Chef Steve Smee grew up in a family that enjoyed cooking and food. He explains, “My dad did the cooking at home. It was one of his hobbies so I was exposed to it a lot and I got into the habit of cooking. My family used to go out for dinner pretty much once a week so I got fascinated by restaurants at a young age.”
Canadian Chefs in Conversation: Steve Smee, Calgary AB
Chef Steve Smee creates innovative, flavourful dishes with a vegetable forward focus at Ten Foot Henry.
Chef Steve Smee
Initially, Smee wanted to go to universty and get a business degree, but he continued to cook part time while he was taking classes. He worked for a chef named John Udell who told him that he’d make a chef out of him one day. After finishing at university, Smee went into cooking full time. Smee adds, “I was also influenced by Chef Nicole Gomes and Peter Belucci who cooked at Mercato for quite some time.”
Smee’s other restaurant ventures like Una and Ox & Angela were focused on the Old World but, the food at Ten Foot Henry is his take on new North American cuisine. Smee explains, “The United States is a melting pot, Canada is a cultural mosaic so we wanted to create a menu that celebrated those socio-economic models.”
The other major focus on the menu at Ten Foot Henry is vegetable-driven cuisine. Smee says, “A lot of cultures eat that way and we felt that it was a little healthier so we wanted to represent that on our menu. It’s also the way my wife and I eat at home so we wanted to present a little bit of ourselves to the guests.”
After determining the restaurant’s concept and what the market is looking for, Smee’s process of menu creation begins. In the case of Ten Foot Henry, they settled on the idea of family style sharing plates. Smee points out, “It works with our floor plan, it works with the whole experience we want to create."
Once they’ve established a concept, the team writes the menu to suit it. Smee and his team look at many factors to determine what they need including the balance of between meat, fish and vegetable dishes as well as the different texture and flavour elements of each dish. At that point, they start writing specific dishes. The culinary team will take inspiration from diverse influences including classic cookbooks and current culinary thinking.
Smee goes on to say, “We try to get some concepts on paper and then we start testing. We test all the items and see if they work or not. It goes to testing it with a broader panel to see if people liked it. After that, we’ll put it on the menu and after it’s done time on the menu, we’ll take it off and replace it with something new.”
Quality is the main consideration for Smee when selecting his ingredients. He’s also a proponent of supporting mid-sized farming. He explains, “We’re looking for people who are living in reality. They have to be able to produce a certain amount of food on their farm. We look for people who aren’t super industrial in scale. We’re looking for people whose operations are a little more sophisticated than the person who’s just growing a few acres.”
He adds, “When it comes to produce, you try and look locally but at the same time we also look within North America. It’s 2015 and the way that food travels is pretty effective and efficient.”
Mash, goat yogourt, verjus, fried egg
Many of Smee’s suppliers have worked with him for over fifteen years and are people he’s worked with throughout his career. When it comes to finding new suppliers, he says that he still likes to start looking at the farmer’s market, even though he’s seeking mid-sized producers.
The approach that Smee takes to being a chef is simple. He points out, “I don’t want to come across with any ego or attitude. I just want to be myself. It’s not brain surgery, it’s just food. Having said that we want the guest’s experience to be paramount, it’s not about us showing off what we can do in the kitchen, it’s about our guests leaving with a smile every day!”
The biggest trait that Smee seeks in his kitchen team is a positive attitude. He says, “As long as they come to work every day, put a smile on, have some fun and enjoy what they do while staying professional, that’s all we’re looking for.”
Inspiration for cooking comes from eating for Smee. He says, “You get out there and experience what other cuisines are like and what other chefs are doing. Those things leave taste memories on your palate that you want to recreate or expand on.”
This profile of Steve Smee is based on an interview conducted via telephone and recorded on April 18, 2016.