Fathers are curious beings, often copping questionable fashion choices, quipping some of the most groan-worthy dad jokes, and always ready with a screwdriver, a wood shim, or a spritz of WD-40. Some take over the TV for game day, some swear the lawn can only be mowed at a 45º angle, and some claim they are king of the grill.
This month four Alberta chefs share their relationships with their fathers and food, and the common threads between all of us: fathers are an endless source of experience and encouragement, who keep pushing us forward in pursuit of our dreams.
For Heena Mak, co-owner of Edmonton’s Brown Butter Café, food is more than just eating. “It’s about meeting people, the connections we make and the relationships we build, new and old,” says Mak. “Food brings people together, no matter their differences.”
Growing up, Mak says she was very close with her father, whom she describes as “a lover of nature, an outdoor activity enthusiast, a simply beautiful soul.” He’s a professor and a mathematician, and Mak says his lifestyle encouraged her to be structured and organized, two things that are invaluable in the kitchen. “Mise en place,” says Mak – have everything prepped and ready to use – “and clean as you go.”
Stir-fry udon noodles was the first dish Mak made for her father. She says, “that look on my dad’s face, the way his eyes sparkled, is something I will always hold closest to my heart. That was the moment I decided to pursue cooking as a career.” This is a dish she still makes today, and one that her father still enjoys eating.
Find Chef Heena Mak's recipe for Stir Fry Udon Noodles here.
Chef Mike Skarbo started cooking while living and traveling in Scotland. After graduating from the Culinary Arts program at Vancouver Community College, he moved to Calgary and worked at a handful of restaurants. Today, he’s the Executive Chef at Rendesvouz Ultra Lounge. “My cooking is influenced by traditional techniques and the products that are in season,” he says. “I find inspiration through gardening, making charcuterie and reading.”
As a youth, Skarbo developed an appreciation for the outdoors thanks to his father, Ben. “Growing up on Vancouver Island, my Dad and I did a lot of salmon fishing together,” he explains. It’s only fitting that he’s sharing his recipe for barbecue chinook salmon. “[It] reminds me of barbequing in my Dad’s backyard, sharing some laughs and telling fishing stories.”
For this recipe, Skarbo says, “Have fun producing it with someone you love.” Buying wild salmon is key - the flavour is more complex than that of farmed, and in most cases, it means you’re supporting smaller, local businesses. Don’t worry about cutting the veggies perfectly, he adds. “In the end, the flavour will be delicious.”
Find Chef Mike Skarbo's recipe for BBQ Chinook Salmon with Vierge Sauce here.
As Executive Sous Chef for Events and Client Services at the Calgary Stampede, Richard Vitug oversees all aspects of the Stampede Park Catering culinary team. Born in Manila, Philippines, Vitug and his family moved to Calgary where his father, Ricardo, worked to support them. “We were not a rich family but somehow, some way he provided for [us],” he recalls.
While Ricardo passed in 2012, Vitug reflects, “He was a big part of my life and growing up, but I didn’t see it then as I do now. Even [with] all the burdens I put on him, he didn’t complain or scold me.” From Ricardo, Vitug learned the value of hard work, and the importance of being true to himself and his career.
Vitug shares a recipe for his father’s favourite pork skewers, one that was developed by his mother when she was just 17. “Not only [was this] one of my Dad’s favourites, but it also seems to be a favourite of everyone who gets to eat it,” he adds. “These are best served with San Miguel or Corona beer, and family or friends on a warm summer day.”
Find Chef Richard Vitug's recipe for Filipino Pork Skewers here.
Even with over 25 years’ experience, Chef Shawn Jackson of The Guild in Calgary still strives to expand his knowledge. An extensive collection of books allows him to refine his techniques and develop his vision, and he says he is inspired by local farmers, producers, and breweries. “I love how well beer and food go together.”
Jackson credits his father, Edward, with his work ethic, patience, and taking pride in a job well done. He adds that his brother, Stuart, is also a chef in their hometown of Montreal – with two chefs in the family, there must be a few dishes that are family faves. Jackson confirms this: “My Dad always loved to have onion soup, and he always wanted every restaurant I worked at to serve it.”
Jackson’s recipe uses diced onions to make eating easier and is served with lots of crispy edges on the cheese, his father’s favourite part. He also uses stout where more traditional recipes call for brandy or sherry. “When I moved to Ottawa to open the Mill Street Brew Pub, I knew that I was going to have onion soup on the menu,” Jackson adds. “This recipe was for [my Dad].”
Find Chef Shawn Jackson's recipe for Stout and Onion Soup here.