Although Stephan Drolet says that there was no magic moment in which he decided to be a chef, he explains that once he learned about food, cooking and technique, it overwhelmed his original career in the musical field. He says, “It reached a point where music took a back seat and cooking took over.”
Canada's Chefs: Stephan Drolet, Victoria B.C
Chef Stephan Drolet creates modern, sustainable and healthy food using local ingredients at Camille's in Victoria B.C.
Chef Stephan Drolet
The chef started in a corporate job where, Drolet says, any progress that you wanted to make had to be made on your own through self-teaching. He explains that when he went to work at the Bearfoot Bistro in Whistler there was a steep learning curve. He adds, “Everything wasn’t set out in a manual so there was a lot of learning, teaching and making mistakes!”
Drolet says that he feels fortunate that Melissa Craig, the executive chef at the Bearfoot Bistro, took him under her wing. He points out, “I’m very fortunate that she had faith in me to learn and get things done. There were a few painful moments, but by the end of my time there, I felt that I had moved forward.”
The food that Drolet creates now, he says, is food that he thinks of as healthy, sustainable food that’s modern without going to the extremes of modernist cuisine. He says, “I like to incorporate both classic and modern techniques without losing sight of the what’s best for the plate. After all, it’s about the flavour and the guest’s enjoyment, It’s not just me showing off what I can do in the back.”
When it comes to his initial inspiration for menus, Drolet explains that it comes from the seasons and getting as many Vancouver Island products as possible. He adds that if he can’t find the products on the island, he’ll look outwards for one hundred miles and then to B.C. and Canada more generally. After that, he says, it’s a matter of eating out a lot and reading as many cookbooks as possible. He clarifies, “You have to gain as much information as you can without becoming a cookie cutter or copycat chef.”
Once he has the nugget of an idea for a new dish, the next step is looking at what’s out and in season as well as what’s coming up next. Drolet says that he encourages a dialogue about food and technique in his kitchen, so that his team is prepared for the seasonal shifts. Finally, Drolet adds, they often start out trying an idea on their tasting menus because there are typically fewer components there. He says, “You’ve got the main focus for your plate and your accompaniments. We’ll put it together for the tasting menu and tweak it throughout the night or maybe throughout the week until we come up with something more solid that can shift to our a la carte menu.”
Heirloom tomato salad: Basil-fed snails, black garlic syrup, house Mozzarella cream, pistachio-dill "cous cous", tomato sorbet
Salt Spring Island Mussels: fennel broth, confit tomatoes, caramelized fennel, mussel mousse, edible shells
Sourcing local products, Drolet says, starts with meeting local farmers at farmer’s markets and attending seminars where he can meet local producers. His current restaurant, Camille’s, has been around for twenty-five years and, when he took it over with his wife, he inherited the connections that they’d built.
As for the reasons why the chef uses local products, he says that although the world has become globalized, that global village doesn’t always benefit local communities. Drolet says that by using local producers, he supports the local economy and keeps small farms in business for the future. He elaborates, “I want my kids to be able to drive down to a farmstand and buy their food there. You know where it comes from and you know how the farmer is raising it or you can ask about it.”
Drolet talks about traits that he considers important for executive chefs and says the first one has to be patience. He explains, when he first bought Camille’s, his personal attachment to the restaurant sometimes caused him to lose patience. He says that he learned that an angry chef is not the chef that people want to emulate. He adds that being a teacher is crucial to being an executive chef. He adds, “When you’re teaching people things that they’ve never done before, there are going to be mistakes. Your job as chef is to make sure those mistakes don’t make it out of the dining room. Flying off the handle when someone makes a mistake is not going to be conducive to a teaching environment.”
A desire to learn is one of the major things Drolet says that he wants in his staff. He says that he also wants them to push him to keep teaching them. He says that in a transient industry, he wants them to,”reflect positively on their time with me when they leave. I want them to keep wanting to cook professionally. It’s a tough industry so not everybody is going to want to keep cooking.”
Inspiration and motivation come from many sources for Drolet. He explains that he finds them with his family and his co-workers, in books he reads and things that he sees in nature. He adds that owning and running a restaurant is a challenge and can drain a chef sometimes. He explains, “That’s where I lean on my staff through our dialogue on food. Once an idea starts coming out on a plate, if its a good one we start to get excited, and that’s where the inspiration comes in.”
Peas & Ham" : House-cured duck ham, chanterelles, 64* egg, whey stock, Reggiano
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