Passion Projects: 6 Top Canadian Chefs Who Love What They Do

Canada is a vast sprawl of wilderness and stunning beauty with vibrant cities bridging the gap between mountainous landscapes. Each province has its own unique attributes, but they all have one thing in common, incredible cuisine. Across this second largest country in the world, Canadian chefs relish in its rich agricultural history and are dedicated to local farmers and producers. The art of culinary fun reigns supreme in Canada’s kitchens, where eagerness to share is matched only by the time and effort these chefs put into their food. In a land that covers 3.8 million square miles and the longest coastline on the planet it’s challenging to narrow the field, but here are six great Canadian chefs to watch.

Christine Sandford, Biera-Ritchie Market, Edmonton, Alberta
Part of the fun of leading Biera, a brewpub in Edmonton’s Ritchie Market, is how Christine Sandford is able to translate her winning attitude and enthusiasm onto the plate. Sandford’s cuisine is evidence that high-quality beer and food are a perfect match. As Sandford says, it’s about highlighting flavours in the beer or food that complement one another. Sandford loves to travel and once spent a month camping with her chef beau in the South of France, where they visited local producers and brought ingredients back to the campsite to cook over the fire. She continues that tradition in several dishes at Biera, infusing what she learned from artisans on the road into the kitchen. Sandford relishes time with her team, whom she calls extremely talented cooks, breaking bread together after a long week in the spirit of collaboration.

Top Canadian Chefs

In the coming months, as she endeavors to use everything she can before winter comes, she bulks up on preservation. Because produce is scarce during Canadian winters, Sandford keeps a pantry full of her favorite pickled and fermented items. One of her signature dishes is Biera’s sourdough bread, with spent grains from the brewery and organic flour from Alberta, and she serves it with butter cultured in-house with kefir grains and whipped lardo, also cured there. She also suggests guests try any one of the dishes cooked over charcoal, like the pork shoulder on the bone, carved off and served with chewy dried and rehydrated beets and rhubarb, then glazed in meadowsweet verjus. Sandford makes her own vinegars, including beer vinegar and lemon geranium vinegar and never misses a chance to make her own miso from scratch. Biera, which is also one of Edmonton’s only cheese bars, doesn’t have lunch or brunch hours, but that doesn’t matter – for Sandford’s food fans, nothing beats Biera’s snack hour. The bevy of small plates and beer is an easy segue to the dinner menu. Don’t forget dessert, especially Sandford’s sourdough ice cream with buttermilk sorbet, milk crumbs, and cocoa nibs. Make a reservation at Biera-Ritchie Market.

Top Canadian Chefs

Yoshi Chubachi, AZURIDGE, Priddis, Alberta
Master chef Yoshi Chubachi may have a string of accomplishments behind his name, but he is known as much for being one of the friendliest chefs in Canada as for his cuisine. Hospitality students from different colleges across Canada vie for coveted internships and the chance to learn from the man who came to Canada in 1977 as a Japanese Red Seal Chef. Chubachi’s ability to bring flavor to a plate date back to his time as a stagiaire in Japan and France. Azuridge, hidden away in the Alberta foothills, gives him a 13-acre platform on which to shine. The resort, which features a butler-in-residence program, is inspired by the history of the Canadian Pacific Railway. It is a frequent stop for the rich and famous, and Chubachi, who is also a skilled ice carver, strives to stun with every meal.

Top Canadian Chefs

Expect Asian and French influences throughout traditional Canadian cuisine, including local game with tinges of inspiration by minerals and gemstones – a signature element since Azuridge is named for the mineral Azurite, known as the stone of heaven. Chubachi is famous for transforming the simple into the unforgettable — case in point, the Quebec-originated poutine at Azuridge, with potatoes fried in duck fat and topped with duck confit, cheese curds, and Grand Marnier duck au jus. December is an especially lovely time to dine with Chubachi when the resort produces a Christmas craft market with reindeer petting, shopping, and small plates from the menu like Waygu beef burger sliders and in-house smoked salmon on blini pancakes. Weekdays are for the resort’s massive three-story gazebo when Chubachi’s burgers and beer events are packed with regulars. Coming up, Chubachi is excited about more Canadian wild game and fowl this year, including wild boar, elk, venison, bison, pheasant, and partridge, and he can’t wait to serve it on the resort’s new colored china. His fans say that’s just fine, so long as that includes his famous elk Wellington. Make a reservation at AZURIDGE.

Top Canadian Chefs

Mathieu Masson-Duceppe, Jellyfish, Montreal, Quebec
Don’t let the jovial name fool you – Jellyfish is home to serious global flavors, courtesy of Mathieu Masson-Duceppe. Named by one of the restaurant co-owner’s children, Jellyfish is the product of Masson-Duceppe’s extensive travels and an homage to Montreal’s diverse culture. Masson-Duceppe says Québécois citizens are approachable and have big hearts with big emotion, and, as such respond to intense flavours and sharing of knowledge and cuisine. “I don’t just cook for Jellyfish or for me; I cook for Montreal,” he says of the city he returned to after working in Michelin-starred restaurants in France and Asia.

Top Canadian Chefs

The Jellyfish menu is a contrast between raw and oven-cooked dishes. Masson-Duceppe hates the term fusion when it comes to dining, but he describes the Jellyfish sharing style as a combination of Chinese and Latino flavours. A few of his personal favorites include bone marrow-braised oxtail pasta, whole fried Japanese snapper, half chicken cooked with miso butter and stuffed with Boursin French cheese, and homemade kimchi with braised short ribs. He is always changing the menu but admits some items must remain. His regulars wouldn’t have it any other way. Another Jellyfish highlight is the crudo section with ceviche tartare sashimi and his favorite ingredients to showcase — vegetables. “Veggies are super cool,” exclaims Masson-Duceppe, who was inspired by learning from a Bohemian mother and Italian senora. Aside from the culinary side of Jellyfish, diners marvel at the intense romance of the décor including a massive set of chandeliers resembling — What else? — jellyfish. Make a reservation at Jellyfish.

Top Canadian Chefs

David Bohati, Teatro, Calgary, Alberta
For David Bohati, life in the kitchen began early. This enterprising chef worked his way up from washing dishes to leading one of Calgary’s best restaurants – no mean feat in a city that has become known for wowing gastronomes. One of the reasons dining at Teatro is special to Bohati is its environment.  Housed in a historic bank building, the visually inspiring space with its high ceilings features a vault-turned-wine cellar that is brimming with what Bohati calls crazy labels and vintages and an open concept kitchen — an 8th Avenue and Olympic Plaza feast for the eyes.

Top Canadian Chefs

Bohati enjoys experimenting with the restaurant’s housemade pastas and charcuterie, and when winter cools Calgary down, Teatro heats up with a focus on clean and pure presentations of raw or gently cooked dishes. There is a daily play on crudo on the dinner menu, featuring everything from fresh Japanese fish, foie gras, scallops, Alberta lamb, and wild line-caught king salmon belly. Bohati’s dear friend happens to be his pastry chef Daniel “Papi” Ramon and he says Papi’s chocolate bonbons are a must-try even if a guest is so stuffed they can’t fathom another bite. He also recommends the tortellini in brodo. For functions, he has been working on a braised short rib steamed bao bun canapes with kimchi aioli, and he brings special attention to Teatro’s classic pork and scallops and his beet and umeboshi ‘gel’ he has been using for the past five years with fatty cuts of meat. This huge fan of Alberta beef always has Brant Lake wagyu in his kitchen and on his Instagram feed (@chefbohati), along with Alberta lamb. Make a reservation at Teatro.

Top Canadian Chefs

Melissa Craig, Bearfoot Bistro, Whistler, British Columbia
Described as a unique blend of west coast and international components, what Melissa Craig creates at Bearfoot Bistro at legendary Whistler Resort is more like a living painting than a plate of food. Focused on contemporary Canadian cuisine, Craig has spent the past 15 years developing the food program at Bearfoot Bistro into one of the country’s most celebrated places to eat. Craig admits she’s not much of a skier – probably a good thing since she needs lots of time to peruse local farms that honor Canadian ingredients. However Whistler’s guests are among the most discriminating, and winter months require fine imports, so Craig loves to fly in Northern Italian truffles from Alba and all sorts of caviars and Kobe beef. For Craig, eating at Bearfoot Bistro is not just about food, but a culinary journey. She encourages guests to partake in a tasting menu with a pairing to get the full Bearfoot Bistro experience, which includes a vodka tasting in a cold room before the main course to cleanse the palate – don’t worry, it’s perfectly acceptable to don a Canada goose parka.

Top Canadian Chefs

Her signature liquid nitrogen ice cream made at the table for the guests is a big hit, but her first love is cooking with seafood. She may eat very simply at home (her guilty pleasure is a grilled cheese sandwich), but being from Canada’s west coast, she can’t wait to get hold of sea urchin when it’s in season, crab, or black cod. She serves lots of elk and venison, both prevalent on Canadian menus. Her advice for the ultimate Whistler’s Bearfoot Bistro experience: “Let us take care of you. Leave it up to us.” Being part of that ‘us’ in Craig’s world is a coveted spot. Recently, Craig and her staff took a field trip before work to a farm to brainstorm and support each other’s ideas in the kitchen. The most adventurous among Whistler’s guests get to enjoy Craig’s nitro ice cream cones at the end of their heli-ski tours. Make a reservation at Bearfoot Bistro.

Top Canadian Chefs

Jeremy Korten, Oliver & Bonacini Café Grill–Blue Mountain, The Blue Mountains, Ontario
Mountain dining is part of life in Canada, and when guests find a place that lets rack of lamb and pizza share equal billing on the menu, they flock to it. Such is Oliver & Bonacini Café Grill at Blue Mountain in the Westin Trillium House led by Jeremy Korten. This Georgian Triangle gem combines everything good about fine dining without being ostentatious. Korten says his diners want to see some skill, but they also appreciate an evening where pizza or pasta can be the star of the table. He loves taking dishes like BLT or chicken cacciatore and having some fun with them, in particular, those which bring back memories of childhood food. An hour from Toronto, Korten credits his team at Oliver & Bonacini Café Grill at Blue Mountain for how the menu comes together, highlighting a fresh take on things like the ubiquitous tuna Niçoise salad or a new way to serve a lesser-known grain-based dish.

Top Canadian Chefs

His favorite things to cook for guests include his ribeye steak, a nice risotto, or any salad, something so simple but with so much going on in different textures and accents– the crispness of a cucumber or a touch of vinegar. Korten says he can go down the street to get his lettuce and his beef supplier is 20 minutes away in what he calls a little culinary mecca at the base of the mountain. Were he required to choose one dish for himself from everything in his kitchen, he would make steak and eggs or pork and beans. But on his menu, there can be only one recurring champion, and it is consistently the mushroom soup. Korten says this dairy-free and vegan-friendly classic has been on the menu for eons. In other must-try dishes, he recommends his ribs prepared on the restaurant’s applewood smoker with green beans, bacon, and cornbread, as well as an unassumingly light shrimp linguini he prepares by roasting down garlic, onion, tomato, and white wine and a little chili. “No feeling guilty,” he says. Guests come back for Korten’s cast-iron chicken and yellowfin tuna quinoa bowl, garnished with wasabi dressing, watermelon, cucumber, soy sauce, lime juice, chili, and chopped cashews. Korten is proud of his menu, but even more so, he is proud of his restaurant’s reputation for service and their focus on extensive front-of-the-house training he feels sets his team apart from all the rest. Make a reservation at Oliver & Bonacini Café Grill.

Top Canadian Chefs

Who are your picks for top Canadian chefs? Tell us here or over on FacebookG+InstagramPinterest, or Twitter. And, remember to snap + share your #dishpics with us on Instagram for a chance to win in our weekly giveaway.

Kelly Merritt is an author and freelance journalist specializing in culinary travel. Follow her on Twitter @kellywrites + Instagram @kellymerrittwrites + Facebook at KellyMerrittWrites.