Canadian Winery Chefs: Rob Cordonier, Hillside Winery, Penticton B.C

by Krlmagi

Chef Rob Cordonier combines locally sourced ingredients with refined culinary technique at Hillside Winery's bistro.

Growing up in a family interested in food was the start of Chef Rob Cordonier's culinary journey. His family made preserves and jams from what they grew in their large garden and raised chickens and rabbits. It was this influence that lit the first spark of interest in him.

After getting a job in a restaurant at the age of fourteen, Cordonier found himself drawn towards the restaurant industry for the financial independence as well as the energetic atmosphere of the kitchen, but it wasn't until he went to culinary school that he understood what it meant to be a chef. At that point, Cordonier's eyes were opened to the potential of the culinary world.

Chef Rob Cordonier
Chef Rob Cordonier
Hillside Winery

One of Cordonier's first moments of culinary inspiration came when he was a child. His family was on vacation in Lake Louise and they ate in the Chateau Lake Louise restaurant. Cordonier was electrified by the atmosphere and the food he was eating. He says, "Although I wasn't aware of the subtlety of technique and service going on around me at the time, I knew I was part of something really special and cool and that stuck with me."

Another one of Cordonier's strong culinary influences was Chef Vince Stefano. Cordonier worked under him at the Chateau Whistler and was influenced by Stefano's passion for farm fresh ingredients as well as his charisma, leadership style and the sheer quality of food that they were putting out. He adds, "After spending a few years in generic restaurants, going back to the fresh food that I grew up with and putting it together with new techniques was a little bit mind-blowing for me at the time."

The passion that Cordonier has for local ingredients is driven by the simple knowledge that food is a living thing. As soon as the products are harvested, they start losing quality, so Cordonier wants to get his ingredients as close to the source as possible. For example, "If you take something that's perfectly ripe from a grocery store and you put it next to something that's picked perfectly ripe off of a tree and take a bite out of each one, it is hard to describe or do justice to that comparison because the one from the tree is a completely different fruit."

Pan Seared Kamloops Rainbow Trout with Cattail and Mushroom Stew
Pan Seared Kamloops Rainbow Trout with Cattail and Mushroom Stew
Rob Cordonier

When it comes to his approach to cooking, Cordonier uses the example of a dish he created with trout and cattail roots.  The process started when he got foraged cattails and spruce shoots. He pickled some of the cattails along with the spruce shoots in a mixture of rice wine vinegar and ginger. At that point, he wanted to create a special dish for a VIP table, so he paired the pickled cattails with rainbow trout.

Cordonier explains, "I used the correlation of, "What grows together, goes together.'  The trout paired really nicely with the Viognier they were drinking. I wanted to figure out how I could accent the succulence and body of that Viognier so I made a monte au beurre with the cattails and some pickling liquid, added the beautifully seared trout and it all came together quite nicely."

Independent thinking is one of the crucial traits for a chef in Cordonier's view.  Working through the competing influences of people's expectations, the requests of guests and the different trends in cooking require a chef to think for himself or herself. Cordonier says, "I think if you listen to too many other people and cook for too many other people you're going to lose your path."

Orange-Kissed Crab Doughnuts with Miso Aioli
Orange-Kissed Crab Doughnuts with Miso Aioli
Hillside Winery

A good sense of business acumen is also important for Cordonier. A good chef needs to be able to take a step back, look at the business dispassionately and try to work with profit margins so that money can be made. Cordonier also emphasizes the importance of people management skills. He adds, "You can have all of the talent in the world and all of the creativity in the world but you need those people management skills!"

Nurturing relationships with his kitchen team is crucial in Cordonier's view. He has had long standing relationships with the people on his team and believes in treating them well, holding onto them and promoting their growth as cooks. The chef likes to include them in his menu writing process to give them a sense of investment in the team.

The constantly changing nature of cooking is a strong inspiration to Cordonier. He says, "I've been cooking for over 20 years and a cook straight out of cooking school showed me three new techniques I'd never seen before in one week. It's those little nuances and the continual learning that keeps things fresh, new and exciting!"

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Updated: 10/02/2015, Krlmagi
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pam on 07/20/2013

way to go Rob you really inspire!!!!

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