Canadian Chefs in Conversation: Daniel Norcott, Catch, Calgary AB

by Krlmagi

Chef Daniel Norcott combines seasonal, local produce with OceanWise seafood and his own culinary creativity at Catch in Calgary.

The respect that his mother received for her cooking was the spark that inspired Chef Daniel Norcott. After she’d had guests over, they’d always praise the meals that she cooked and Norcott wanted that kind of admiration for what he cooked as well. She was a single, working mother but she still took the time to cook after work. He adds, “Cooking is one of those things that everybody can appreciate. Everyone knows a good meal when they have one.”

Norcott’s experiences with many of the cooks and chefs that came through Catch were a strong influence on him as a chef. He mentions that Colin Metcalfe, Kyle Groves, Connie DeSouza and Hayato Okamitsu all shaped his approach to cooking. The teachers he had at SAIT* were also inspirational to him as he watched them, learned from them and talked to them about food.

Chef Daniel Norcott
Chef Daniel Norcott

An important part of Norcott’s approach to food and cooking is his respect for seasonality and local products. Much of the produce that he uses is locally sourced from farmer’s markets and small producers. Norcott works with the seasons in selecting the freshest produce at any given time.

Sustainability is another link in the chain for Norcott. All of the seafood at Catch is sustainably sourced and has to be OceanWise certified. Norcott is very aware of what he has coming in and does his research. He adds, “We want to educate our cooks on what’s sustainable and why sustainability is important.”

The creative use of ingredients factors into Norcott’s approach to cooking as well. For example, there’s only one type of squid that’s currently OceanWise certified, so the chef and his team have had to come up with creative ways to cook with it.

Menu writing starts with a collaborative approach for Norcott. He likes to involve his sous chefs and cooks in the creative process. He tries to create an atmosphere of fearless exploration, constructive criticism and a free exchange of ideas amongst his team.

Pan Seared Salmon plated atop Pea & Mint Puree with Fingerling Potatoes, Asparagus & Crispy Carrots
Pan Seared Salmon plated atop Pea & Mint Puree with Fingerling Potatoes, Asparagus & Crispy Carrots
Seared Hokkaido Scallop & Pork Shoulder Ravioli garnished with Cranberry Gastrique & Almonds
Seared Hokkaido Scallop & Pork Shoulder Ravioli garnished with Cranberry Gastrique & Almonds

Norcott points out that the process of refining dishes means that many of them differ substantially from the original ideas that inspired them. Norcott says, “Over time we develop them, try them out and if something doesn’t work we go back to the drawing board and see what might work better.”

Having a give-and-take relationship with suppliers is important to Norcott. He wants to be able to have open lines of communication, so if something isn’t right, they’ll accept that it needs to be sent back. He realizes that there are factors beyond his supplier’s control, but Norcott expects that they’ll find him good substitutions for missing products if necessary.

Patience is the first trait that Norcott hopes to have as a chef. Managing people is one of the most challenging parts of being a chef for Norcott. He explains, “Everybody’s got different ideas and everyone can have problems. You need to manage these things and sometimes that takes a lot of patience and listening.”

Being reasonable is another important trait that Norcott hopes to exhibit as a chef. He doesn’t subscribe to the my way or the highway philosophy because there are so many ways to do things as a chef. Being able to “step back and swallow your pride” is important for Norcott. He adds that he needs to be able to explain his reasoning when he asks a cook to do something. Conversely he’s willing to listen when one of the cooks has a suggestion that they’ve reasoned through.

Good communication is also a trait that Norcott cultivates. He wants to be a hands-on chef.  He explains, “I need to be out there on the line and in the prep halls. I need to check on my team to make sure they’re o.k. It's a demanding lifestyle and sometimes cooks don't get compensated for it. It’s important for me to engage with them and create a sense that if they need something, they can come and talk to me about it.”

Oven Roasted Halibut served over Watermelon & Rhubarb Gazpacho with Tempura Snap Peas & Peppered Plum
Oven Roasted Halibut served over Watermelon & Rhubarb Gazpacho with Tempura Snap Peas & Peppered Plum

Being able to learn is the first trait that Norcott looks for in a new hire for the kitchen team. The good cooks, for him, are the ones that want to keep learning and are going to be like information sponges who keep pushing to know more.

Norcott is also looking for cooks who want to perfect each station they’re working at. He says, “You need to know the basics of your station and be able to improve upon them. If you’re bored because you’ve been on the station for two months, it’s because you’re letting it be boring. There’s always something you can improve on, find out what it is and work on it.”

Hard work is a crucial trait on Norcott’s kitchen team. He’s looking out for cooks who come early, leave late and ensure that they’ve finished their duties before they leave. He’ll remember that hard work when it comes to helping a cook to advance their career. He explains, “I’m going to want to keep you around and keep you happy because I know I’ll be able to rely on you.”

Motivation for Norcott comes from wanting to provide a good life for his wife and new baby. Being a chef is the only job that he’s ever wanted to do. Earlier in his career, Norcott questioned his choice but now he says, “I can’t see myself doing anything else with my life. I know I can do this well and so far I’d like to think I’ve been doing a good job.”

Wild BC Halibut with Artichoke Barigoule, Zucchini, Parmesan & Chorizo
Wild BC Halibut with Artichoke Barigoule, Zucchini, Parmesan & Chorizo
Updated: 08/12/2015, Krlmagi
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Mira on 09/16/2015

Another chef who pairs fish with chorizo! I like all his dishes. The salmon one in particular is fabulous. I will be making it.

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