Darren Craddock’s culinary spark was lit after he spent time in England with his father who had been a chef and worked in the hotel business. Craddock started out cooking breakfast for his brother and his father when he visited on weekends. He also found himself spending time around hotel kitchens and became fascinated by the culinary world. It was the beginning of his career as a chef.
Canada's Chefs: Darren Craddock, Riverside Country Club, Saskatoon SK
Chef Darren Craddock combines local ingredients with globally inspired flavours in his food at the Riverside Golf and Country Club in Saskatoon.
Chef Darren Craddock (centre) winning gold at the 2015 Gold Medal Plates competition.
When Craddock was 17, he finished high school in England and started an apprenticeship at a country house inn called the Bell Inn at Aston Clinton under Chef Kevin Cape. The experience had a strong effect on the young Craddock. He says, “It was a traditional European-style apprenticeship where there was a lot of yelling. It was very intense. When I came out of that I felt like I had a good base. In those days, you really had to start at the bottom and work your way up.”
After stints cooking at other country house hotels in England, Craddock moved to Australia and then returned to Canada. While he was cooking at the Fairmont Jasper Park lodge, he worked with Chef Michael Mandato, a man who had a strong influence on Craddock and help shape his approach to food and cooking.
Craddock has developed a respect for using locally sourced ingredients by working with chefs for whom such an approach was instrumental. Within the constraints of his budget and location, Craddock strives to use local products every day. He adds, “I’m always a great ambassador for using local products and trying to be globally inspired at the same time. You can use local ingredients but bring in flavours from around the world to keep the food interesting.”
Culinary competition is also important for Craddock. It’s a break from his day-to-day routine and adds excitement to his cooking. He’s competed in Gold Medal plates and has won gold twice and silver once since 2012. He also enjoys involving his kitchen team in the process of creating competition dishes.
Golden Prairies wild boar - spiced sous vide boar neck, birch syrup glazed boar belly
Sourcing ingredients starts with seeing what’s available and what people are doing with the products. Craddock spends time reading cookbooks and magazines as well as exploring social media to learn about what’s up and coming. He says, “We can get fresh fish flown in three times a week, we’ve got good local vegetable suppliers and game supplier. We just try to make sure that we’re accomodating our client base."
Including his kitchen team in menu planning is crucial for Craddock. They start out brainstorming ideas within the parameters of budget and menu balance. They decide what needs changing and Craddock gives his team advance notice so that they can come up with new menu ideas. He explains, “We just brainstorm and use bits of everyone’s ideas. After that, we think about costing and plating design and make sure it’s feasible to use.”
The process of creating a dish for Gold Medal Plates follows a similar evolution over a longer time period. His last dish for the competition had four or five versions over eight months. He says, “You have to pair the dish with a wine. This time we actually found the wine before the dish. We had a couple of different ideas for proteins and we ended up choosing wild boar to go with the wine that we had. We chose characteristics of the wine and tried to integrate them into the dish.”
Bison Short Rib
Being a chef who “talks the talk and walks the walk” is important for Craddock. He spends time on the line showing his cooks how to execute technique. He is a hands-on chef who doesn’t just bark orders at his team but teaches them through action. He adds, “As a chef, you have to try to have eyes in the back of your head and anticipate what’s going to happen next. It’s not something you’re born with, it’s something that you have to learn.”
Craddock lives and breathes food which keeps him motivated and inspired. He tries to find a balance between his young family and the demands of a culinary career. He explains, “My family doesn’t really like the long hours but they accept them. It’s an all encompassing, all consuming career. It’s not a nine to five, Monday to Friday job. I do it because I love it and I always want to get better.”
He continues, “When I’m not working I try to spend as much time as I can with my family. I have fun with my kids and go out to eat with my wife, my friends and my team. It’s also nice to just go to the lake and chill out too.”
Flourless chocolate cake
This profile is based on a telephone interview conducted with Chef Darren Craddock on Dec. 3, 2015 and recorded.