Food, says Chef Shaun Edmonstone, was an inevitable path for him. He points out that his father’s side of the family were honey producers and his mother’s side had a market garden. He says that as a small child he’d sneak into his neighbour’s garden and eat their tomatoes. He adds, “I love food because it’s a great way to bring people together and build a community. What other way can we express ourselves about where we live and who we are?”
Canadian Chefs Profiled: Shaun Edmonstone, Thornbury ON
Shaun Edmonstone creates seasonal, accessible food with locally-sourced ingredients at Bruce wine bar kitchen in Thornbury ON
Chef Shaun Edmonstone
One of the major formative experiences for him as a chef was working at Pangaea restaurant in Toronto, Edmonstone says. He explains that he was given the opportunity to be as creative as he wanted within certain broad parameters there. He says, “I love to pickle stuff, do chutneys, do charcuterie and whole animal breakdowns. It was like ‘Hey! You want to do that stuff? Go out, source the ingredients and do it!’ “
He also talks about his broad experiences of working in a variety of settings from a 750-seat restaurant to a large-scale catering business and growing up in an area of Ontario that was full of apple orchards bordering on Georgian Bay. He talks about the formative experience of going fishing in the bay and eating a shore lunch of trout and fiddleheads as a child.
Edmonstone says that he respects seasonality at Bruce and also takes into account the broad group of people who dine there when creating his food. He explains, “We can have a six year-old eating a cheese pizza and finishing off the meal with house doughnuts or their parents eating our twenty-six hour braised short ribs with truffle fried potatoes and a nice jus.”
Kolapore Springs trout with soft fried hen's egg, heirloom carrots, pickled beans and confit Ontario potatoes
The chef adds that he likes to stick to classic techniques. He says that he wants to treat food simply without manipulating it too much and obtain as many ingredients as locally as possible. He goes on to say, “I love the idea that when somebody eats something it takes them back to sitting at their grandmother’s table or the time that they had really great tapas in Spain.”
When it comes to writing menus and creating new dishes, Edmonstone says that he meets with his staff and they discuss how they can explore their available ingredients and challenge themselves. He says that they’ll look at what they can do with flavour profiles, textures and techniques to showcase the ingredients. He explains that they take the seasons into account and either “apply new techniques that we haven’t done or classic techniques that we look at in a new way” to create new dishes.
Working with small farms and local producers is something that Edmonstone is excited about. He says that more small farms are springing up locally that grow different pulses and legumes. There is, he says, also a proliferation of local artisan oils and vinegars. Edmonstone adds that his restaurant is gaining a good reputation with farmers and says, “If you show up at my door, as long as the cooler’s not full and you aren’t charging astronomical prices, I’ll take your product. I don’t haggle with them because that’s what it costs them to grow that product.”
Organic chicken and apple slaw waffle with maple chilli syrup
The traits that Edmonstone thinks are important in a chef are the ability to learn, a sense of humility and being able to take a step back and reassess a situation. There isn’t much yelling in his kitchen now, the chef says, although he adds that as a younger cook he did shout more. He says, “Coming up through the ranks from dishwasher to chef has taught me many lessons. I’ve found respect for everybody. There’s an old rule in the kitchen that the lowest paid person (the dishwasher) is actually the most important because we can’t do our job without them.” He adds that the ability to multitask and good organizational skills are also important factors for a chef.
Edmonstone says that he’s looking for cooks who want to learn. He says that if people are willing to respect the ingredients he’ll allow them plenty of creative free rein. He explains, “We make food, we season it well and we treat it simply. If you can do that, what comes out on the other end is something beautiful.”
The chef discusses how he finds inspiration as a chef. He says that part of it comes from nature and his family. Another source of inspiration is teaching his cooks. Edmonstone says, “I love seeing cooks transform themselves and develop their own ideas and flavour profiles. Giving them the opportunity to do that gives me inspiration as well.”
An assortment of local mushrooms