The Healthy (Conscious) Interview: Chef Brian Skinner
You guys know this…I love to eat. Like, crazy for…always dreaming of my next meal…traveling for the purpose of eating… kind of love. Sometimes, being a vegetarian seemed counter to this. Try getting a meal without fish in Tokyo. Or, enjoy scooping up what you think is butter and discovering it to be whipped lard in Paris. Then there was the endless plates of pasta in Buenos Aires that made me never want to see carbs again.
But then something happened: it seemed like a few chefs started falling in love with veggies. Food-forward vegetarian restaurants (no veggie dogs in sight!) started opening up in Vancouver. It’s like eating veggies in heaven.
And chefs like Brian Skinner are at the heart of this revolution.
Chef Skinner was behind the amazingly inventive plates that launched The Acorn on Main Street and in just a few short months, he will be opening Frankie, We Salute You! around the Cambie corridor. I was lucky enough to snag an interview with him before life in the kitchen starts to heat up once more. Enjoy!
The life of a restaurant chef seems to run at breakneck speed. How do you keep yourself energized and well, when things are crazy?
The largest lesson I learned from my years of cooking is balance. I have burnt out in the past while working 80 hour weeks in London. It’s not as bad as it sounds if you are single and obsessed with the food world you’re existing in. One remedy seems all too obvious, but physically sitting down while you eat is very important. Taking a half hour to share food with the folks you’re cooking with makes a world of difference for both your tired feet and frazzled mind.
The day after the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna a couple years ago, I went skiing. I literally went straight down the run and screamed at the top of my lungs. That worked extremely well.
But when you don’t have a ski hill at your disposal, meditating after shift is a great remedy. To be honest, anything that creates a meditative state works great; swimming, running, yoga all work wonders.
As a long-time vegetarian, it always felt like restaurant vegetarian options were designed by people who didn’t like vegetables. Things are so different now…at least on the West Coast. What do you think is behind the emergence of progressive and creative plant-centred cuisine?
Can I just quote your qeustion? “As a long-time vegetarian, it always felt like restaurant vegetarian options were designed by people who didn’t like vegetables.” So I decided be the change I wanted to see in the world, and with that I opened a restaurant that celebrated vegetables for being, well….vegetables. To answer your question, I think people hungry for change are behind the shift. We were sick of Mushroom Risotto, Ratatouille, and Roast Vegetable Stacks!
Even in the eyes of omnivores, vegetables are sexy. In the past 5 years on the West Coast we have had the emergence of vegetable focused (non-vegetarian) restaurants such as Burdock & Co. and Farmers Apprentice. To be honest though, I feel that brown rice, tofu, sprouts and kombucha are the soul of vegetarian food and they will always be near to my heart.
Do you have a favourite “unsung ingredient” (or two!) that you feel deserves a comeback?
Ok, so Cauliflower is super versatile. From grinding it up into “rice” to baking it into scones, from grilling it to steaming it – it’s crazy delicious.
Also, you can’t beat the health aspects and flavor of wild watercress. I can never get enough of tossing in with roasted vegetables and a yummy sauce to make a quick warm salad. It’s a staple in my household.
Who would be your dream dinner guests…and what would you serve them?
It’s not really a dream, but I absolutely love cooking vegetables for meat eaters. There seems to be a preconception that vegetables can’t satiate a hungry appetite. And not by eating a ton of food, but rather having well thought out vegetables, flavorful sauces and balanced ingredients – my friends can leave feeling full and light at the same time. And that’s why I’m vegetarian, because I feel that way every time I eat.
I always think it’s so fascinating to know what chefs eat at home – but you are also a father with a son to feed! What’s your go-to family meal after a long day?
You can’t beat noodles when you’re two years old.
Sunday night I cook a fridge full of food to get the family started on the week. More often than not, we have nothing but a plate full of vegetables. It’s what makes us happiest, and the little guy LOVES vegetables too.
I am just like many other people. I like soup and avocado toast (duh), big salads full of everything under the sun (obviously), and a good home cooked curry.