1. Are you working more or less compared to this time last year?
My company has seen an incremental increase in private dining. People want the comfort and luxury of a restaurant but want to ensure they are doing their part by physical distancing.
2. How has your cooking changed since covid?
Before Covid I was mostly working as a consultant, working alongside corporate chefs and doing a lot of on-site events. Now I find myself doing virtual cooking classes, gourmet meal delivery and private dining.
3. How much cooking at home are you doing now compared to before?
I’m cooking at home more than I ever did. Before Covid, I had such long days (16 to 18 hours) that by the time I would get home, I would be so burned out and exhausted that takeout was normally my go-to or dining out. Now I find myself cooking four to five meals per day and using my home kitchen as my test lab where my friends and family have become my guests.
4. What are your go-to home recipes?
I’m a huge fan of bold flavours with a lot of heat, so my go-to is usually my jerk chicken coq au vin, Scotch bonnet-marinated prawns with coconut cream paella, and I finish the week with a hearty bowl of cassava gnocchi that’s drenched in hand-ripped oxtail ragù made Italian-style (coda alla vaccinara) and washed down with a Bordeaux.
5. Have you been dipping into any cookbooks lately, old or new, that you recommend?
I’ve re-read Fergus Henderson’s The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating; [David Zilber and] René Redzepi’s The Noma Guide to Fermentation; and Provisions: The Roots of Caribbean Cooking by the Rousseau sisters.
6. Are you food-shopping in stores or using restaurant suppliers?
I’ve been shopping locally, now more than ever; small-business owners need as much support as possible. I get my seafood from Sea Kings in Kensington Market, produce from the Black Creek Community Farm and bread from Brodflour in Liberty Village.
7. Has covid left you reliant on any new pantry items?
I’ve been making my own vinegar and soy sauce. I’m obsessed. I’ve created so many different dressings, sauces and condiments. My favourite is this fermented Scotch bonnet and pineapple vinegar that I use as a mignonette for oysters.
8. If you aren’t cooking, what are you eating? Do you have any guilty pleasures?
I gained some weight during the pandemic. So, over the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to eat a little more clean. The challenge for me now is to cook more plant-forward dishes with an emphasis on minimalism, and leaner, more sustainable proteins if I am going to consume animal proteins.
—RENÉE S. SUEN
📷 Chef du Jour