New Season, New Seasonings – Bringing Refreshed Flavours into Every Course

March 01 2018

A Calgary native and professional cooking graduate from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, Chef Sean MacDonald has cooked up his share of industry accolades, all before the age of 26.

As the winner of the Alberta Regional Competition for the 2015 Hawksworth Young Chef Scholarship, the Canadian leg of the San Pellegrino Young Chef Competition plus having the title of Official Chef for Diner en Blanc Calgary, Chef MacDonald’s affinity for French cuisine tasting menus is turning heads and clearing dishes.

We spoke to Chef MacDonald about his approach to his four and nine-course tasting menus and his application of flavours throughout the Canadian seasons.

At Hexagon, you create modern and contemporary French dishes. In your own words, define this style of cuisine.

I would define my cuisine as modern French with Thai and Mexican influences. We tend to incorporate a variety of different cuisines, while keeping a modern French flair foundation.

You’ve chosen to deliver your dishes in the form of a four and nine-course tasting menu. Share with us why you decided to take this approach?

We found that tasting menus are perfect for small bites. When you go out to eat, you want to try a bunch of items and tasting menus invite you to do just that.

Our menu is designed with small portions, so you don't leave feeling crazy full, but you get to try a bunch of new foods. It's more of an experience as opposed to just coming, eating and leaving. You get more involved with the meal.

Describe how you use ingredients, spices and/or seasonings to build a continuation of flavour in each course of your tasting menus.

When we construct a dish, we use ingredients like vegetables and proteins to base the dish off of. The spices and seasonings then come in to complement the flavours that we choose.

For example, we might make a base using pear and lobster and then do a seasoning that brings the two together and highlights the dish.

Which cooking techniques do you utilize to influence and/or elevate French flavours in your dishes?

One of my favourites is simple braising. You can pick whatever way you want to do it but I find a classic braise is most flavourful. I like to take old school techniques and combine them with newer methods to create new textures and build on flavours.

For example, we might do a dish where it's a duo of protein, where one component is braised and the other is sous vide.

Explain the biggest flavour challenges you’ve experienced with developing tasting menus and how you’ve overcome them. 

The main challenge is being able to stagger the flavour. You can eat a dish and it can taste amazing but if the dish that follows on the tasting menu has more subtle flavours or kills your palate with richness, it disrupts the entire experience. The flavours need to evolve, and become stronger, as you go.

Another challenge is trying to develop menu items based on the seasonality of the vegetables we choose. One week we can use an ingredient and it'll be amazing then the next week, it might not be.

How do you transition your tasting menus to reflect seasonality? For example, fall/winter vs. spring/summer.

Our menus change seasonally. So for fall and winter, our dishes are mainly based off of preserved ingredients, comfort foods and warming dishes. We also use fruits and vegetables that keep over the cold weather.

Once spring and summer hit, we have fresh, light flavours while using the ingredients available. We tend to do less cooking of ingredients, keeping them raw to maximize on their freshness.

Which new flavours and ingredients can we expect to see making their way to the centre-of-the-plate this spring?

I'm a big fan of peas so they'll definitely be used when spring comes around. In the summertime, mushrooms are my favourite ingredient, they add so much flavour to dishes so you’ll be seeing them make an appearance.