Chef Cameron Young says he's inspired by the nature that he's surrounded by and the abundance of ingredients that reflect those natural surroundings. He takes stock of locally available ingredients and creates dishes that convey the essence of Vancouver Island and Tofino. He explains that he wants to create refined comfort food.
Chefs in Canada: Cameron Young, Spotted Bear Bistro, Tofino B.C
Taking stock of his surroundings and local ingredients helps inspire Chef Cameron Young when he's creating menus at the Spotted Bear Bistro.
Chef Cameron Young
The first inspiration to become a chef for Young was cooking with his mother when he was young. He says that he'd stand on a chair and cut mushrooms with a butter knife. He adds wryly, "After that I'd wonder if we'd have mushrooms in every meal we were having." He worked at a fish and chip restaurant for his first job and has continued in the culinary vein ever since, in spite of some absences from the industry. He credits all of his family and friends for teaching him to love food when he was young.
The chef who helped give Young his start as a young cook was Victoria's George Szaz. Young says that the chef introduced him to his first working kitchen, impressed him with his culinary philosophy and taught him how to treat ingredients.
Young's approach to food and cooking has changed since he started in Tofino. He explains that he wants to focus on seafood and the plethora of local ingredients he can get on Vancouver Island's west coast as well as more foraged goods. He says that he's also been influenced by the new wave of Scandinavian cooking and adds, "I'm always open to learning, gaining more knowledge and experimenting with food."
The chef's creative process is also heavily influenced by the natural surroundings of Tofino. He says that he wants to create "quintessential" Tofino dishes that capture the experience of the whole area in their ingredients. He points out, "I'm trying to get as many of our natural elements onto the plate and really show people my love of our local ingredients."
Spotted Bear smoked mussels: Saltspring Island mussels, alder smoked in house, fresh herbs and a light pine broth.
Young's unique surroundings are both a boon and a bane when it comes to sourcing ingredients because of the remote nature of Tofino and the distances between the different points of Vancouver Island. However, an organization called the Tofino/Uclulet Culinary Guild was formed to help get products to chefs in the area. He adds that all of his fish suppliers are local and he gets his meats from a mainland farm called Two Rivers. He explains that he tries to source as many local things as possible and adds, "try to keep it to the west coast and not too far out of B.C."
The culinary world is an ever-evolving place and Young is intrigued by some of the recent developments. He says that foraging fascinates him especially given the area in which he's cooking. He also finds the idea of returning to simpler, more natural methods of cooking interesting. He says, "People are looking for refined comfort food so there's more cooking over open flames and treating food more naturally instead of taking it and turning it into something that it doesn't resemble."
He adds that the movement towards people cooking at home is a challenge for chefs. He says it forces chefs to raise the level of their cooking and to, "take these fantastic ingredients we're getting and elevate them to the point that they (people) can't do it at home."
Cheesy pork sticks: braised pork cheek, herbs and Fontina cheese served with housemade ketchup.
104° salmon with salmon skin crumble: Pedrosa Farms asparagus, radish, carrot and pickled spruce tip.
In Young's view, there are a number of qualities that are essential to being a good chef in the kitchen. The first essential quality is leadership according to the chef. He explains that you can't be quiet or shut down. Another important quality for any chef to possess is creativity. Young also points out that a willingness to teach is crucial. he says, "There are so many cooks and chefs now who aren't willing to teach and learn the old techniques even though they're coming back." He says that, equally, a chef needs to be willing to learn new techniques and ideas.
He says that it is important for young cooks to learn about every aspect of the food that they're putting out. He says, "So many bigger restaurants have cooks in the kitchen who don't even know what's going on. They just cook a pre-portioned steak without knowing where on the animal it came from or where the animal came from."
Motivation for Young comes from the variability of the seasons and the ingredients to which he has access. He explains that repeating the same tasks in the kitchen can get stale so the chance to learn and try new things keeps him fresh. He also says that he gains inspiration from reading about what's happening in major culinary centres and collecting cookbooks to inspire him.
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