Thursday, May 26, 2011

Lindsay Adams, Apprentice Chef

the road less travelled – from theatre arts and business to restaurants and vegetarian cuisine

Lindsay Adams is in the second year of a three-year cooking program at SIAST and an apprentice under Chef Moe Mathieu of White Birch Catering. She loves what she is doing, but it has been a steep learning curve as she has transitioned from a university degree in business and the arts to hands-on experience in restaurant kitchens.

Italy: simple food, amazingly fresh produce
Lindsay grew up in Calgary and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from Redeemer University in Hamilton, Ontario. She majored in theatre arts with a double minor in business and creative writing. “It wasn’t a practical degree,” she says, “but it covered everything I enjoyed and I learned a lot.”

After university, Lindsay lived in Italy for a year and started learning about food. She worked in a hostel in Rome where the young staff shared all the duties, from reception, to laundry, to cooking. “The owner was Italian,” Lindsay explains, “and he weighed in on what we cooked. The Italians laugh at North American cooking because we add too much instead of sticking to simple but amazingly fresh produce.”

For Lindsay, it was a lesson in the value of a few good quality ingredients. “It’s hard to know when to stop,” Lindsay says, “how to showcase a few things really well rather than muddling them all together.”

A real job
When Lindsay came home from Italy, she took a job with a Calgary advertising agency and served in restaurants in the evening. She had waitressed all through university, but she’d fallen in with the commonly-held belief that restaurant work is a good way to support yourself when you’re in school, but you need to find a “real job” once you graduate.

However, as time went by, Lindsay realized that it was her evening job at the restaurant that she looked forward to and enjoyed the most. She didn’t want to work in an office; she wanted to work in a restaurant. But she didn’t want to be a server all her life. It was time to become a chef.

Hands-on apprenticeship
Lindsay is older than her fellow students in the cooking program at SIAST, but she’s enjoying every minute of it. “It’s so hands-on and practical,” she says.

The course combines classroom learning with an old-style apprenticeship under an experienced chef who passes on his knowledge and expertise.

Lindsay’s first apprenticeship was at the Delta Bessborough under Chef Ryan Marquis. She chose this location very strategically as she wanted to gain good habits and be exposed to really nice ingredients right from the start.

It was a steep learning curve for “the waitress who wants to be a cook” as Lindsay jokes, but she survived. One of the unexpected benefits of working in the Bessborough kitchen was the multicultural environment. “Caucasians were in the minority,” Lindsay says. “I was able to learn from other styles of cooking from people who had immigrated to Canada.”

Lindsay then spent a year working at the Yard and Flagon on Broadway Avenue, which she says has a number of vegetarian options on its menu.

She is now apprenticing under Chef Moe Mathieu. “He’s an awesome guy,” says Lindsay. “I’m learning a lot from him, both as a businessman and as a cook.”

Putting it all together
Lindsay’s background in theatre, advertising and business is a huge asset in her current position with White Birch Catering. She is looking forward to marketing the business and developing menu ideas.

Lindsay will also be scouting locations for White Birch events, finding ways to turn their lack of a permanent storefront into an asset. This is where her love of theatre and the arts is proving to be extremely useful.

White Birch held a small dinner in Bill’s House of Flowers last month. It was Lindsay’s idea (she also has a part-time job there), and it was a huge success. The exotic colours and flavours of the Japanese menu were well paired with the setting of plants and flowers. And the owner of the store was “so gracious,” Lindsay says.

Unlike many chefs who are reluctant to leave the kitchen, Lindsay has strong communications skills. She enjoys talking to customers as she serves the food or as she helps a couple plan the menu for their wedding reception.

The way of the future
Lindsay loves bacon – witness the tattoo of a frying pan filled with bacon and eggs on her shoulder – but that doesn’t stop her from being a strong advocate for good vegetarian cuisine. “Vegetarianism isn’t just a trend,” she says. “It’s the way of the future. Chefs need to be competent vegetarian and vegan cooks or they will be left behind.”

Lindsay is always thinking about how to run a business, so she monitors the vegetarian options on restaurant menus. “There are such poor options,” she says. “Pasta and Portobello burgers – you’ve got to offer people more than that. You can’t just take away the meat. You’ve got to find a feature that will carry the meal but isn’t meat.”

Lindsay’s interest in local food has led to a growing interest in the grains that are grown on the Prairies. “Huge quantities of the world’s lentils come from Saskatchewan and cooking with camelina oil is awesome,” she says.

Vegetarian options
Lindsay and a group of friends get together once a month over supper. Seven out of ten are vegetarian, so she has lots of opportunities to practise her vegetarian cooking.

She loves cooking with mushrooms as they add so much flavour as well as umami, which is often lacking in vegetarian cuisine. “Vegetarians often miss out on gravy and sauces, so I’ve made my friends a vegetarian poutine with a dark, heavy mushroom gravy,” she says.

Lindsay also enjoys cooking with zucchini. “They roast really well and have a meaty quality,” she says. “In addition, they hold up to the heat and don’t go mushy as fast as eggplant.”

Mexican and Middle Eastern cuisine lend themselves to vegetarian dishes. Lindsay recommends chiles rellenos: red peppers stuffed with wild rice, refried beans, finely-sliced and sautéed zucchini and carrots that is baked and served with a sweet or spicy tomato sauce.

Debt of gratitude
Lindsay’s interests are wide ranging; she’s enthusiastic; and she’s adventurous – characteristics that are sure to help her in her new career.

Over half the students in Lindsay’s class are female, which is excellent for a profession that has historically been dominated by men. Lindsay says she’s gained a greater appreciation for the women who have gone before her in the industry. “There are still obstacles,” she says, “but nowhere near the ones there used to be 10 to 12 years ago. We owe them a debt of gratitude. It’s definitely a lot better than it used to be.”

Photos by Lindsay Adams: Zucchini Risotto in an Egg White Crepe, Spiced Wine and Pear Chocolate Lava Cake with Lavender Cream

Chef Moe Mathieu, White Birch Catering Dinner Club
Three Farmers Camelina Oil


renee said...

Great article, Penny. You were right!

Anonymous said...

Woo hoo go Cuz you rock girl :)keep up the good work and as my sister Michelle says to me all the time Stay Inspired.

Lots of love Cuz Jake from Australia