Bringing the Raw and Wild to Urban Alberta

February 20 2019

Raised in Wainright and trained in culinary from farm to behind the line, Chef Brayden Kozak is a leading force of the Edmonton food scene’s protein and local source community. A Cook It Raw and From the Wild alumnus, Chef Kozak is bringing his passion for exploration and proper appreciation of ingredients to Wishbone, Three Boars and Farrow Sandwiches.

We spoke with Chef Kozak to find out more about the local sources of not only his dishes but also his passion and where he’s going wild from here.

The first time you fell in love with restaurant life was at a roadside diner you’d visited. Describe this experience and what it inspired.

This was actually my first restaurant experience. What really gave me the restaurant life bug was seeing customers’ reactions to food and how it could change their mood from bad to good. Since then the power of food stuck with me and I really fell in love with it. This and the family aspect you get from a restaurant. 

What were some of the first steps you took after this experience and how did you decide on the specialty of hunter-gatherer style cuisine?

When the Noma and Nordic cuisine was getting famous for utilizing local ingredients, I was opening up Three Boars. During this time, I remember watching a vlog where they were interviewing a local butcher and he mentioned the difference between good cuts and offal cuts, or the lesser tender cuts. This really resonated with me and since then, I’ve really worked to incorporate the consciously sourced style of cuisine into each of my restaurants by using these cuts of meats in the restaurants.

Which cuts of meats are your favourite?

Currently, my favourite cuts of meat are the cheeks lamb or beef and pig jowls. The cheeks are very succulent, fatty and delicious. 

Describe your outdoor-sighted experiences (such as farm work, Cook It Raw and From the Wild), what were the biggest learnings you brought from these to your current restaurants; Wishbone, Three Boars Eatery and Farrow Sandwiches?

It opened my eyes to the possibilities that are out there. We cannot bring a lot of these wild elements into the restaurant. As a result, in the restaurant, we’re stuck in this box of pork, chicken, beef and lamb. It seems quite grey so these programs open up the doors into the world of proteins that are right outside of your door. For example, beaver meat; it’s very edible and delicious. You will not get that experience in the restaurant.

With your menu based on locally sourced meats and produce, how does being in an urban region like Edmonton impact the concepts or dishes presented at your restaurants?

Seasonality has the biggest impact on our menus. In the summer, you have an explosion of fruits, vegetables and all sort of beautiful ingredients. Whereas, in the winter, you have to utilize cellar vegetables making potatoes and carrots the big basics.

Also, with being in Alberta, you need to focus on grains. I am a sucker for steel cut oats as they have a nice bite but get creamy. They are also versatile in savoury and sweet applications. It’s a fun grain to cook with. The flavour itself coming from a good farm is delicious.

With such a focus on close relationships with your producers, how do you best go about keeping them mutually beneficial and flourishing?

Cross-promotion and doing everything you can to educate the public and clientele that they are there and can go and buy them. 

What role do spices and seasonings play in the curation of your signature dishes at all three restaurant locations?

Spices and seasonings add flavour and extenuate the product we are starting with. The goal is to find the highest quality meat, fish or vegetable and do everything you can to keep its flavours while using the spices to elevate them.

For example, I really love thyme. It’s fresh but nice and savoury with base tones and nice citrus notes when it’s fresh. It’s a good base flavour for stews and I appreciate it as an all around.

With Wishbone attracting audiences on a Canadian and international level, what are some of the takeaways you hope these guests will attain dining there?

I hope that people leave Wishbone feeling taken care of and that they get their money’s worth. From a comfort food restaurant, they feel like they get what they pay for. 

Describe your current or future plans for furthering your activity in consciously sourced cuisine and “eat local” style initiatives.

Outside of the restaurants and family, I have been out of the loop from both the Cook It Raw and From the Wild crew. The plan now is to integrate myself into their shooting schedule. 

What kind of dishes and ingredients can we see coming to the centre of the plate in the near future?

Zeroing in on refined comfort food. We’re seeing from our customers what they want and what they are spending on. Also, integrating fresh pasta into the menu program is a priority.

Learn more about Chef Brayden Kozak.