As a young teenager in Ontario, Chef Andrew Gass cut his teeth working in private golf club kitchens. He says that he started out like so many chefs do as a dish washer but quickly moved up the ranks. He explains that he was already running barbecue nights and Mother’s Day brunches by the time he was thirteen. At eighteen, he was managing kitchens and by twenty one he headed off to work in various fine dining restaurants at Disney World. He says after that "there was no turning back, that is what I was doing. I have a passion for food, a passion for the business, I love working with people. I enjoy the vibrancy and the young personalities. It keeps it fresh for me every single day.”
Canadian Chefs in Conversation: Andrew Gass, Calgary AB
Chef Andrew Gass combines dishes inspired by the Mediterranean and Spain with local Alberta ingredients to create innovative cuisine at Barcelona Tavern in Calgary.
Chef Andrew Gass
Gass cites his experience with Disney as one of the formative parts of his career. He points out that he got a good feel for the business while working there and adds that, in terms of training, he considers Disney to be one of the best “on the globe”.
Another experience that Gass credits with shaping him as a chef was his stint working in Australia. He says that he worked with some talented Australian chefs who taught him the importance of respecting his ingredients. He explains that the abundance of different ingredients is what pushed the Australian chefs in that direction. He also says that when he was in Australia there was a shortage of cooks so “we were forced to work with half the people we needed to accomplish our goal. It was where I learned how to work hard and work efficiently.”
The chef’s current restaurant was a concept that he developed over several years with his business partners. He says that they were toying with an idea that would work well and have some longevity in uncertain economic times. Gass says that the idea of sharing small plates, tapas style, had a strong appeal. He adds that the old concept of going to a restaurant and spending money on one main dish seems to losing its appeal. He continues, “Making one decision on something you’ve never tried before is a bit of a commitment. If you can try five or six things at dinner and share them with somebody, you might not love all of them but you’re bound to love most of them.”
Lobster Ravioli Butternut Squash Purée, Chardonnay Cream, Tarragon Olive Oil
When it comes to developing new dishes, Gass says that he takes his initial inspiration from the Mediterranean countries as well as Spain. After that, he says that he focuses on using local ingredients. Gass hastens to add that for many people using “local” is a cliché, but in the case of his kitchen “we really focus intently on getting the best of the best as close to home as possible.” He points out that making Mediterranean food with local Alberta ingredients can be a challenge but that it forces him and his kitchen team to be more innovative.
Gass elaborates and adds that the particular nature of the Calgary market has moved him in the direction of creating refined comfort food. He explains that he needs to appeal to the Calgarian who is “into meat and potatoes” and adds, “it’s about refining comfort food, making it something that people can identify with, and making those dishes with local ingredients while giving them a little bit of a lift in their presentation."
Using local ingredients is so important to Gass that he’s started a “passion project” called Alberta Food. He explains that he and his partner set out to meet producers and explore the local Alberta ingredients that are available. He says that they discovered everything from micro-greens grown all year to some of the best root vegetables that he’s ever tasted. He goes on to say, “The baker that we use is an gentleman from Israel who uses High River flour. The honey that we use from Chinook honey farms is superior to anything I’ve had in my life. The price is right, it comes from down the road about thirty minutes away and you can get behind supporting local entrepreneurs and the local economy.”
Seafood Chorizo Paella
Gass talks about the traits that he hopes to have as a chef. He says that he wants to bring new knowledge to his cooks to inspire them. He points out that he tries to lead by example and instill his passion for food in his kitchen team. He says, “With the high volume that we’re at, I can’t possibly touch every plate, so I have to translate my food and my passion for that food through my cooks. I have to get them to be as passionate or more passionate about the food than I am.”
Getting his kitchen team deeply involved is a matter of engaging them with quality ingredients and letting them practice new techniques according to Gass. He gives an example of this and says, “We’re making our own chorizo sausage from scratch, grinding down Alberta pork shoulders and infusing them with three different kinds of Spanish paprika and a Rioja wine.” Gass explains that through this process, he feels that a young chef can be inspired.
A good attitude, a willingness to learn and an open mind are all qualities that Gass looks for in his kitchen team. He says that he’s looking for the right attitude more than experience because “it doesn’t come down to their knife skills, it doesn’t come down to how many five star restaurants they’ve worked at or if they’ve worked at a hotel or not.” He explains that with the right attitude and work ethic he can teach “nearly anyone” to be a competent chef.
When Gass seeks inspiration and motivation, he says that he finds it in travel. He explains that when he needs to get outside of his “bubble” travel helps him do that by letting him see what other chefs are doing in the wider world. He says, “It could be a trip to the ‘States to see what’s up and coming, a trip with your family where I’m eating out more than I normally would or I’m headed out to do some research on a specific dish or a specific region. It is those experiences that deliver the most bang for the buck when I want to revitalize myself.”
Beets Carpaccio - Fresh Grapefruit, Ash Goat Cheese, Crushed Pistachio.
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