Chef Jason Harper
In the middle of a pandemic, Chef Harper found himself working as the Culinary Director for Vancouver’s corporate-facing Cocktails and Canapes, a top catering and events company.Read Bio
Born in Victoria, BC, Chef Dave Bohati began his culinary career in the kitchen of Vancouver’s Opus Hotel. From there, he cooked in Calgary, Montreal, Mexico and Colombia before making his way back to the Stampede City to helm Murrieta’s as Corporate Executive Chef.
Today, you’ll find him behind the line of Hawthorn, the signature restaurant at the Fairmont Palliser hotel, where we caught up with him to learn about the concept, the differences in kitchens and the impact of fridge-favourite French’s® Dijon Mustard in a dish.
Hawthorn is a very different kind of hotel restaurant. Tell us about the concept, and how it came about.
The concept was originally formulated by our Executive Chef, Eraj. What we wanted to do was get with what is more on-trend with shared plates. It's bringing people together and having a table of six be able to share a bunch of different items versus someone ordering one appetizer, one main course, one dessert and not being able to really experience everything we have to offer. The menu is formulated to be a shared concept while also having something for everyone.
[In my approach to the menu], it was baby steps at first. It was seeing what works, learning from that and then introducing fresh, vibrant flavours that I've accumulated throughout my career using different ingredients from around the world. Umboshi plums, Togarashi, Yuzu citrus, Ethiopian Bere Bere spice; things that I would say typical Calgarians are not used to. It is about gently integrating them into some of our dishes and waking up the palate from a different angle.
How different is it running a hotel kitchen from a stand-alone restaurant?
We have a lot of different services and a lot of moving parts (in a hotel). Having everything from amenities to in-room dining to afternoon tea on the weekend, brunch, breakfast, lunch, dinner, you name it, there are so many different programs that it's about trying to keep everything together. Everyone knows what they're doing as a lot of our staff have been here a very long time, so the rhyme and rhythm flow.
Food-wise, you’ve worked extensively in Vancouver, Montreal and Calgary. How do these lived experiences inform your cooking and processes?
A chef is only as good as his tools, and when I say tools, I mean the people, your comrades, your colleagues you work with. It's learning how to get the best out of your tools and keeping them sharp, finding out what drives them and utilizing their passion toward what you're trying to convey in a positive manner as much as possible.
I've cooked in places like Colombia, Mexico and working with people from a whole different culture has allowed me to learn and grow as a person and as a chef. Food tastes better when the people who are making it and performing it on a night-to-night basis feel a fire in their soul and happiness and passion toward what they're doing. You just get a better outcome.
What has been the hero dish that you know will resonate with guests and is easy to make, with your best margins?
I've had the most success with one dish, it's a Brant Lake Wagyu Beef Cheek. It's something that I've been working on for a very long time. It's a hybrid between a pastrami recipe and Montreal smoked meat and eats like a champ because any cheek of any animal is the most succulent meat you can get. We do a bit of a pink salt brine with lots of spices, aromatics and let the beef cheeks sit in there.
I think that when I push it to the max, there are about three days of brine on there. Then, I pull them out, season them with heavy coriander, black pepper, salt, fennel seed, chilli flakes and juniper berries. I give them a nice smoke and then sous vide them overnight. It's the only sous vide I do anymore, I kind of got over that trend.
Then, I pull them out and do an umeboshi-beet puree with them, it's like a sweet and sour sauce. Do a reduction with the jus, and the dish is a competition winner.
Speaking of inspiration, how did you find it for your dish today while using French’s® Dijon Mustard? Anything that would be helpful for other chefs or operators to know about it?
I think that the beautiful thing about French's Mustard and French's Dijon is that it has been around for so long, it's a staple and it's paramount when it comes to the majority of our mise en place in our fridges at home. When it comes to the versatility of dijon, you can use it in anything from a dijonnaise on a sandwich to cooking it, adding it to a sauce, making a dijon jus. It adds a nice horseradish vibe if you're doing a pot roast.
What I use it for today is super traditional, getting back to basics and letting it highlight and do its job.
Any message you’d like to pass on to your fellow restaurateurs from coast to coast as they too navigate Canada’s ever-changing foodservice landscape?
Time is a currency, it's not something that we should take for granted or waste. It sounds kind of cheesy but time is something that once it's gone, it's hard to get back. Know that there are going to be good times coming up, continue to work on what drives you whether it's a passion or hobby.
If you have to create time to get away from the things that you're struggling with, the things that bother you or the things that are holding you back, focus your energy on making positive time. Spend time with loved ones, call your mom, do the things you need to do in order to not focus on the doom and gloom.
• Dijon Lamb Tartare with Puffed Wild Rice
2021 Edition of Coast to Coast
Club House for Chefs uncovers the behind-the-line tactics and bounce back of chefs and operators across Canada as restaurants navigate not only reopenings but re-inspiration. Explore more