Canada's Chefs in Conversation: West De Castro, Ottawa ON

by Krlmagi

Chef West De Castro puts a unique twist on accessible food that uses as many local, seasonal ingredients as possible.

Chef West De Castro defines herself as a late bloomer in the culinary world. She explains, “At the age of twenty-seven, I didn’t really like what I was doing any more, so with the encouragement of my partner, I went to get some accreditation at culinary school. When I graduated the following year, I started to work at a catering company and I quickly moved up the ranks there. I ended up wanting to try something different and work in a restaurant and it just so happened that Zen Kitchen was looking for a cook.”

She continues, “At that point, I just wanted to cook, I didn’t really want to do any management, but I ended up becoming sous chef there. I worked there until earlier this year. Again, with the encouragement of my partner, I ended up getting into owning a restaurant. I guess I’m trying to catch up since I started late.”

Corn chowder: charred corn, pearl onions, Yukon potatoes, bacon
Corn chowder: charred corn, pearl onions, Yukon potatoes, bacon
West De Castro

De Castro says that her Filipino background has been a major influence on her. She points out, “I tend to look for flavours that are stronger and add them to my cooking. I’ve featured some dishes on my menus that are from the Philippines.”


In terms of her other influences, she says, “I don’t think there’s been one chef that I’ve specifically looked at, but I try to keep my eyes open to all the possibilities. There are a lot of cookbooks and I draw from them too. I also collect vintage cookbooks and so sometimes I’ll flip through one, find something that piques my interest and try to update those recipes for 2014.”


De Castro talks about her approach to cooking and says, “I tend to keep it simple. When I write my menus and create my dishes, so I think of what I’d want to eat, and in turn what I’d want to serve my friends. I don’t really do anything fancy and I try to keep it simple.”

As an example of how she likes to approach new dishes, the chef explains, “I put a corn chowder on the menu because I love chowders in general, but I always find them too heavy. I created it so that the soup was more brothy and I took all of the other components and cooked them separately. I took all of the components like the bacon, the corn and the pearl onions and put a sear on them before I poured the broth over them.”

Cod: leeks, celeriac and cabbage
Cod: leeks, celeriac and cabbage
West De Castro

Sourcing ingredients is an important part of a chef’s job. De Castro says, “I try to get my stuff locally as much as possible. I also like to support smaller businesses so if I can’t get something locally, I’ll try to find a company that can bring it in on a smaller scale. My meats are all sustainable and ethical because that’s the way I eat, so that’s what I want to feature in the restaurant as well. It’s hard sometimes but that’s part of the challenge for me.”


The chef talks about the attributes that she hopes to have as a chef. She says, “I definitely stay organized, I keep my attention to detail and knowing all of the techniques and the flavours but mostly just trying to keep a good level head and be a good leader. If you keep the respect of everybody in your kitchen, they’ll bend over backwards for you. I’d like to think those are the attributes that a chef should have.”


When it comes to her kitchen staff, De Castro says, “I like to challenge my staff as well. I’ve come to a point where there’s a lot of energy coming from my team so its important to be able to take that and always give them a challenge.”


She continues, “In my kitchen, I want to see everybody working together (and they do). It’s not just the dishwasher’s job, it’s not just the cook’s job but if anyone’s behind, everybody should pitch in and help them get their stuff done.”


The chef talks about where she finds motivation in the culinary business. She says, “The motivation is that the food scene is changing. There’s always something different and I think for me its making food approachable to everybody. I tend not to do my dishes based on what the foodies might think. I want the general population to realize that there’s a lot of different cooks and they don’t have to be intimidated by going to a restaurant, but I do want to introduce them to different things.”

Panna cotta: poached rhubarb, raspberry, lemon thyme and pistachio
Panna cotta: poached rhubarb, raspberry, lemon thyme and pistachio
West De Castro
Updated: 10/29/2014, Krlmagi
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