Friday, March 18, 2011
FOODIE FRIDAYS: Chef in the Spotlight With Chef Anthony Sedlak
If given the choice of only one word to describe Chef Anthony Sedlak, that's the one that comes to mind. He is passionate about everything: cooking, the environment, family, children and life in general. And with everything he's accomplished in his life, he is one of the most humble, grateful and appreciative young men I have ever met.
This was one of my more inspiring interviews in that Anthony is so in tuned with what makes life golden. He makes you want to be a better person. I really hope you enjoy our chat as much as I did. And feel free to leave questions or comments and we'll try getting them answered for you.
And YAY to Anthony for being our very first 'Chef in the Spotlight' for our FOODIE FRIDAY segment! (Thank you, Anthony, for being so brave! LOL!) So grab your favorite beverage and get comfy. This is definitely an interview you won't forget. =)
CHYNNA: Welcome to 'The Gift' blog, Anthony! I'm so happy to have you here. Why don’t we start with a super boring question about your background. You know, like, how you became a chef?
ANTHONY: I’ve told this story so many times…LOL! Okay! My token story is that I never had any intention of becoming a chef or even working in the food industry and when I was 13 years old I won a snowboard pass, really, and I grew up right at the foothills of Grouse Mountain--one of the key ski resorts in Vancouver, British Columbia (B.C.) or on the North Shore to be more specific. So, I talked to my Mom and dad and asked f they’d buy me a snowboard pass. I was always a someone who appreciated the value of and having my own money. I really liked that freedom and the doors that it opened. So even at 13, I already had a paper route for many years and I was a caddy at the local golf course and stuff like that. Then my mom said, “Well, why don’t you get a job at the restaurant doing whatever and that comes with a ski board pass!”
So I applied and I don’t think I really applied with any specific position in mind but I got a call back from a one of the managers of the food and beverage department kind of overseeing this very profitable high producing café at Grouse Mountain. She gave me a call and asked if I’d be interested in coming in for an interview and…well…at the age of thirteen I got the job. I found out that you have to 14 to legally work here in B.C. but I got the job nonetheless.
I started bussing, flipping burgers, making fries and the like to young punks like myself but it was cool to have the freedom of having my own money but also but I also got this free snowboard pass so I had free unlimited snow boarding. I was mixed in with that niche elite club of ski bum workers that worked and was really nurtured as opposed to the regular restaurant corporate mentally. They really nurtured me and were more into the local mountain mentality.
And so looking like most 13-year olds today I didn’t have much inclination to work at first but developed an enthusiastic approach to my job. I had a lot of happiness about my job and even though I was in high school full time I was always early, never late, just trying to catch the attention of the older guys there. I really appreciated the praise I received from my co-workers. I mean, I was just some chump kid that was working for them. And they liked it too because they could pawn off all the crap jobs they didn’t want to do off on me that they didn’t want to do and I was HAPPY to do them.
There were three main parts of the place: the café, a little bistro and the diner. And as hard as I worked I got employed in the kitchen at 14.
ANTHONY: YEAH! Which was really cool! And there was always opportunity to move up the culinary ladder because there was always a restaurant that was doing better food than I was at so through them there was always a ‘step up’. So, I finally worked my way up the ranks there and I can honestly say that if I’d started off anywhere else than Grouse Mountain I probably wouldn’t have pursued cooking if I’d been in a real ball-busting, hard-hitting restaurant I probably would have been turned off. I probably would have found it quite distasteful. I mean I worked with older guys so I always had friends who were older than me and once in awhile I got invited to a party. I mean I felt like the coolest kid, you know what I mean? And I was hanging with guys who were 20 to 25 and they were drinking and had girls over, we went to parties and stuff after work. It was, like, FUN it was a blast, you know? And I really cherish that time. A lot of nostalgic, cherished childhood memories come from come from the time in the kitchen. Because of those experiences I put a lot of hard thought into a future career in cooking. And I’m very tactful and cautious in my life and those guys—I don’t know whether they nurtured that or festered that in me—one of the two but anyway they helped guide my next steps.
I really enjoyed watching people enjoy my food and even if it was just a burger and fries I tried making it the most perfect burger and fries in the world. And I guess my dedication was noticed because I moved from the kitchen to the bistro then to the dining room and by the time I was 15 I was working the sauté station in the dining room at the Grouse called The Observatory at the time. But then the managers sat me down and said, “You’re clearly not academically driven. We know you love to cook. Why don’t you go to this other high school called Carson Graham that has a culinary arts program?” (Which has since closed.) But I did and I did really well! I learned the fundamentals of cooking, kitchen mentality and how to work in a kitchen. But since I’d really already had a lot of that that down, I did really well at the Carson program. In fact, I actually earned several scholarships through the program!
CHYNNA: WOW! That’s awesome!
ANTHONY: YEAH! So after that I pursued cooking with a nose to the grindstone--like it was my whole life. And by the time I was 16, I started my first apprenticeship, finishing it up at 19 and that’s when most people are just beginning their apprenticeships after post-secondary schooling. The Chef I worked with then is who I probably credit with for most of my knowledge, my cooking skills, inspiring my passion for cooking, and my approach to cooking. He really bestowed all of that in me and his values and the professionalism of it. Then at 19 I went over to Europe—London, England—to a job in a traditional four-star restaurant. I went in an entry level position and left a year-and-a-half later as the Sous Chef. And those were very long, hard hours, like, 18 – 19 hours a day. Crazy!
Then upon returning to Canada I took over the kitchen I’d started off at years earlier and sort of started getting recognized for my skills. I was asked to participate in a series of culinary competitions which landed me a spot in representing Canada in New Zealand in Hans Bueschken World Junior Chef Challenge which happens every four years and I placed Silver there. When I got back home from the competition, my long-time girlfriend at the time, Sophie, said I should submit a video to a Food Network competition called Super Chef Challenge and then I was asked to compete and ended up winning that series. After that they asked me to develop my current show called, ‘The Main’ and I did!
The show was actually renewed for three more seasons, which was very encouraging to me. Then we ended up doing a cookbook which became a National Best Seller as well. Currently, I have a new show in development, a restaurant consulting company, a catering company, I teach a bunch of private cooking classes, I have lot of private niche endeavors as well as hosting and MCing a mirade of food shows and charity events…
CHYNNA: …Oh! So you’ve been teaching as well?
ANTHONY: Oh yeah! Absolutely! So I’ve been blessed to have the platform of the Food Network. I feel immensely proud but also lucky. I also have a huge amount of gratitude to have been given the opportunities that I’ve been given. I chock a lot of it up to surrounding myself with wonderful people who are immensely talented, even if I wasn’t that talented; soaking up a 'sink or swim’ approach to things; and progressing off situations where I feel highly uncomfortable and maybe not quite as good as my teammates , developing an ego that leads to you to strengthen your culinary skills and your approach to cooking.
CHYNNA: Anthony, I have to tell you...I read your bio on your Site and that bio you just gave? I liked much better. Much more fun!
ANTHONY: Well, there ya go…LOL!
CHYNNA: As you know, many chefs say they became who they are because their parents were in the industry or had other inspirations. But you just worked with people who were older than you who inspired you in that way, right?
ANTHONY: Absolutely! I absorbed from the guys I worked with back then. My family wasn’t into food in that way. We never pursued fine dining restaurants. That wasn’t really a priority for us. I’ve heard that cooking in families skips a generation. I’m not sure if there’s any truth to that but in my case, maybe, I guess there’s some truth in that. My Oma is Austrian and Czech. So I’m really proud of that kind of food and my grandmother was a really brilliant home cook. And I really think that’s a dying art, that kind of cuisine. We live in such a convenience food driven society. We’ve become so detached from the raising and rearing our own animals, and even slaughtering, butchery and the process and production of growing vegetables and dairy and stuff. We’re so removed from that! If you were to ask someone where a particular cut of steak comes from—even to just point on an animal—I think a great many people are just so far removed from that they couldn’t tell you.
CHYNNA: Oh, I know. My kids haven’t quite made that connection that meat comes from animals because I know they wouldn’t eat it if they knew! But we’re trying to be very open with stuff because half the challenge with getting these kids to trying new things is that they just stick to what’s familiar. You look on their plates and it’s all plain pasta and stuff that has no texture or flavor…
ANTHONY: I think it all starts with encouraging an open mindedness and a willingness about where food comes from. I’ve had the opportunity to speak at several middle grade and high schools and have spoken at my old elementary school and going to my old high school next month. I think it really comes from an exposure at a young age and offering a wide variety of foods. But the fact of the matter is a lot of people find that it’s easier to choose the easier to prepare or ready-made stuff. I think it’s like you said, starting with what they know and are comfortable with and expanding on that. I kind of thrive off that challenge. I always speak about my experiences and views about healthy eating, organic eating, I talk about all my trials and tribulations with weight and with unhealthy food practices. It comes from a place of genuine humility when I talk about healthy eating.
CHYNNA: I know and I just love that! That’s really inspirational. Eating challenges are really tough in our house as we’ve got two children with SPD and one with severe allergies and asthma. So, in our house, healthy eating is very important because unhealthy eating can not only trigger certain sensory issues but can also trigger my daughter’s asthma and allergies. So, based on that, do you have any tips on how to tempt kids with sensory issues who make look at food and go, ‘Yuck! That looks/tastes funny!’ Tips on how you would cook for these kids or get them interested in trying new things?
ANTHONY: Well, I’m not by any means an expert in the field. Would you be so kind as to capsulate on what these sensory issues are specifically?
CHYNNA: Sure! Well, your job is to make food and present it in such a way that we’ll be tempted to dig right in there and eat it, right? My one daughter, for example has highly reactive tactile system that makes food actually ‘feel funny’ in her mouth, sometimes enough to cause her to gag or throw up right at the table. She tends to stick to what’s familiar a lot of the time because she knows those foods won’t cause her to react in ways that are unpleasant or trigger her sensory issues. She’s very sensitive to textures, temperatures, consistencies of sauces, etc. We do try getting the kids to interact with their food too. I mean I have no problem with them touching it with their fingers or smelling it or whatever as a way to become familiar with it.
ANTHONY: Okay! Yeah, I get it now. I think the most discouraging thing is when one doesn't want to come in contact with food when it comes from a textural component. And I think that’s how exposure and, as you said earlier, educating kids about food and eating from the touch and smell perspective in order to encourage the move to taste. I think they all really intertwine, right?
CHYNNA: Oh, definitely.
I would say that it’s a dime a dozen that someone cooks something for a kid, throws it down in front of them, saying, “Eat it! It’s good for you!” and the kid’s just going to turn their nose up at it, you know? But if you get kids in the kitchen stirring the pot or putting ingredients together and saying, “Oh! Mom loves this recipe!” or “I’ve been eating this since I was your age!” or whatever, it gets them hyped up about it too. Plus, like you’ve said on your blog and stuff, if you get kids making their own stuff, they’ll take pride in wanting not only serving it but trying it too. I think the process can start at the Farmer’s Market or on a farm.
I cooked with the kids when I was part of the Big Brothers program. So I had to get them interested in the who idea of food and cooking. You know, getting them seeing the colors, seeing different things that awaken the senses and asking them: What ingredients should we use? What colors should we try? What should we make today?
CHYNNA: Yeah! We’re starting to do that right now too! You know…like there are different types of apples and there are many different ways to prepare them…you know..
ANTHONY: Exactly! Right! I think the Canadian Government has some pretty good programs that promote healthy eating and promote the Canadian Food Guide or whatever but the fact that we stock Coke
in vending machines installed in schools is a little disappointing to me. And the media is always targeting kids and that’s where it starts. I mean the proof is in the McDonald’s Happy Meal that comes with the toy. I mean that’s really targeted marketing and sad and, well, just, malice, you know?
CHYNNA: OH yeah. It’s pretty gross, right?
ANTHONY: OH yeah! It just SUCKS! So I think that taking kids to the market or grocery store and really capsulating that whole process makes a HUGE difference. And, yes, it’s a lot of work, right? But it doesn’t have to be complicated. You can make a really awesome meal in about 20 minutes. I think we also need to realize that the way we cook today consists mostly of the ready-made food. That’s not the way it actually happens. I think it’s natural to feel discouraged that it takes a bit longer to start meals from scratch in the beginning but I think it’s worth the effort put in when kids start making healthier food choices and expand their interest in food and what they’ll eat.
CHYNNA: Oh yeah! And it’s funny because we have Food Network on all the time around here. And my Jaimie really likes your show, Jamie Oliver and there’s one other show that she really likes. But you guys just get so hyped about the ingredients and of healthy eating it gets her going! And Chef Jamie talks about his beautiful garden that it’s been contagious for her. But it was actually your show that inspired us to start making our own pasta!!
ANTHONY: Oh! WOW! That’s very cool!
CHYNNA: YEAH!! We got a little pasta making machine and everything…you know…so…
ANTHONY: WOW! That’s so cool! Really neat!
CHYNNA: Yeah! And that’s a really big deal because, for us, if she wants to eat pasta we can now say, “Let’s make pasta! And we can make it with brown flour or spinach or whatever spices smell good..." and, you know, that’s so important.
ANTHONY: Yeah! Absolutely!
CHYNNA: Many 'sensational' parents can be stumped on how to get those essential nutrients in our kids since, by nature, they can be on the fussier side of things. Do you have any meal ideas or recipe suggestions for caregivers that are packed with nutrition but don’t taste ‘healthy’? You know how kids ALWAYS know something is 'healthy' and will resist eating it based on that premise...
ANTHONY: That's tough because you just can’t pack nutrition into plain white rice, you know what I mean? Let’s see…I make this awesome peasant style tomato soup. It has white onions, garlic, sundried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes, herbs and a little bit of spice and stuff and what it all comes down to is that you can remove the chunky texture by putting it through a blender. Then you end up with something that’s similar to any sort of Campbell’s-styled product! Well, honestly, I think that my soup is hand over fist hundreds of times better but, you know. LOL! The point is if you, say, remove that textural component for a kid who has that hurdle in his way of eating certain foods, it’s not going to be as intimidating and it also has all the nutrition.
Or I love that kids are naturally ‘meat and potatoes’ kind of little people and I think that 'One Pot Wonders' are a great way to pack in a lot of nutrition when things are combined (and the child is willing to eat foods mixed all together!) And you have to appreciate I’m no expert in kids but I know a little bit about the food, right? I also think things like risottos and similar foods are great options for altering textures and are excellent opportunities in terms of sneaking in nutrition. Another idea if your looking to introduce textures, flavors and other sensory things is using couscous. I just love couscous because you can put all sorts of things in there. You can add nuts for some crunch or throw in cranberries or other dried fruits to make it sweet and chewy or more savory by using beef broth, you know! The choices there are endless!
Also, ideas like a piaya where you can shred in crab or shrimp if your child likes fish or seafood or add in other yummy bits like choriso or chicken other meats/veggies and switch up the flavors and herbs etc. are great ways for parents to sneak in nutrition without much notice.
CHYNNA: Those are great ideas! The funny thing is, though, that even though these kids avoid most foods we, as parents, always have to find ways to introduce them to these flavors, textures, etc., in fun ways so they learn to cope with them otherwise they’re going to be eating plain pasta and rice their entire lives! So those are some fantastic ideas in getting those textures in there, especially if the child helps make it! Now you mentioned schools not getting on board as quickly as they should be. Do you have any ideas of how we can get school officials on board with us to make more healthy options available in schools? In our kids’ school they don’t have a cafeteria but they do have a drink machine offering juice and water but not pop.
ANTHONY: Well…I mean, that’s a good start, I guess. I have to say that I’m really particular about things like that because certain juices are just loaded with extra sugar and stuff. I mean “Five Alive” is not juice nor is ‘Beep’. Fruit juice to me, and I mean this in the most positive possible way, is more of a treat thing! You know, I mean the sugars in them are way better than syrupy drinks like Coca Cola or something similar but…still…
CHYNNA: Yeah…I hear you…
ANTHONY: I am also adamant about water! But even with water, I find the idea of bottled water which only grew big in the last 10 – 15 years, I like to say, “Turn on the tap instead of twisting the cap!” For me my mandate goes beyond food. The impact of shipping and the harm it does on the environment, that all affects children too, right? Our environment and food are very much connected. So I think with schools, parents need to round up the troops and get together and educate. My passion for this stems from a very early age.
When I was a kid, me and my friend Bryan Kelly were shipped off to school with peanut butter and jam sandwiches. There was a lot of good energy in that, right? But jarred jams have a lot of extra sugars and preservatives and stuff in them. What I do is in the summer I take berries or fruits in season, put them in a food mill and mill them out. Then all you have to do is put that into a jar and the natural pectins set it. Then you have natural jam that’s (a) uncooked so still has all of the natural health benefits of the fruit kept, (b) there’s no extra sugar in it, and (c) if you want to preserve it, you just put it in the freezer. And that’s fresh jam.
CHYNNA: I’m going to try that!
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate it's in everything we use and is considered the top 12 worst chemicals ever. It’s in your shampoo, soap, toothpaste, conditioner, deodorant…it’s in everything you use. I mean, it was originally created to be an automotive solvent to clean parts! It’s very high carcinogen. We have this additive in our products then wonder why cancer rates are going up! We’re at the mercy of the companies producing this stuff and creating that vicious cycle.
So, in the end it’s about spending the extra three dollars and buying the natural soaps. It’s about saving the extra four dollars and mixing water and vinegar. If you don’t like the smell you can just drop a bit of lemon oil in there. It’s about doing things like that! If there isn’t a demand for these things, there won’t be a supply. Make the demand!
As well, if you spend the extra few bucks buying organic products and natural foods from local areas, you put the money back into your economy as opposed to, say, the Italian economy when you buy the imported Italian soda water; you put money into B.C. when you buy local fruits and vegetables as opposed to, say, Mexican. In doing these things, you sever that line of delivery. When you spend that extra ten cents on an organic apple, you’re telling the farmer whose covering his crops in pesticides that we won’t buy his stuff anymore. It’s so skewed right now.
I mean I appreciate the fact that the average salary in Canada is $34, 000 and, maybe, organics are out of reach for those families. But you can pick and choose. I mean, I don’t have organic flour in my house. But I do have organic vegetables and even then you don’t have to buy all organic vegetables. What people can do is go online and Google the ‘Dirty Dozen’ or vegetables you should always buy organic because they have thin skins and absorb a lot of pesticides and stuff. You know, like grapes. But a banana you can just peel off the outside that may have the pesticides on it and the inside is fine.
So I think if I could chock up the entire interview into a few words, it’s all about talking and education.
CHYNNA: Amazing, Anthony! This has all be so insightful and informative. You've given us so much to think about and research and we're so grateful for that. Since we've almost reached the end of our interview here, I'd love to do this one other thing I usually do and then I can let you go. We do something called, “Rapid Fire Questions’ where I just ask short, simple questions about your favorite things, activities, etc. Ready?
ANTHONY: Sure! Go ahead!
CHYNNA: Here we go (Chynna's questions are in BLACK and Anthony's responses are in RED):
SINGLE OR TAKEN: Taken (Sorry ladies! LOL!)
EAST COAST OR WEST COAST: West Coast all the way home.
FAVORITE STYLE OF COOKING: Southern, French and Italian
FAVORITE INGREDIENT AND WHY: I’m going to say the entire pig and it’s because it’s the most versatile, flavorful animal.
FAVORITE ‘SOMETIMES’ FOOD: You know what my weakness is after all I’ve said? A treat for me, and I enjoy one once in awhile…a Slurpee. I get them from Hardee’s, my favorite corner store as long as I can remember. I LOVE a Slurpee. I don’t care what kind of chemicals are in it, that’s my treat…my ‘sometimes’ food. (What kind of Canadian would you be if you didn’t have a Slurpee once in awhile, Anthony? LOL!)
FAVORITE CITY AND WHY: It probably sounds pretty cliché since I live here but…Vancouver. I look around this city every day and I think, ‘WOW! I live here.’ I don’t want to brag but Vancouver is the most beautiful place in the world. It’s not just me that says it! It was #1 again this year, I think.
BEST BOOK YOU’VE EVER READ: You know, I really found Lance Armstrong’s memoir quite inspirational at the time I read it. No WAIT! Hands down: Anthony Bourdain’s ‘Kitchen Confidential’.
GREATEST MOVIE: ‘Casino’ with Robert De Niro.
FAVORITE ACTIVITY: Riding my 1971 Mercury Town and Country bike. Preferably with a girl on the front.
BEST MOMENT EVER: I’d have to say kissing Becky on the 'Punch and Judy' Balcony in Covent Gardens in London England.
MOST HILARIOUS ‘FAN’ EXPERIENCE: I ‘tweet’ a lot so this one time we were heading up to Whistler and I was tweeting the entire time. There were these girls that were following us the entire time and found us eating at Buffalo Bill’s! They followed us around the entire night! It was pretty funny.
Here, I’ll tell you about the sweetest man I’ve ever met. He’s fifteen years old and he lives in Scotland, Ontario. He sent me a speech he wrote to approve and it was called, “Anthony Sedlak: The Greatest Canadian Ever”. And he chose me out of all the people out there! He wrote a speech about why he thinks my initiatives and stuff are admirable and how he aspires to be a young chef. I ended up befriending this young guy and try helping him wherever possible, talk to him once in awhile and keep in touch with him. I was so moved by his writing that I actually set up a Skype call and spoke to his whole class so part of his speech was how I spoke to his class. We actually met up in Toronto and had a bite to eat the last time I was out there. He’s an unreal kid.
FAVORITE MUSIC: My favorite song is ‘The Wreck of Edmund Fitzgerald’ by Gordon Lightfoot. I think in terms of music and telling a story that’s one of the best songs. Picking your favorite song or music is like picking your favorite food…there’s just so many good things out there. But I think I love any music that makes you feel a certain way or dream a certain way or is inspirational or my favorite music takes me back to a certain time. Music and cooking go hand-in-hand. One of the best songs, and it’s kind of depressing, is “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division.
WHAT PISSES YOU OFF: I’m a clean freak. I h-a-t-e messiness--in my life and especially in the kitchen. It’s not about the finished plate—it’s 99% about the process and 1% about the finished product and that application has to be made to many different areas. My office has to be tactical and linear and that’s how you get things done. If you go to big corporations or even systems like the big cell phone carriers or NASA, people put the pencil where the pencil belongs! They don’t just shluff it off. I hate the expression that ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’, I think that’s ridiculous. But the best businesses on earth are very systematic. This isn't really based on perfectionism. The definition of ‘insanity’ is doing something over and over the same way and expecting the same results. And perfectionism just doesn’t work if it impedes in other areas of your life.
WHAT WARMS YOUR HEART: My Dad. His name is Rudy. He’s a total joker and so much more like a friend than a dad, you know? Honest to God, he’d probably ‘off’ someone if I asked him to! He’s just a very genuine, loving person. I mean, I’m 28 years-old and I kiss my dad every time I see him. He’s a cool dude. (Chynna: Awww….that’s a nice answer! SO sweet! Anthony: Yeah, super cheesy, right? Chynna: No, beautiful!!! I love cheese. ;) )
FAVORITE CHARITY AND WHY: I don’t think I can give just one. Go over to my Webpage and see some of the ones I’ve worked with. I think one of my favorite charitable things to do is talk to kids. Any charities that have a kid-focus are favorites of mine. That’s where I’m at.
SOMETHING ABOUT YOU THAT NOT MANY PEOPLE KNOW: I don’t drink. And another interesting one is that I only just got my driver’s license last year.
website and learn more about him and his interests. He's an amazing young chef doing incredible things and I encourage you all to get to know him better and learn more about the important points he's brought up with us today.