What inspired you to go into food? How did you get started?
I grew up baking with my mom and my grandma. Then when I was 20 years old, like every 20-year-old, I couldn't help but think “what am I going to do with my life?” So, I decided to go to UBC for my Bachelor of Arts. I just felt like I needed to do something, although I had no idea what I actually wanted to do. I went on an exchange with UBC to Berlin, and I loved Berlin. I didn't have a skill that allowed me to work there, but when I was there I thought, if I could cook, I could do that anywhere. So, needless to say, I came back, dropped out of UBC and went to VCC for their Culinary Arts program. It was going to be a temporary thing, but once I started doing it, I loved it. It finally dawned on me that instead of worrying about what I should be doing, why not make a career based on what I’ve always loved to do.
We heard you had a food truck, tell us about that.
It’s kind of a funny story. I grew up in Langley and my sister and I had a pony from a pretty young age. We couldn’t really afford to have the pony because they’re so expensive, so we worked for her board. When I was 15 years old, one of the jobs I picked up was working on someone’s food truck. The owner basically built the thing and said “do what you want with it”. I had no idea how to cook, or how to create a menu. We made a menu that was what we thought to be ‘healthy fast food’. We worked at horse shows and created custom salads, pasta dishes and soups; it was a really simple menu. We’d make the sauces at home and then bring them onto the truck. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t allowed but we sold them out of the food truck anyway. Back then, food trucks weren’t really a thing yet, and I don’t remember the rules being as strict as they are now!
The following year the owner wasn’t interested in keeping the truck, so we decided to buy it from him. My mom and my aunt thought it would be a great summer job, and so it was our little business that we had NO idea how to run. We managed to own it for a couple of years, and honestly, I wish I still had it.
What’s your creative process when you’re creating dishes?
Creating the menu for Nectar presented a new challenge for me, since I’d never attempted to include adaptogens in recipes before! So, for this menu, I researched quite a few books on adaptogens in order to familiarize myself with this exciting, sometimes daunting list of new (for me) ingredients.
My process is pretty formulaic...I’ll start by mapping out the menu with ideas and flavours I want to include, trying to ensure it’s well rounded, and filling in the gaps. Then the same goes for each dish! There are a few points I always try to cover, like colour, texture, composition, and of course, flavour.
What is it that you love about cooking?
I love the lead-up. I like to come up with the formula. For me, the menu has to be well rounded, as does each dish. Flavour, colour, texture, temperature, everything. I love the research part of it. I love eating out at new places, and looking at cookbooks.
Has anyone been an inspiration to you?
I got my start in cooking at Chambar, where I worked for a few years under Nico Schuermans, the chef/owner. He’s an amazing chef! He has this depth of knowledge about flavours. He’s always making things that you’d think would never go together and yet, when you have them, it works.
When I think about what Nico taught me, it’s the use of spices and how to create something that’s well rounded. He taught me how to finish things; how to season things. Cooking school doesn’t teach you about that. He showed me how to make something taste good.
Creatively he was incredible and I drew a lot of inspiration from him. I still call him all of the time with questions about business or food. He was also an incredible boss; he ran the kitchen really well and he was always kind to his people. Everybody respected him and he always led by example (which to this day I still take with me). If I’m going to tell someone to do something, I better do it first.
We’ve heard you nourish an Olympic athlete. Tell us a little bit about that.
I do private chef work in the winter months for Kent Farrington, who is ranked #1 in the world for equestrian show jumping. It’s a really difficult sport at that level, and he’s wild about his fitness, and realizes that his nutrition plays a key factor in his health and athletic abilities. I created a menu for him based on his optimal calorie intake and nutritional needs, but I didn’t want to cook a lot of meat, so I introduced him to a lot of different ways to get protein, like high protein grains.
I cook for him 7 days a week for 4 months over the winter, and I really enjoy that job because I’m creating a new menu every day and there’s a lot of research that goes into that. So far, he’s liked everything I’ve cooked because he feels good when he eats it. And he’s still #1 in the world!
Who would you say helped you develop your strong work ethic?
My mom, definitely. A lot of the time when I’m being wild at work, I can’t help but think “OMG, I’m my mom”. She has really high standards. She would never leave until the job was done, and she’d never complain about it. She just did it. She taught me that at the food truck, and in everything she does.
I think it also came from working in a stable from a really young age, for many years, because with horses you can’t slack off; it’s their welfare.
What's your relationship to Nectar?
Tori and I connected when a mutual friend realized that we could be helpful to one another. We have totally opposing skills, and we were what each other was looking for at the time. I wanted to expand my knowledge of nutrition, health and cooking for wellness, while Tori was eager to add an adaptogenic food menu to the Nectar lineup and needed someone to develop and execute it! It was an obvious fit!
You also own a restaurant in Langley, can you give us the rundown on that?
That’s another funny story. The guy who used to owned the food truck contacted me and asked if I wanted to take over the restaurant / catering business at the horse show he manages in Langley. I wasn’t sure, but I went out there to check it out, I kind of fell in love with the beautiful little free-standing wood building with a kitchen that was open for any interpretation I wanted. I decided to take over the lease there, and created a menu that was what I wanted to serve. It’s crazy to think that in 2012 I had the food truck, with no idea what I was doing and now I’m back here running a full, high-volume kitchen and staff and actually knowing how to cook (which obviously helps!). I’ve been doing it for 5 years now, in the spring and summer. It’s only open from April to August, at Thunderbird Show Park in Langley.
We heard you love animal videos on YouTube. This seems like the perfect way to end an interview.
Haha yes! Here’s my top two.
Spirit Black Leopard Animal Psychic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvwHHMEDdT0
Jake Nodar – dancing with pony: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dm2C_pnaz-4