Canadian Chefs: Reuben Major, Belgard Kitchen, Vancouver B.C

by Krlmagi

Chef Reuben Major works closely with local producers to create seasonal food that shows off the hard work of the producers at Belgard Kitchen in Vancouver.

Chef Reuben Major grew up on a farm picking vegetables from the family garden and cooking for his family, but he never considered a culinary career until he got a front of house job at a restaurant and then moved into the kitchen. He fell in love with cooking then and his career has continued apace.

Beet Salad: Roasted & pickled beets, goat cheese coulis, beet + Postmark IPA puree, watercress salad, crispy shallots
Beet Salad: Roasted & pickled beets, goat cheese coulis, beet + Postmark IPA puree, watercress salad, crispy shallots

A trip through Southeast Asia, Australia and Korea at the age of twenty-two gave Major some culinary inspiration and sparked a long standing interest in Asian cooking. It was his first real experience with the variety and diversity of the world’s food.

Another early experience that had a strong influence on Major was working with a group of inspirational cooks and chefs. This experience taught him the value of leadership and mentoring in the kitchen. The experience also helped him learn how to effectively manage a kitchen. He says, “It was almost as much about taking people under my wing as it was about cooking. I still really like that side of things.”

The movement towards supporting local producers is something that excites Major. He’s also pleased to see people learning more about where their food comes from and how it impacts their bodies and the world around them. Major cooks seasonally, supports local producers and keeps the restaurant’s carbon footprint as low as possible by taking this approach.

Balance is an important factor when Major is writing menus so he considers where a dish might fit into the overall theme and which dishes should be taken off the menu. He explains, “The menu shouldn’t be constantly expanding. You want to keep it small and do a few things well rather than a lot of things at a mediocre level. I want to keep things interesting.” He also changes his menus based on what seasonal produce is available.

Belgard Meatballs: spicy Italian style meatballs, San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh mozza, Grana Padano, grilled sourdough
Belgard Meatballs: spicy Italian style meatballs, San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh mozza, Grana Padano, grilled sourdough

Part of the challenge of menu writing at Belgard Kitchen is the fact that they have a lunch menu, a brunch menu and an evening menu. The lunch menu was designed to support the local businesses around the restaurant, so they have a daily fresh sheet with four new dishes every day. Major wants to create a great deal of variety to keep his local customers interested.

The evening menu takes into account regular customers who might visit monthly or even weekly. Major focuses less on variety and more on seasonal features with the evening menu. The brunch menu is more static and combines elements of the other two menus.

Supporting local producers is something on which Major focuses when he sources ingredients. He says, “For example, I get all of my meats from Two Rivers Meats and we’ve got a great relationship. It’s a very personal relationship. I can call and get something on the fly, we talk about their brand, they talk about our brand so there’s some cross promotion and it’s just a really nice way to work.”

Belgard Bacon: maple + bourbon braised pork belly.
Belgard Bacon: maple + bourbon braised pork belly.

He also mentions another company called Sky Harvest. They grow microgreens in a warehouse close to the restaurant. The greens are snipped, packaged and delivered to Major’s kitchen by bicycle. Major points out that this keeps the carbon footprint low and allows him to get products on short notice. He adds that if his business increases, so does that of his producers.

Leadership and mentoring is crucial for Major. He says, “If your people trust you and know that you support them, they’ll bend over backwards for you. Don’t take people for granted, they’re your most important resource!”

Trust, integrity, hard work and honesty trump skill when Major is looking for a new member of the kitchen team. He’d rather hire “someone with great character over great skill.” Having the right people on board is the most important factor for him.

Major is driven and inspired by people enjoying his food and the whole dining experience. He feels that his restaurant is his home and he treats people as though they’re coming over for a dinner party. He adds, “If people trust me, I love to order for the table and explain everything behind the food, how I came up with the recipe, why it’s in season or where the food is produced. I like to deliver all of that. Going out for dinner is an expensive occasion and a privilege so when people shake my hand and thank me, it makes it all worth it.

Updated: 08/05/2015, Krlmagi
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