Canadian Chefs Profiled: Nate Catto, Fort McMurray AB

by Krlmagi

Chef Nate Catto is bringing his fresh, local and scratch-made vision of cuisine to Fort McMurray at Atmosfere restaurant.

Nate Catto's culinary career had humble roots. He started out washing dishes, moved into prep cooking and on to the line. He fell in love with the excitement of a busy dinner rush. When he graduated high school, he went to culinary school where he fed off of the passion of the other young cooks around him and that passion led him fully down the culinary path.

Chef Nate Catto
Chef Nate Catto

One of Catto’s pivotal experiences as a chef happened during a co-op program through Camosun College in Victoria. He got a job working at LURE restaurant in the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe hotel where he was inspired by the excitement of the kitchen team there and their love for the job. His enthusiasm was driven by the way they perfected new techniques and the passion they showed every day.


Another experience that helped shape Catto as a chef was running a restaurant on Salt Spring Island. He worked closely with the restaurant's farmer and that close relationship led to him becoming excited about planning the garden, building menus around what the garden produced and having to think creatively when things didn't go as planned. He adds, "When I first came into that role, it was a new adventure every day.”


The approach Catto takes to food and cooking revolves around making everything from scratch. It is essential that he's in touch with the food from its raw state through to the finished plate because that's how he and his team can take pride in it. He'd make his own plates and brew his own beer if he could in order to maintain that sense of ownership.


Catto allows the seasons and his team's passion to guide his creative process as he writes menus. They brainstorm culinary ideas, discuss the techniques that they want to use and products that they'd like to try. They also take the seasons into account in order to get the highest quality of ingredients possible.


Dungeness Crab and Gravlax Roulade
Dungeness Crab and Gravlax Roulade

He also takes inspiration from the cultural backgrounds of the people with whom he works. This culinary diversity allows him to incorporate interesting elements from many different styles of food and draw from the passion of his staff.

Sourcing ingredients has been a challenge for Catto since his move to Fort McMurray due to its remote nature and the fact that it is still developing as a community. While he has to use the large food service suppliers, he is starting to build relationships with farms and suppliers that are more local. He says, "Starting new relationships with those guys is exciting. We’re still in the process of figuring out how it’s going to work for both of us, logistically and financially.”

There are a mixture of traits that Catto hopes to embody as a chef including leadership, passion and inspiration. He enjoys the role of team leader and wants to extend his own passion by inspiring younger generations of cooks and chefs. He enjoys guiding his staff and sees himself teaching at a culinary school at some future date.

He adds that a good chef needs to be able to deal with challenges as they evolve.The restaurant business is unpredictable at the best of times so preparation is key. The right state of mind and the ability to manage stress is an integral part of the work. He adds, "You have to be able to take a step back and see things for what they are."

Braised bison short ribs with Szechuan orange glaze
Braised bison short ribs with Szechuan orange glaze

Forming a good kitchen team is mostly about attitude for Catto. Culinary skills can be taught but the right attitude is something that has to exist already.  He looks for people who are enthusiastic and want to put in the next level of effort. He adds that while he looks for culinary school graduates, it isn’t a requirement, because some of the strongest cooks he’s worked with learned on the job.


Finding motivation can be a struggle for busy chefs but Catto says, “When I started out washing dishes it was just to make a little bit more money and before I knew it, it wasn’t about the money any more. I’ve always done my best for each of the businesses I worked in and tried to make things work better and improve them.”

He continues, “I’ve taken on more roles at this property and it has been absolutely great. It has allowed me to learn more about the back-end of the business and really round out my skills.”

Flourless chocolate lava cake w/ homemade sour cherry and bourbon gelato
Flourless chocolate lava cake w/ homemade sour cherry and bourbon gelato
Updated: 07/02/2015, Krlmagi
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Dave Ashbourne on 08/28/2015

Nate you can definitely throw it down brother!

Krlmagi on 07/01/2015

I wish that I had that distinction. I'm a journalist by training but I'm also a passionate food lover. This little project of mine is mostly done out of that passion. I do, however, have plans to compile these little pieces into a book one day.

blackspanielgallery on 07/01/2015

Nice way to review a chef, an actual interview. Are you a professional food critic?

Mira on 06/30/2015

That lava cake with that ice cream looks like heaven!

Karen on 06/26/2015

Great profile Nate! I will always remember the wonderful dinner you made for Dustin at our house on his birthday after his horrendous accident! Will never forget your generosity and the meal was absolutely amazingly delicious!

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