Canadian Chefs Profiled: Cam Tran, Winnipeg MB

by Krlmagi

Chef Cam Tran combines local and foraged ingredients with classical French recipes, his training as a pastry chef and his deep passion for food at Café Ce Soir in Winnipeg.

As a young man, Chef Cam Tran was unsure of what career path he’d take. His father was a chef but it took a while for Tran to realize that he wanted to take the culinary path. He started out working in a kitchen when he was 16 and moved on to the culinary arts program at Red River College. He got his degree there but elected to move to France and study as a pastry chef.

Chef Cam Tran
Chef Cam Tran
Robin Summerfield

 After completing his studies in France, Tran traveled across Asia for six months before returning to Winnipeg. He explains, “I discovered that it was hard to find a job as a pure pastry chef. Since I also have my culinary degree along with my professional pastry degree, I combined both of them and opened my own bistro café.”

The food that Tran is creating at Café Ce Soir is a combination of locally sourced products, classical French dishes and an Asian flair. Tran uses the example of a dish he made with locally sourced bison that was served with an Asian-inspired sauce and cooked with French culinary techniques.

Showcasing locally grown and foraged products is a big part of Tran’s rationale for opening his restaurant. He is an experienced forager who has studied mushrooms for many years to be safe when picking them, so he seeks wild mushrooms out for his menus. He says, “I pick most of the wild mushrooms as well as some other ingredients that I use in my restaurant. I get really good ingredients without having to spend as much money sourcing them. That means I can serve people a decent portion and it won’t be too expensive for my customers.”

Tran finds inspiration in his pastry training from the precision, the science and the artistry involved in that discipline. He adds, “When you create a dessert you have to think about all the flavours that will combine well and go together. As a pastry chef, I want to create something artistic and flavourful that blows people’s minds.”

The prohibitive factor in making pastry is the amount of time that it takes to create. Tran enjoys the act of creating desserts but admits that there’s a time factor. However, he is proud of many of the cakes he creates, saying, “For example, my ‘death by chocolate’ cake is a six-layer flourless chocolate cake. It has alternating layers of creme brûlée and chocolate mousse with a dark glaze. It takes me two to three days on my own to create one cake like that.”

Chef Tran's take on steak tartare
Chef Tran's take on steak tartare

Supporting local producers over large food conglomerates is important for Tran. He points out, “The local farmers are having a hard time competing. I want to help provide them with a living by using their products. For example, I go directly to a farmer for the eggs that I buy and I’ll pay them more than what a larger company would pay them. On the other hand, I’m paying less than what I’d pay at a grocery store.”

Tran adds, “My bison supplier is struggling to sell his local product in the area. Most of his clients are actually from the ‘States.  I find that sad that a small producer can’t sell his local product in Canada.”

Having a passion for the culinary world is crucial for any chef in Tran’s view. He says, “Being in the restaurant industry, you don’t make a lot of money, so you have to do it because you love it. With my restaurant, I want to make enough money to keep the business going but I also want to make myself happy.”

Another important trait for any chef is the ability to take criticism and work with it for Tran. He explains, “You need to be able to take criticism and learn from it. You need to ask how you can do things better the next time.”

The third pillar of a good chef is creativity in Tran’s view. He says, “You also have to be creative and that’s why when I go anywhere, I let my imagination roam.”

Chef Tran's cassoulet with duck confit
Chef Tran's cassoulet with duck confit

 When it comes to the people with whom Tran works, he’s looking for honesty and passion. He is also looking for, “someone who is easy going but creative and willing to learn.”

Experience isn’t necessarily something Tran looks for in his kitchen team. He points out, “Sometimes it’s easier to have somebody without experience because you can show them from the beginning and prevent them from developing bad habits. It’s harder to correct someone who is experienced but who has developed bad habits.”

Knowing when to ask for help is something Tran looks for in his kitchen. He says, “Sometimes I give people a classic recipe and ask them to make it. If they can’t do it and they ask for help or ask why it didn’t work, I’m willing to teach them about why but if they won’t even try or ask me to teach them, it’s a trade that really isn’t meant for them.”

Inspiration comes from reading for Tran. He says, “I don’t have television so I do a lot of reading. That’s what I do in my time off to allow myself to relax.  Sometimes to get inspiration, I try to borrow elements of classical recipes or look at 17th or 18th century dishes to try and recreate them without a recipe.”

Chef Tran shows off his pastry training with this praline cheesecake.
Chef Tran shows off his pastry training with this praline cheesecake.
Updated: 03/06/2016, Krlmagi
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