Canadian Chefs: Warren Barr, Tofino B.C

by Krlmagi

Chef Warren Barr utilizes the freshest seafood out of the waters off of Tofino and locally grown and organic produce and meats in his cuisine at the Wickaninnish Inn.

Warren Barr's approach to cooking starts with using the best possible ingredients that are locally sourced, sustainable and organic. He forges these into unique dishes that respect the place they're in as well as the seasons that they represent in the ingredients that they utilize. For Barr, these dishes represent a sense of place and the people who worked hard to grow or forage the ingredients.

Chef Warren Barr in the kitchen.
Chef Warren Barr in the kitchen.

Warren Barr's approach to cooking starts with using the best possible ingredients that are locally sourced, sustainable and organic. He forges these into unique dishes that respect the place they're in as well as the seasons that they represent in the ingredients that they utilize. For Barr, these dishes represent a sense of place and the people who worked hard to grow or forage the ingredients.

 

Barr explains that he didn’t grow up in a house with a culinary bent. It wasn’t until he’d traveled and finished high school, so that he could go to hotel management school, that he began his fascination with the culinary world. He says that his enjoyment of cooking was fueled by his dual interests in art and science.  Barr points out that with cooking, “You can pick how much you want to lean on the artistic side of things or how much you want to lean on the scientific side of things of being a chef.”

 

When it comes to experiences that have shaped him, Barr cites his apprenticeship as a major one. As he says, it was the first time he’d gotten really serious about cooking. The apprenticeship was at Le Crocodile in Vancouver and, as the chef says, it was run by classically trained French chefs. This meant, “There was lots of yelling and maybe a little pulling on the ear and slapping you around a little bit. It was all done properly, it wasn’t like it was abusive or anything. It was like breaking a horse and they rebuilt me from there.”

 

Another influence on his career was working at Michael Smith’s Inn on Bay Fortune in P.E.I. Barr says that its approach to using local ingredients helped him get deeper in touch with the product. He explains that everything was either grown on site or brought in from around the island.  He adds, “It gave me the opportunity to take my inspiration from being on the farm and from the farmers just knowing how much effort, time and love these people were putting into simple things like potatoes and beets.”

Barr says that his experience on P.E.I. has informed his current approach to cooking at the Wickaninnish Inn. He says that, along with his sous chef, he’s put together a menu that is, “super product driven and really Canadian.” He says that he’s embracing foraged food as part of his menus too.

Salt Cod Benny - Brandade cakes, piperade, poached egg, roasted peppers and zucchini, basil hollandaise.
Salt Cod Benny - Brandade cakes, piperade, poached egg, roasted peppers and zucchini, basil hollandaise.
Tuna with Buttermilk - Herb oil, pickled chanterelles, lightly blanched leeks.
Tuna with Buttermilk - Herb oil, pickled chanterelles, lightly blanched leeks.

Creating those menus is a balance of forecasting what products are coming up and being inspired by things that come into the restaurant according to Barr. He says that he tries to forecast what will be coming up in the menu change while still taking in foraged products as they come. After that, he says, “We also factor in what we want to be doing with the dish and how it can embody all of our ideas about food. All of those things are the building blocks of it and then we like to finish it in a way that we can call ours and is reflective of the island.”

 

The unique location of the Wickaninnish Inn on the wild West coast of B.C. means that Barr has access to a plethora of natural and foraged ingredients. He gives the example of some of the people who work with him and says, “We have a forager named Alex McNaughton who brings up all sorts of goodies for us” and adds, “The only local farmer in this area is a guy named Douglas Brooker. He’s just the kind of character you expect to find up here. There’s a little crazy in his eyes but he has this unreal green thumb and anything he grows is amazing.”

 

As an executive chef, Barr says that there are a number of traits that he feels are important. He explains that a good chef should be able to inspire his kitchen team when the rush is on. There’s also the need, he explains, to, “inspire and keep cooks motivated with interesting food” and to, “not always have the answers but maybe experiment with your cooks, let them see you fail and then show them what to do when they fail.”

Ultimately, Barr points out, “My food will always be ingredient driven, it will always reflect the area I’m in and always trying to create Canadian food. Those things will never change.”

Corn and Basil Dessert - Corn sponge,  aerated basil white chocolate, crystallized basil.
Corn and Basil Dessert - Corn sponge, aerated basil white chocolate, crystallized basil.
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Updated: 01/22/2015, Krlmagi
 
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