Canada's Chefs: Matthew Kane, Shelter Restaurant, Tofino B.C

by Krlmagi

Chef Matty Kane combines local seafood with an artistic touch at Shelter Restaurant in Tofino B.C.

Chef Matty Kane's strong focus on using locally sourced, sustainable seafood is at the heart of his approach to cooking. He combines an artistic flair with a respect for the ingredients he uses to cook with. The chef says that he wants to keep everything in "the boundaries of the real" in terms of the dishes that he creates.

Chef Matty Kane
Chef Matty Kane
Matthew Kane

1. What was the route that took you from studying English literature to professional cooking?

I've always been a fan of the arts regardless of what the medium is. I grew up painting and drawing. When I went to university I was initially interested in the sciences but I wiggled my way into the realm of English. The whole time I had some interest in cooking but I'd never thought of it of as a career option because it never seemed viable especially coming from the east coast at the time. There wasn't much of a market for this kind of job, at least not one that would allow me the kind of creative outlet I wanted.

I came to Tofino on sort of a working vacation. I came to spend a few months in B.C. and check out the other side of the country. I got a job at Shelter Restaurant and it was at that point of time that I realized cooking was a viable option and that there is a lot of creative outlets in it. This coast allows for that to happen because there's a wealth of people who are interested in food and a plethora of awesome ingredients that you don't necessarily find on the east coast.


2. Talk about the experiences that have shaped the chef you are today?

Living in Tofino allows for a non-stop experience with food and life in general I feel. It has pushed me to think "Holy shit! I'm on the edge of the world and cooking some of the finest food there is to cook in the world."

We were doing a dinner for the Feast of Tofino that we do every year in the month of May. We invite a guest chef and that year it was Peter Zambri who's an Italian chef from Victoria. We wanted prawns but we wanted them to be fresh and the easiest way that we knew how to get these prawns was from a fishing boat in Ahousat which is 30 k.m. north of us. We hopped on a float plane and flew up there where one of our friends has a prawning boat. We pulled up there, filled our buckets with fresh prawns, flew back and cooked the prawns. That was a great experience for sure. This place allows for that kind of opportunity.

3. How do you approach food and cooking?

Philosophically I would say that I've always want to make sure that I'm not going outside of the boundaries of what's considered real. If I'm going to work with a particular ingredient that's the star of the show I want to stay true to that ingredient. 

You can't really get much more real than having the ingredients come in your back door from across the street. From there once you've agreed that you're going to stay true to that ingredient you kind of build your picture around it with ingredients that are really good friends with it and good friends with each other. The closer you can tie that knot together, generally the more on point your dish is going to be.

Grilled albacore tuna, chickpea, chorizo and kale ragout. Braised octopus, roasted pepper aioli.
Grilled albacore tuna, chickpea, chorizo and kale ragout. Braised octopus, roasted pepper aioli.
Matthew Kane

4. Discuss the importance of sourcing food that is local and as sustainable as possible?

A big part of that comes down to freshness. You can go on and on about the reasons you want to be local whether its pollution from burning the petroleum to get it here or you want to maintain the local economy. For me its about freshness. If I can get salmon that was caught this morning as opposed to salmon farmed ten days ago, it seems like a no-brainer to me.


5. How do you build relationships with your suppliers?

That's an interesting one because you have to run a business. Generally when you're purchasing locally you're looking at an increased cost. The way I approach building relationships with these people is that I agree to purchase only their product and financially you can benefit from doing that. At the end of the day you can get this fantastic product and the farmer or the fisherman has a guaranteed business and you're both sustaining your business.


6. Talk me through the creative process you might go through as you create a new dish.

That's a complicated question for most people to talk about what their creative process is but generally I think about smell to be honest. If I'm cooking fish in a pan, I can think about what it smells like and I can smell the other ingredients.  When you don't necessarily know if ingredients will be good together, your sense of smell will tell you if they'll be good together.

It also comes from experience and knowing what ingredients go together. I would say that the number one way to get good at combining ingredients, being creative and actually having it come through and work is through experience.

Pan roasted halibut, Cortez island mussels, local asparagus, fennel and parsley broth, confit cherry tomato vinagrettei
Pan roasted halibut, Cortez island mussels, local asparagus, fennel and parsley broth, confit cherry tomato vinagrettei
Matthew Kane


7. What are the factors that make for a good executive chef? How about the factors that make up a good kitchen crew?

First of all, obviously, you have to be able to cook but on top of that you have to be able to manage people. Its different if you're running a one-man show but typically restaurants are not one man shows now. You'e only as good as your weakest cook so you have to be a very good teacher, a very good mentor and a very good motivator. People's attitude translates to the plate. If they're having a good day and they're happy with their job, that's going to make for higher quality product and a much more enjoyable time for the guest.

I'm primarily looking at attitude with my kitchen crew. My style of cooking doesn't need you to be a CIA1 student to execute it. I'm pretty good at teaching people the things I want them to execute on. I need a good attitude and a strong willingness to learn. If you don't want to learn and you don't want to have personal growth you're probably not going to click with the type of thing you want in a restaurant environment.


8. How do you keep moving forward as a chef?

That's probably the most difficult thing to do. You can find yourself in a rut and questioning whether you've made the right choice in your life but all it takes is for the shellfish guy to show up with a bag of mussels and they're awesome or going into the restaurant and seeing a happy staff. Its being surrounded by excellent food and extraordinary people that keeps me going!



1. Culinary Institute of America

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Updated: 10/21/2013, Krlmagi
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