Daniel McGee might have started out in the culinary sphere simply as a way to make money, but he quickly found himself falling in love with the energy and atmosphere of the kitchen. After working his way up to line cook at Capilano Golf and Country Club, he took time off to go to Australia. Although he tried not to cook while he was there, he found himself drawn back into the kitchen and the foundations of his culinary path were laid.
Canada's Chefs: Daniel McGee, Vancouver B.C
Chef Daniel McGee starts with classic French bistro dishes and adds his unique, locally sourced flair at Au Comptoir in Vancouver B.C.
Chef Daniel McGee
One of the chefs who helped lay that path was Denis Blais at the Capilano Golf and Country Club. McGee says, “I was young and a little bit cocky then and he helped to become more of a professional, take cooking seriously and not just look at it like a job. He was a big influence on my mentality as a chef.”
Another chef who helped set McGee on the right path was Lee Parsons who was the executive chef at Bacchus in the Wedgewood Hotel. Under Parsons, he honed his craft as a cook and started to develop his style of food. McGee explains, “He was probably my biggest culinary influence.”
The food that McGee creates at Au Comptoir has its basis in French bistro dishes to which he adds his own unique touches by using local produce and working with local suppliers. For example, instead of making a classic boeuf bourguignon, he uses local venison and serves the dish with a chestnut tagliatelle. He says, “It isn’t classic French per se but it’s inspired by those classic dishes for sure.”
In recent years, McGee has started taking a more locally focused approach to sourcing ingredients. Although they may not be visually perfect, McGee gives an example and says, “Julia from Urban Digs Farm was one of the first farmers I started working with closely. We get all of our eggs from her and they’re beautiful. The sizing’s a bit weird sometimes but they’re real eggs.”
Pan seared wild sockeye salmon, melted leeks, smoked salmon raviolo, watercress velouté
Some of McGee’s connections have been established when he worked at other restaurants, some have resulted from his trips to farmer’s markets but the common thread in all of them is mutual trust between chef and farmer.
The menus at Au Comptoir change with the four seasons so McGee always starts to look ahead to the next menu change when one season comes to an end. The menu planning always starts with the seasonal produce that McGee can get from his suppliers. After that, he looks at how he can make his four daily menus work and focuses on efficiently using his ingredients. He explains, “If I get a duck, I can make at least four different dishes out of it. Besides the breasts, I use the gizzard, I use the liver, I use the legs and I use the wings. We also use the duck fat and the bones for stock. The only thing that we’re leaving behind is the box the duck came in.”
Patience is one trait that McGee considers important for a chef to have. He wants to take the time to properly train chefs and allow them to progress in the kitchen. He says, “Part of being in the kitchen is that learning and development. I started as a dish washer and someone had to show me how to make a vinaigrette and how to hold a knife. I think you learn a lot of respect for what you do later on when you’re doing that.”
He adds, “You see the whole package so by the time you start to run your own kitchen, you know what that dish washer is going through because you’ve been there. You get a broader view of the whole industry if you’ve been there first hand.”
When it comes to McGee’s kitchen team, the best trait a cook can have is a positive attitude. He says, “It’s a long, hard job and the pay’s not always the greatest but it’s rewarding to do something you really enjoy at the end of the day. If you spend half of a 24 hour day in the kitchen and you don’t enjoy it, it isn’t good for anyone.”
The inspiration McGee needs comes from reading cookbooks and having his cooks bring him ideas that they’ve gleaned from social media. He continues, “Social media’s so huge and everything’s being documented now. Netflix has a series on chefs so I’ll go home and watch that. All of a sudden you’re being connected with the best chefs from Sweden or Australia, seeing how they look at things. “