Working in the Hakka Chinese food space since 1987, Joanna Liu’s family created a flavourful home away from home for newcomers in Toronto, at Yueh Tung Restaurant.Read Bio
When Brunch is the Daily Munch
A graduate of Humber College’s Culinary Arts & Chef Training program, Chef Chris Oliveira’s skill and mindset has taken him behind the line of notable creative kitchens and foodservice groups like Oliver & Bonacini, Fable Diner, Glowbal Restaurant Group and Blau & Associates.
Now at Vancouver’s OEB Breakfast Co., while many culinary artists would crack like an egg from so much dish repetition, Chef Oliveira has found his flow flipping and elevating common brunch dishes morning in and morning out.
We caught up with Chef Oliveira on the morning shift to find out more about his brunch mentality, experience and how he takes common dishes to the next level.
Typically, brunch can be a dirty word in many kitchens, but OEB chooses to focus on this. How different is running an early day concept over a typical restaurant?
Nowadays, I think a shift is being made as a lot of chefs want to have that morning shift so that they can have the evenings off. What's different is the hours are simply shifted earlier; you're in at 5 am instead of 9 or 10 am but then I'm done at 4. The adrenaline rush is kind of the same as in a typical dine-in restaurant.
It's a mental game though, for sure. You have to mentally prepare for doing things all the time like eggs: scrambled eggs, poached eggs, etc. It's not for everybody. It takes a specific kind of chef to do this but it's very rewarding to be honest.
When it comes to staffing, having us only open 7 to 3 is an attraction to cooks who only want to work mornings. My mentality and culture working in this company is to keep a healthy lifestyle. I want my staff to be able to just work this job and have their evenings off so they can enjoy life but they can work an evening job if they want to.
Outside of OEB, you competed on Chopped Canada. How does that sort of experience compare to the pressures of the actual business, and would you do it again?
Being on the television show was an experience in itself. You have thirty minutes and it's a pure adrenaline rush as your mind is racing in all different directions. If you screw up, you don't have much legroom to fix it whereas in a restaurant, if you make a mistake, you have a lot more variables to fix it. I'm a very competitive person so on the show I got very upset (laughs). I’d definitely do it again though.
When it comes to working with new cooks, eggs can be a difficult ingredient to master. How do you train for the perfect egg?
The words that come to mind are "patience" and "repetitiveness." I'm very strict on eggs because that's what we are so it's just constant repetitiveness. For a sunny-side egg, the egg whites have to be fully cooked but the yolk has to still be runny and the bottom can't be burnt. I just have to show them tricks of the trade and what I know.
Also, how do you like your own eggs?
I really love a good poached medium egg. I just feel like the egg yolk adds so much depth to the dish. Once in a while, I love a sunny-side-up egg.
What makes a good brunch dish great, and a great brunch dish iconic? What's your path for making the next big thing in morning food?
With brunch, everything can be the same so my job is to make it different and elevated. We use a lot of stuff you normally find at a brunch restaurant like caviar, shrimp, scallops, lobster and ahi tuna. I think elevating that brunch experience to the next level is what makes this so successful.
What makes it iconic is once you establish a good dish that hasn't been used anywhere else. For example, I took a traditional smoked salmon benny and elevated that. Instead of a typical English muffin, I did a potato rosti. What goes through my head is texture, do the flavours work together and how can I be different from everyone else.
I think people are looking for more dishes that are lighter, almost like brunch salads, if that's the word. I don't know if people want heavy dishes and sauces. [Trendy items like] avocado toast will always be there. As far as the brunch industry goes, I think people are looking to more vegetable, vegan and vegetarian-style items. With COVID, prices are going up, especially for meats, so people are reverting to vegetables and different grains.
How did you find inspiration for your dish today while using Cholula® Original Hot Sauce? Anything that would be helpful for other chefs or operators to know about it?
Brunch is my jam, I love bennies and poached eggs so my thought process was how can I elevate the next benny? I love smoked salmon that I get from New Brunswick so I wanted to incorporate that. First it was like, how can I change the base of the benny? I didn't want to do an English muffin or biscuit so I chose to do a potato pancake per se.
The inspiration came from smoked salmon bagels where you have your cream cheese, capers, dill and pickled onions. I used that as a guide and combined smoked salmon, pickled onions, crispy capers and the Cholula in the hollandaise. Some people put cayenne pepper in hollandaise, or you add lemon juice, so I figured I can kill two birds with one stone and add the acidity of the Cholula instead.
What has been a dish you think you’d like to do next?
I want to do a brunch pancake taco. Similar to what I make now, but instead of a potato rosti, I want to do a vegetable Pakora as the base. Little things like this are always in the back of my head.
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 this summer?
With my staff, it's very "you scratch my back, I'll scratch your back." I make sure they're taken care of. I feel like the old-school mentality of yelling and screaming at your team does not work anymore. We all need to be more understanding and caring towards people in our industry because it's not easy. For a lot of people, this is their career or their means to their end, so we need to treat each other better.
Owners in our industry also need to look at paying our cooks a little more, offer a better work/life balance and have fun with their team. There's a time to be serious and a time to have fun, and having that comradery with everyone is huge.
• Smoked Salmon Roesti with Cholula® Original Hot Sauce
2021 Edition of Coast to Coast
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