Canadian Chefs: Nicholas Nutting, Tofino B.C

by Krlmagi

Chef Nicholas Nutting combines locally sourced, sustainable ingredients with an approach that respects them.

Chef Nicholas Nutting’s approach to cooking takes the straightforward path of treating his locally sourced ingredients with respect and moving his menus with the seasons. Nutting says that he wants to create food that he'd like to eat on his days off in a unpretentious, fun atmosphere while still using good cooking technique.

Chef Nutting in the kitchen.
Chef Nutting in the kitchen.

 

I started off taking economics at the University of Victoria. I would work at restaurants in the summer to pay my tuition. In about the third year of economics, I had a change of heart and that's when I packed my bags and headed to the Prairies.  I had a couple of buddies who were going to culinary school in Calgary. I enrolled in the culinary program at SAIT. You know, when you're going to school for something you actually enjoy doing it's a completely different world. I had a really good time in school. I was a member of the culinary competition team there and I really enjoyed that.

At first, I was doing numbers in school but I have a bit of an artistic side to me too. Cooking's a nice balance because you can go as far either way as you like. I like hands on work and I like the artistic aspect of it and its still scientific if you want it to be.

 

 

Working for Michael Noble and his chef Neil McCue was a major step for me. I hadn't really worked in a serious kitchen where we were the best new restaurant in Canada that year. Every cook that was working for Michael that year was really, really good. I was one of the  apprentices that didn't know what was going on. It was definitely a pretty major thing that shaped me. Surrounding yourself with really good cooks right from the start is important. In the world of cooking who you work for is really important when you're young and taking all of this knowledge on like a sponge.

The chef at the Wickaninnish Inn, Andrew Springett, was also a big influence. I'd met Andrew while he was at Catch and I thought he was a really sweet guy, talented and really different from the guys I worked with before. Coming and working with Andrew at the Wickaninnish as a cook was pretty monumental.  Andrew's pretty easy going. I've only seen him mad a couple of times and he has an amazing knack for teaching people.

My time in Montréal was really good too. Growing up on the west coast and cooking in Tofino and even in Calgary, at the time, the scene was just emerging. It was a different experience going out to Montréal where you could serve anything to anybody. You could serve sweetbreads and liver and brains. I learned how to butcher a rabbit properly as well as a lot of classical techniques there.  I learned a completely different take on cooking that was a little more blood and guts.

Bamfield seaweed salad with shiitakes, wild rice and daikon.
Bamfield seaweed salad with shiitakes, wild rice and daikon.

3. Discuss your current approach to food and cooking.

We're trying to bring the same level of technique and skill to the food as a "fine dining" restaurant but present it in a fun manner. We play the music a little louder, we have an open kitchen and we're having fun back there. We obviously opened during the busy season so we'll get more sophisticated as we go. We want people to have fun in the restaurant.

I don't want to have one of those places where the dining room is quiet and the silverware is clinking and people are uncomfortable.  We're doing cocktails to share here, we're doing plates to share. You can come in and order a big steak for two people to share and enjoy a punchbowl of cocktails for your table. If I was going to a restaurant on my day off, I'm trying to build the place I'd want to go to.  We have a burger on our menu but we also have foie gras. I think people are willing to try new things and expand what they're eating but it needs to be presented to them in a way that's not intimidating.

 

4. Walk me through how you create new dishes from ideas through to execution.

Up here the creative process starts with the product. Yesterday afternoon we received a salmon that was caught that day so that determined what we were going to do. There's a guy up here named Alexander who's a wild forager and he brings us sea asparagus or edible flowers that he finds in the forest. The product ends up coming to you in Tofino and you don't have to do a lot to a beautiful piece of fish, a live Dungeness crab or a mushroom that was picked a few hours ago. After that it all goes back to asking myself what I'd want to see on my plate if I was going out to eat. There doesn't really have to be any rules when it comes to cuisine. I like using a bit of spice here and there, I like using little injections of ethnic cuisine. I don't mind having some interesting flavours from around the world to supplement the product.

 

5. How do you go about sourcing ingredients?

There number one thing is the seafood. I'm standing on the patio and I can see the dock where the fish comes in from here. We've got some really great fish suppliers, the fish comes in and they drive one block up the hill and drop it off. Number two is the wild foragers that are also out there and that's kind of just starting now. Along with that you get a lot of people bringing in wild berries and tons of stuff. The third thing that's been pretty key up here is the Tofino-Ucluelet Culinary Guild which was formed by several of the chefs here. The idea is that we're not trying to one up the other guy and keep all the good product for ourselves, we're in it as a group. We have our guy, Bobby Lax, who does his down island runs in a refrigerated truck and picks up things from different farms that he's found or that have product that I want.

Charred Humboldt squid with Vietnamese slaw.
Charred Humboldt squid with Vietnamese slaw.

6. What are some of the traits that you hope you have as a chef?

You definitely learn a lot as you go. I hope that I'm a good example for the kids that are working under me. You can't really do anything without your staff so its exciting to have some really great young cooks working for us. Some of the kids have come from fairly far away to come work for me so I hope my skill set is strong enough and that my disposition in the kitchen is exemplary. I don't want to be a chef who's shouting and throwing stuff around. I want to be a guy who makes it fun to come to work.  I don't think you need to rule with an iron fist to get a good product. You need to have a standard but the best way to achieve a standard is to make your team stoked to do it, not to ram it down their throats.  As far as actually "chefing" it up, I hope that when people come into the restaurant that I'm showing them good technique and creativity that they wouldn't find at the price point elsewhere.


7. Talk about what keeps you motivated as a chef.

There are so many things! I love cooking and I got to design my own kitchen here and I love coming into my brand new, sparkling kitchen and getting to do what I love. I love every little job in the kitchen, none of them aren't cool. I love just getting to work with my team. We opened the gates during a busy time here, we didn't have a soft opening. Our soft opening was two hundred and fifty covers! Nothing will keep you motivated like setting the expectation that we were going to put out a good product. There hasn't been a dull moment and these long, busy services have helped the team grow. It's us versus the mountain of covers coming it so its fun.

Spanish Picnic - A share platter with cod, octopus, mussels, romesco sauce, tomato salad and focaccia.
Spanish Picnic - A share platter with cod, octopus, mussels, romesco sauce, tomato salad and focaccia.
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Updated: 01/26/2015, Krlmagi
 
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