Chef Q&A: Kayle Burns, executive chef with Calgary’s BMeX Group

From the summer 2018 issue of Canadian Restaurant & Foodservice News

Career Path

Chef de Cuisine, Restaurant Lûmé, Melbourne
Sous chef, Bar Nacional, Melbourne
Meat Cook/Saucier, Café Boulud, New York City
Sous Chef, Taylor’s Genuine Food and Wine Bar, Ottawa
Chef du partie, Two Rooms Grill, Tokyo
Saucier, db Bistro Moderne, Vancouver
Chef de partie, Domus Café, Ottawa
Chef de partie, Rim Rock Cafe, Whistler, B.C.
Chef de partie, Maestro, Saint-Sauveur, Quebec

CRFN: What are your earliest memories of cooking?

Kayle Burns: I grew up in Harrington, Quebec on a 100-acre sheep farm close to the border of Quebec and Ontario, so I was raised on comfort food. Quiche, casseroles….at one point we had 400 turkeys that we would sell at Thanksgiving and Christmas for the meat. My mom did most of the cooking and I remember she would use the wool and knit mittens, hats and vests and sell them in town at a little stall that my dad built for her. She passed away when I was 13 and subconsciously having my dad pick up the cooking duties probably pushed me to learn how to cook proper food knowing the importance of it.

CRFN: Why do you think you were drawn to a culinary career?

KB: It was actually my love for travel and winter sports that influenced my culinary career. I was trying to figure out how I could have a job and snowboard all over the world. I was living in Switzerland in 2003 when I became really inspired by the European culture and lifestyle: Eating lots of cheese fondue and fondue Bourguignonne; Trying classic Swiss dishes with the locals I was living with. I just really got into it. My new Swiss friends were making dinner one night and asked me if I could whip together a quick vinaigrette for the salad and I had no idea what that meant. It made me realize the basics of cooking is a pretty handy thing to know since I love eating so much and that I’d been a bit sheltered from some really simple and delicious things, coming from humble beginnings on a farm. I’ll never forget during one of my first days in culinary school the instructor poached a piece of salmon and I was completely mind blown. I’d never had fish that tasted like that and that was prepared so delicately.

 

“My new Swiss friends were making dinner one night and asked me if I could whip together a quick vinaigrette for the salad and I had no idea what that meant.”


CRFN:
How would you describe your foodservice operations?

KB: I work for BMeX Group, a small, independent restaurant group based in Calgary, Alberta. Jayme MacFayden and Kelly Black started it in 2009 and they’ve specialized in one-off food concepts over the years that are really focused on organic produce, farm-raised meats and scratch-made breads, pasta and sauces. I am the Executive Chef of four of their properties that are within the same building: UNA Pizza & Wine (70 seats), UNA Takeaway (40-50 delivery orders a night+ pick up orders and by the slice), Bread & Circus (38 seats) and Frenchie Wine Bar (18 seats). Each one has its own little personality and clientele. The service and quality are what really ties them all together. There’s a kitchen in the basement we treat like a commissary kitchen where our pizza deliveries are executed from and where we do 98 per cent of our prep for all four properties. We feel that it makes sense to have our supplies come to one place where we can produce all the doughs, pastas and sauces in a consistent and monitored environment and then distributed to each location in the building, making sure stock is rotated properly and everything is fresh. Our property’s main kitchens are separate but very collaborative.

CRFN: What is your philosophy about food?

KB: Sustainability is important to many of us in the culinary industry. There is just too much going on in the world to be ignoring that, including, obviously, global warming, I remember working in Canada many years ago for this chef that would order blue foot mushrooms from France. Canada has an insane selection of some of the best mushrooms amongst many great ingredients. Why would you have someone fly things across the world when you have it in your back yard? I believe in using local producers as much as possible, especially proteins from all over Alberta. There are amazing farmers doing it right: Ewenique lamb is the best and obviously (I have a soft spot for mom-and-pop sheep farms). I’m a bit old school, I believe in simplicity and letting a few ingredients do the talking. I want people to have a good time both in back of house and front of house. There’s no room in kitchens for Gordon Ramsay-types anymore. As much as food needs to be sustainable, so does the team doing the cooking. Happy chefs mean food served with pride and ultimately a great experience for the guest.

CRFN: Where do you go to dine out?

KB: In Calgary, I really enjoy Bar Von Der Fels and Pigeonhole. Eric Hendry and Justin Leboe are great chefs. My wife and I are pretty casual, though, and we go to a butcher/cafe called Empire Provisions almost once a week for the best sandwiches and house-made cured meats in town. The whole menu is super tasty with classics like Cubanos, Reubens and Porchetta sandwiches with delicious soups and salads. Owners Dave Sturies and Karen Koh are two of my favourite people ever and they supply our restaurants with a lot of our sausages and charcuterie.

 

“There’s no room in kitchens for Gordon Ramsay-types anymore.”


CRFN:
If you knew you were going to be exiled to a desert island, what three ingredients or food items would take with you?

KB: I love pizza, and I never thought I’d end up working in a pizza restaurant. Having it around me all day, everyday is amazing and I am not sick of it yet. On a desert island I’d want UNA’s Beltline pizza (double smoked bacon, fennel sausage smoked mozzarella, maple syrup) topped with a fried egg for breakfast. UNA’s Veggie pizza (sundried tomato purée, roasted red pepper, mushroom, red onion, local urban honey, friulano and feta cheese) for lunch and UNA’s Deluxe (prosciutto cotto, calabrese salami, fennel sausage, prosciutto bits, friulano and grana padano cheese, san marzano tomato sauce 23, cremini mushrooms, olives and peppers) for dinner.

CRFN: What are the essential ingredients for success in the foodservice industry today?

KB: Quality, organization, consistency and standards in a respectful working environment driven by passion for hospitality. At the end of the day the customers experience is what’s most important. But ideally if you’ve covered all those points prior to service it should culminate in a pretty good time! On a more personal note, I’ve had a hand in opening quite a few restaurants over the years and it’s never easy. The day before Bread & Circus opened, owners Kelly and Jayme wanted to take the managers out for lunch but with three properties in full-operation the day before a fourth opened, it was just impossible. They decided to close down the entire building for 24 hours so everyone could have a break and they cooked and hosted dinner at their home and took the entire management team to a movie. I’ve never experienced that level of kindness and appreciation from an ownership group towards their team and there’s no doubt that has played a part in the BMeX Group’s success. Leading by example is key; people are inspired to do great things for great leaders.

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