Q&A: Chris Zouboules, Owner/Chef, Museum Cafe, Yellowknife, NWT

Chris Zouboules, Owner/Chef, Museum Café, Yellowknife, NWT

Education: Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT)
Career Path: Worked up from dishwasher through to chef.
Years of Experience as a Chef: Chef/Owner 1 year; Executive Chef 8 years, Sous Chef 7 years

What are your earliest memories of cooking?
My family in the kitchen with seasonal and special dinners.

Why do you think you were drawn to a culinary career?
Well, it all started when I was eight and at home sick one day. Sesame Street was over and all that was on was Yan Can Cook. He was making a dish with eggs. He cracked the egg with one hand, then two in one hand. Long story short, we had omelets for dinner that night! From that day on I would sneak into the kitchen and taste all the spices from our spice shelf. To say the least, that didn’t stop me playing in the kitchen.

How would you describe your restaurant?
A bistro/diner serving eclectic international cuisine.

If you knew you were eating your last meal, what would you have?
My mom’s beef stroganoff. When I was young I didn’t fully understand how to blend and enhance flavours and she sure did! If she was alive today, I think she would be proud of how much I’ve learned.

What is your philosophy about food?
The experience should be great right from shopping for the ingredients to the preparation and then finally, dining.

Who were your biggest inspirations for becoming a chef?

Chefs Jeff Smith (The Frugal Gourmet) and Thomas Keller (French Laundry, Per Se).

If you knew you were going to be exiled to a desert island, what three ingredients or food items would take with you?
My chef’s knife and a cast iron fry pan.

What do you think is the most overrated food trend right now?
Any trend that eliminates ingredients because a study says they’re not good for you. I believe in having everything in moderation — unless it’s a food allergy. I have food reactions and realize they are out there. I’ve opened my restaurant for a couple as she had so many allergies that they could never dine out. That was one of my biggest challenges, one I really enjoyed.

Is there any type of cuisine that you would like to experiment with?
I find the world so small now.  We have so many ways of learning and experimenting with new foods. I guess any cuisine that I could learn from say, a grandmother or grandfather because they know the old ways and that can be so interesting.

What are the essential ingredients for success in the foodservice industry today?
Work hard and be willing and open to learning as it helps to inspire.

What is your favorite food combination right now?

Friends and a good story. The food tends to taste better that way.

Do you have any culinary guilty pleasures?

Ice cream — more specific the ice cream sandwich. They always make me smile. In my first kitchen we liked to steal a moment to cool down and have a “quick staff meeting.” I still try to keep a selection of frozen treats.

What are some of the most interesting or unique challenges of being a restaurateur and chef in Yellowknife?
The cold of the winter. Managing the stress of the business and still finding time to be creative with food.

What advice would you have for aspiring new chefs as they enter the industry?
Work hard and don’t think respect is a right. There is more satisfaction in earning it, and an apprentice can teach their chef some things too!

Chef Chris Zouboules’ Flatbread Pizza with Asparagus & Smoked Arctic Char

Pre-baked flatbread or naan
4 slices, 2 oz smoked Char
7 pencil-sized asparagus – can be blanched
1.5 oz to 2 oz goat cheese
Slivered red onion
Fresh dill

I make fresh flatbread and prebake them, however, I have adapted this recipe for use with naan.
Start by spreading the goat cheese over the naan. There should be enough that when baked, it is thick in spots.
Next, lay the pencil-sized asparagus crisscross on top of the cheese. Take the smoked Char next and lay it so that it allows the asparagus and cheese to be visible. Finish it off with the slivered onions.
Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 8 minutes.

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