For Dana Ewart and Cameron Smith using local ingredients is both a socially responsible choice and a way to respect and celebrate the high-quality produce and meats being grown and raised in the Okanagan by local producers. The food that they create also shows their interest in cooking with the seasons and pairing their food with all of the wines available to them in the Okanagan.
Canadian Chef Profiles: Dana Ewart, Joy Road Catering, Kelowna B.C
Chefs Dana Ewart and Cameron Smith combine locally sourced ingredients with keen culinary imaginations at Joy Road Catering and Vineyard Restaurant in Kelowna.
Chefs Cameron Smith and Dana Ewart
Chris Mason Stearns
1. How did you become interested in the world of professional cooking?
My mom initiated the whole thing. She bred golden retrievers and she also grew all of our own food. We had a huge farm with beautiful fresh products so I got spoiled by having fresh strawberries out of the garden and pulling my little wagon around and selling vegetables to the local community.
I guess in terms of doing it professionally, my mom sort of sparked that entrepreneurial spirit, but I've pretty much always worked in the food industry one way or another and so has my partner Cam. I went to chef school right after traveling in Europe because after I'd had all of these beautiful European goods, I wanted to make them for myself.
We (Cam and I) worked in Toronto, we worked in Montréal and we strategically placed ourselves at all of the best restaurants we liked eating at and that we wanted to learn from. It's funny and I know it sounds kind of airy fairy but sometimes artists have no choice, we have to do it. It's my way of showing people that I love them, it's my way of supporting causes and putting dollars in farmer's pockets. It's a lifestyle that I want to live and be a part of.
2. Talk about people and experiences that have influenced you as chefs.
We worked in Montréal for a guy named James MacGuire who is a bread making guru. He definitely shaped our style of cuisine in terms of making everything the slower, older way with time honoured techniques and being really niggly about science and detail. He trained Cam to make his own charcuterie so now we raise our own pigs on our farm and we have them slaughtered four times a year and from there they get turned into beautiful sausages.
Also Norman Laprise at Toqué in Montréal because of his sourcing of incredible ingredients. He didn't pay his cooks very much but he did pay a lot of money for really good high-end ingredients. The pay was fine because when you're a kid and you're learning, you make that sacrifice and I'm not complaining.
3. How are you approaching food and cooking lately?
I guess we're inspired by whatever the season brings, whatever the growers are bringing us and what wild foods are available. It's really ingredient based and geographically driven. It's food with a real sense of time and place. When people come to the Okanagan they're going to get what's growing best and available in the farmer's markets. For all of the big events that we plan in advance like weddings, the food is driven by what people's family history is. For example they're from Estonia and they have a really interesting creation that they want us to make but we'll do it with local ingredients.
Spring Risotto with Leeks and Goat Cheese
4. Talk about why its important for you to source ingredients from local producers.
It's our moral upbringing. One of our brothers is a builder in Africa and that's his way of making the world a better place. It's about waking up every day and doing what you can for your fellow human beings and your planet. We try to live really simply and in our kitchen we have four buckets and into one of them we fire all of the tops of the turnips and radishes and carrots into it. We feed our rabbits those leafy greens. All of the scraps of organic, delicious food that was prepared in the morning and kept cold go to feed our pigs. There's a lot of people out there who are leading pretty toxic lives and making the world at lot worse so we're trying to add to the balance. I know it sounds pretty idealistic but you have to do what you can.
5. Walk me through how you might come up with new dishes for your menus from inspiration to execution.
Usually the way we work is that a winery will pitch us a bunch of different wines that we'll taste through them and make notes of the little nuances of them and we try to pair food that will be super harmonious. Another way we'll work is to write a menu based on the farmer's market's seasonal ingredients and that's mostly what inspires us.
Sometimes its a really cerebral process and then you taste things and its like, "Oh! Maybe not!" but we're constantly learning and experimenting and trying new things.
6. Are there any particular developments in the culinary world that fascinate you right now.
It's funny because we've been finding that the whole molecular gastronomy thing is done. I know its fascinating for a lot of people but that's something that we really veered away from. Of course cooking is alchemy and molecular gastronomy so to say we don't do that isn't really accurate. That sort of style of really fussy things doesn't appeal to me. I just want to eat a really delicious baby carrot that's shaved really thinly and has a vinaigrette on it and it tastes like a carrot and is shaped like a carrot. I'm not dissing that style but we don't need things that are fussy and complicated.
Roasted Onion Tart
7. What are some of the traits that you aspire to having as a chef?
I need to work on having patience and balance. Those are things that I struggle with as a chef. Giving up on control is a hard thing to do. You need to be on top of everything because there's so much pressure all the time. You get forced into being a person who's wound up but once you reach a certain level you have to start giving it all up.
8. In terms of working with other people in the kitchen, what are you looking for?
We're pretty lucky because our crew this year are all very smart people. Whatever industry they choose to go into, whether this is just a short spring thing for them or whether its their career path, I admire their brainpower. They're all pretty intelligent people and that's definitely something that helps them out in our wild world. We change our menus every day and every day there's something different or the products are different. Our world is very complicated here working with the animals and all of the crazy things we throw at them. It's not like a restaurant where everything's the same day after day. They have to be pretty on it and pretty adaptable.
9. How do you stay fresh and motivated as a chef?
I don't know but I guess we're just constantly inspired by everything that's going on. Cooking is history, geography, science and math. It's colour and energy and we're inspired by Mother Nature every day!
Outlandish Shellfish Oysters with Rhubarb Mignonette
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