (chef/owner, Juke Fried Chicken and Chickadee Room, Vancouver) is another advocate for comprehensive labelling after you open a product: “Everything is taken out of its package and placed in a separate labelled and dated container. From dry goods to fridge and freezer. And if you are labelling with tape, for the love of god, please cut the tape on the labels. Don’t tear it off the roll like a Neanderthal.”
“Ginger skin is very flavourful and just as nutritious. Save the skin,” says Phong Vo, executive chef of Vancouver’s Laowai and Bagheera. (Another food we have been wasting time peeling our whole lives? Kiwis.)
“After washing and peeling purple beets, you can use the scraps to colour your pickled vegetables by adding some into your pickling jars.”—Alex Kim, culinary director, Glowbal Restaurants, Vancouver
“Take trim from fish or meat to make croquettes or meatballs.”—Ben Berwick, chef, Dachi, Vancouver
“I make croutons with stale bread, and use coffee grounds as plant fertilizer.”—Dawn Doucette, chef/owner, Douce Diner, North Vancouver
“Apple peels have tons of flavour and make great syrups. Cilantro stems are also full of flavour and make exceptional sauces.”—Clark Deutscher, owner, Nowhere *a Restaurant and Hanks *a Restaurant, Victoria
“Carrot, beet or radish tops can be made into pesto.”—Lawren Moneta, food stylist, Vancouver
The secret to not boiling your stock? Take it off the stovetop altogether. “Cook it in the oven,” says Bryan Satterford, chef/owner of Juke Fried Chicken and Chickadee Room in Vancouver. “That way it never boils hard and you will have a clearer stock.”
Start with great ingredients. “You need to start with fresh eggs,” says Dawn Doucette, chef/owner, Douce Diner, North Vancouver.
And a great pan. “Go non-stick,” advises Alexandre Carrière, chef, Au Comptoir, Vancouver.
Add a splash of water. “Just a little bit!” says Nico Schuermans, chef/owner, Chambar Restaurant, Vancouver.
Don’t skimp on the butter. “Butter. Like, a lot of butter. When it’s done and rolled, reshape it with a towel and rub room temperature butter on top of it again,” says Clark Deutscher, owner, Nowhere *a Restaurant and Hanks *a Restaurant, Victoria.
Heat it low and take it slow. “Keep the cooking temperature low and stir with a spatula,” says Ashley Kurtz, chef de cuisine, Bar Susu, Vancouver.
Stop cooking it earlier than you think. “Stop cooking before the eggs are fully cooked; keep them nice and wet,” Kurtz adds.
Do it again. “Make one every morning for a month—you will dial it in,” says Gus Stieffenhofer-Brandson, executive chef, Published on Main, Vancouver.
If it’s too spicy: Add a sprinkle of sugar, a splash of vinegar or something fatty. Or, as more than one chef advised: crack a beer and learn to love the heat. “Look at it as training for the next time you travel.”—Bryan Satterford, chef/owner, Juke Fried Chicken and Chickadee Room, Vancouver
If it’s too salty: Acid to the rescue! Try lemon juice, apple cider or vinegar. Alternatively, add more liquid, or double the batch (without salt this time) and combine. “Start again.”—Rogelio Herrera, chef/owner, Alloy, Calgary
Chef Robbie Robinson: “Add butter.”
Chef Nico Schuermans: “Add a pop of colour.”
Chef Tommy Shorthouse: “Cut food uniformly.”
Chef Bryan Satterford: “A hit of acid, vinegar or citrus.”
Chef Dawn Doucette: “Use tongs to twirl your pasta while plating.”
Chef Alexandre Carrière: “Add Maldon salt on your dessert.”
Chef Alex Kim: “Finish with a drizzle of good-quality extra-virgin olive oil.”
“Vinegar is so underused in most homes, but in restaurants nearly everything is finished with an acid. I keep a decent red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, black Chinese vinegar and Japanese rice wine vinegar on my countertop for easy grabbing at home.”—Claire Livia Lassam, owner, Livia Forno e Vino, Vancouver
“The wok is my personal favourite because it’s large and functions as either a pot or a pan! They make stir frys fun. (Try flipping the vegetables or omelette in them.) Chopsticks are a close second because they are so multifunctional—they can be used in place of tongs, fork, whisk—and even hold up your hair?!”—Lý Thị Nguyễn, executive chef, Anh and Chi, Vancouver
Serve the same veg in different ways, says Julien Salomoni, pastry chef instructor, Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, Vancouver. “For example, smashed carrot with curry and turmeric, young yellow carrots cooked in oven and toasted, then some chips dehydrated in the oven overnight, or even a pistou of carrot stems. Your friends will be amazed.”
Do the ol’ roast-and-toss, suggests Jason Kleinfeld, executive chef, Cardero’s in Vancouver. “Roast it, then toss with a dash of red wine vinegar and olive oil. Add something crunchy (nuts, toasted garlic, fried shallots or seasoned and toasted chickpeas).”
Reach for the salt, advises Chanthy Yen, executive chef, Nightshade Restaurant, Vancouver. “Salt-bake your root vegetables to discover a new level of richness in flavour.”
“Honey, grainy mustard, red wine vinegar, olive oil, shallot, chopped herbs—all placed in a mason jar and shaken vigorously.”
“Quick-blanch your vegetables in salted boiling water. Take out when they turn vibrant but are still firm. Ice bath to stop the cooking process. Drain. Sauté with mushrooms, garlic and sea salt.”
“Sauté minced garlic and capers for 1 to 2 minutes on medium heat. Add store-bought pickled veggies (such as roast pepper strips and eggplant in their oils), along with anchovy paste. Continue to cook. Separately, purée a can of pitted black olives, then add to the pan along with marinated artichokes, canned tuna, chili flakes and a touch of tomato purée. Allow to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes and, bam! Puttanesca served with linguini… easy peasy.”
Chef Robbie Robinson (executive chef, Five Sails, Vancouver) cracks in two eggs and whisks in a dollop of miso and a knob of butter, while chef Ashley Kurtz makes a beurre monte (emulsified finishing sauce) with butter and the ramen spice mix. Chef Baker Hsu (chef de cuisine, Torafuku, Vancouver) swears by white pepper, green onion and a poached egg, while chef Gus Stieffenhofer-Brandson (executive chef, Published on Main, Vancouver) happily adds the whole kitchen sink to his noodles: a knob of butter, a Kraft single, spice packs, leftover meat, scallion and a scrambled egg.
“Add a poached egg, enoki mushrooms, leafy green vegetables, tofu puffs or frozen dumplings and sprinkle with thinly sliced green onions, and voilà! Have leftover BBQ duck or roast chicken? Throw it in too!”—Lý Thị Nguyễn, executive chef, Anh and Chi, Vancouver
Chef Justin Ell Lee (chef, Elephant, Vancouver) grates red Leicester cheese on top, and Chef Patrick Do sprinkles on blitzed wasabi peas and blistered shishito peppers. Chef Alex Kim (culinary director, Glowbal Restaurants, Vancouver), meanwhile, elevates his KD with cooked, chopped prawns and sriracha.
“The addition of some brie, gruyere or Boursin cheese and some freshly cracked pepper could completely change a basic Kraft dinner into something wonderful.”—Tommy Shorthouse, chef, Fanny Bay Oyster Co., Vancouver
“Whenever I don’t have butter around for a cake recipe, I use cream or sour cream as a substitute. It works nearly every time.”—Chanthy Yen, executive chef, Nightshade Restaurant, Vancouver
Pro chefs love having a sink of soapy water ready to go while they’re prepping and cooking to make it simple to wash as you go.
Chef Patrick Do (owner, Do Chay, Vancouver) preps with three one-litre deli cups in front of him: one for saving stock, one for compost and one for garbage.
Chef Claire Lassam (owner, Livia Forno e Vino, Vancouver) is a die-hard fan of the heavy-duty cleaning cream. “The best cleaning product ever made; recipe unchanged for over 100 years.”
Rescue burned-on pans by boiling baking soda and water in them, scraping off bits as you go.
Chefs reveal their favourite oddball food-and-drink pairings.
“I recall making a grilled cheese using brioche and Kraft cheese. Alongside we drank a bottle of Alex Gambal Chassagne Montrachet… a match made in heaven.”—Andrew Richardson, executive chef, Elisa and CinCin, Vancouver
It’s a favourite tool of the pros; source a Japanese-style ultra-thin one if you can.
If you love to grate, it’s great. The perfect tool for adding a dusting of nutmeg, lemon zest or parm to a dish. “They’re incredibly helpful for home cooking,” says Betty Hung, owner of Beaucoup Bakery, Vancouver. “Finely grating garlic and other vegetables, whole spices and cheese with ease helps to speed up the cooking process and allows you to stuff your face full of food on the couch quicker.”
To make SB’s go-to four-ingredient cocktail, combine equal parts bourbon, Cinzano and Campari over ice. Dilute slightly with a few drops of water and add some orange rind.
A few of the classic cookbooks our surveyed chefs said they couldn’t live without.
We polled our chefs for definitive answers to some of the kitchen’s most pressing questions. Numbers don’t lie.
Butter: salted or unsalted?
Microwaves: yay or nay?
Yay 41% “People who say no are pretentious.”
Nay 54% “Only at mom’s for leftovers.”
Depends 5% “Just for popcorn.”
Air fryers: Yay or nay?
Instant Pots: Yay or nay?
On the fence 5%
Garlic press: yay or nay?
Yay 23% “That was one of my tasks to help my mum cooking, so it’s always a great memory.”
Nay 77% “Absolute rubbish.”
Cast iron: soap or wipe out?
Wipe it out 68%
Soap, please 32%
Rice cooker or stovetop?
In a pot on the stove 32%
Rice cooker 56%
Of the 20 chefs who said they always wear an apron to cook, 2 agreed with the statement “I’d feel naked without it.”
The next big trendy ingredient is…
Food made with food waste products
Yuzu and spicy honey
Most popular hot sauce, according to chefs: sriracha
Runners up: chili oil, Valentina, homemade
What are you listening to when you’re cooking?
Most popular spice, according to chefs: black peppercorn
Runners up: star anise, chili, cumin
Best cooking oil?
Rice bran oil 15%
Tea oil 5%
Afraid to commit 10%
Are you over 18 years of age?