CHEF TALK: FIRE IT UP! with CHEF BRIAN VOELZING
When I first saw Brian, all I could think of was him on a surf board! But then he donned his Chef coat, and his signature baseball cap and he looked right at home. Brian is young, ambitious and honest – and I think these traits come out in the food he presents. Cooking for over ten years, seven of which have been professionally, Brian thrives on the buzz of the kitchen and yet when you meet him, you can’t but picture him to be a laid back, chilled out dude – but I guess that is where his charm lies – calm exterior with a crazily thumping heart – he gives nothing away! With a dream to one day own his own restaurant in Canada – it will be a while for that to happen – as Dubai is not going to let go of Brian that easily!
Name: Brian Voelzing
Restaurant: The Hide
From: Ottawa, Canada
Culinary School: Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa
Knife Hand: Right
Were you a good kid, did you eat your veggies as a child?
I think I was alright! I’ve never been a picky eater. I can’t really think of any food that I actually don’t like… no there are foods I don’t like, but there is nothing I won’t eat, even as a kid. I would try just about anything. I was fine with vegetables – I didn’t like broccoli or Brussels sprouts so much, but I would still eat them.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
It depends what age I was at. But when I had to make a decision on getting into a career path, I did a lot of travelling when I was young just going to resorts and cruises for family vacations so I wanted to be a Resort Manager. So I went to school for Hospitality Management and while I was there I did a cooking course and I thought to myself that I enjoyed it and I could take this seriously. That is when I decided to go to the Cordon Bleu.
But at the time of doing the Hospitality Management course, I was already cooking. At about 15 years I got a job at a chain restaurant – Kelsey’s – just being a line cook. Did that, enjoyed it and then went to a restaurant called Boston Pizza where I was the kitchen supervisor. These were jobs that I did while I was in school, it never had anything to do with a career path I had chosen at the time.
When I was in Hospitality Management I had to do a test on mise-en-place (a test for “putting things in place”, as in set up) for a table setting which I was supposed to do, but ended up doing a test on mise-en-place for back of house. One of my professors at the time was the manager at Hy’s Steakhouse and he asked me if I wanted to go and work there and I thought – why not? When I went to Hy’s Steakhouse I was then in a professional kitchen with people much older than me, alcohol everywhere for sauces and making stock, everything is made from scratch. Before when I was working at Kelsey’s or Boston Pizza, the meat could come vac packed and portioned but at Hy’s we got these whole cuts meats, they got a band saw – it was just quite overwhelming and at a young age – I was about 18 years old.
From there my buddies and I moved out to Kelowna (near Vancouver) for the summer and I looked for the nicest restaurant I could find – Sal’s Prime Steakhouse, walked in and asked for a job and they agreed. Kelowna is a very summer holiday place; their busy season is in the summer and they are always looking for help. It was a good learning experience, learned a lot more there. It was when I was in Kelowna I thought do I stay here and do a cooking apprenticeship or do I got back to school and become a resort manager or do I got to the Cordon Bleu, considered one of the best culinary school – and I thought I would go to the Cordon Bleu.
What was your most memorable restaurant job?
I would say the Scaramouche Restaurant in Toronto which served French cuisine. This was right after I graduated from the Cordon Bleu. Very memorable because it was a very good restaurant and I learned an unbelievable amount there. I learned basically using the freshest ingredients, to cook properly – it a place of learning – you are very much mentored when you go there – it’s not the type of kitchen that people want to see you fail – it’s a very team mentality. I made some great friends while I was there and met some amazing people.
The Executive Chef, Keith Froggett was incredible. Just the respect that the team had for him. I have never heard anyone say a bad word about him.
What did you have for lunch yesterday?
I actually did a beef tasting, so I had some Australian dry aged beef, American dry aged beef and some American wet aged beef. I tried those three in order to do a taste comparison – all the steaks get cooked to a medium rare, seasoned properly the same way, we let them rest, slice them all up and put them in front of us – no one knows which is which – and we decide which one tasted the best.
Place you eat most often on days off?
Obviously in Dubai you have so many new restaurants that I try to try different restaurants every time. Recently I ate at Enigma which stood out in terms of the culinary skill, and the actual entire experience. I will go back every time there is a new Chef.
I also like going to The Play – Mediterasian is what they are calling their food. It was really good, cool presentation; they had some really funky plates. I tried the Fish in the Bag which was really cool, the beef tartare was really good, the duo of tartare was really good – they did a duo of salmon and tuna.
And sometimes I like simple the ‘fun-ness’ of being in a pub – laid back, not worrying about anything – like McGettigan’s.
What’s your favourite ingredient/ condiment to work with?
I do like working with Vinegar quite a bit. A good vinegar – a vinegar with flavour like a Chardonnay vinegar can really bring out the flavours in food. A good vinegar shouldn’t be overtly acidic. I use it quite a bit but anytime I use it, it should never taste vinegar, if that makes sense – it’s a finishing. If I make a creamy soup of some sort depending on what it is, I might finish it off with a touch of vinegar just to balance it out, and bring out some of the flavours.
If it’s the last weekend on earth – what city are you eating in and what are you eating?
I would probably go back home to Ottawa and have a barbecue with family – just some steaks on the barbecue, sweet corn, some grilled veggies, baked potatoes – something really simple. I think now, if I went back it would be me behind the barbecue, but growing up my Dad, Scott was always the one ‘burning’ something on the barbecue.
If you left Dubai to cook somewhere else, where would you go?
Maybe Japan – Tokyo – I have never been there. They have a massive appreciation and respect for food. Its somewhere I have always wanted to go there – it’s definitely on my list. I think is more about working with some of the flavours there. It’s really all about what I am going to learn, what do I want to learn. For me it’s not always about food, it’s about life experiences, the people I meet along the way.
Another place might be San Sebastián in Spain. I would probably go there just to check out some of the three star Michelin restaurants, maybe work in one of them for a bit, learn something new. But, not just necessarily a three star restaurant, it could be a little restaurant with fresh fish, fresh seafood – tasty food is what I am really interested in now.
What has been your most embarrassing cooking moment?
There have been a lot. But I had to make bread one day at Scaramouche. I don’t know what I did, but the bread never rose – so there was no bread that day which was pretty bad. The pastry chef did manage to sort something out but there was quite a panic for a while.
As you are learning, there are many stupid mistakes you make when you are younger. At one point I had a cut on every single finger which were all bandaged. There are a lot of mistakes that people make in the kitchen and you think – how did you make that mistake? – and then when you think back you realise you made them too.
Who is the person you would most like to cook for?
I haven’t seen my mum, Sherryl in a while – two years now – so I think if I were to cook for anyone right now, I would cook for my mom. I would most probably do like a nice three-course menu for her – something simple enough. Maybe scallops and prawns to start and then for main course maybe, since my mom enjoys it – a beef fillet, smoked potato puree – something a little more funky for her to try and for dessert something simple – like a bread pudding.
What is the dish on the menu you eat most?
I actually don’t eat much of the menu. There are some dishes that I haven’t eaten them entirely – I have tried everything. I quite like the dry aged beef – the Spanish Iberico Mountain beef – its 45 days dry aged and I would have the sirloin of that. I like it because of the intense beefy flavours and it’s got very nice texture. For the sides I would probably have, depending on my mood, the roasted carrots and a bit of parmesan mashed potato or I would go with the OMG onion rings.
One of my all time favourite dishes, whether it is done at The Hide or anywhere else – as long as it’s done right is – French onion soup. It’s just hearty, it’s got so much flavour – it’s one of those comfort dishes that you can have as one of those lunch time meal – super rich and extremely nice. At The Hide we serve the Frenchie’s Five Onion Soup.
How would you describe your food philosophy?
For me its about preparing food properly, respecting the ingredients. It’s trying to maximize flavour and using the best possible ingredients and proper seasoning.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
Tarantula in Thailand. Got it off a street cart. The tarantulas are sitting dried out, and then they are deep fried and then they add a spicy seasoning on it. They also had crickets and cockroaches. In Louisiana, at a speciality store called the Pepper Palace – where they only sell the some of the hottest sauces –I had the world’s hottest horseradish which brought me to tears. They put it on a toothpick and told me not to breath and just put it your mouth. It was also here that I tried maggots which were seasoned with salt and vinegar – I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it.
What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
There are a few that come to mind. When I did my trial at Scaramouche, I was quite young and the Chef asked me to wear something nice so I actually went out and bought some. I don’t think they have done it before, but after my trial they let me sit in the dining room and they fed me, and it was an eight-course tasting menu. I just remember thinking everything was ‘wow’ and that I really wanted to work here. I was sitting there all by myself and they served me course after course and I was extremely impressed with the food – taste and presentation, the service.
What’s your biggest guilty pleasure food?
I really like sweets – a Toblerone chocolate bar. I love wine gums – Maynard’s wine gums – although they are not sold in Dubai – they are candy really – they don’t taste like wine. They are small round candies that come in different colours and a are stacked and wrapped and the packet is twisted ends – they are chewy.
If you were an ingredient what would you be, and why?
Salt. I would be salt. You can’t live without it and it makes everything taste better.
What’s the best piece of advice you have been given?
As simple as it sounds, my parents among other told me to just work hard; hard work pays off. Another one would be to do something because you enjoy it, work in certain places because you enjoy it or you want to be part of that team.
If you weren’t a chef, or in the food business, what would you be?
Maybe working at a golf course looking after the greens or maybe a hair stylist.
Most underrated ingredient? Beef Cheeks. Its tastes very good if it is cooked properly, it’s extremely tender; it’s just a lovely piece of meat.
Best culinary tool? My knife. Because I can cut, peel and take apart anything with a knife. If you have a good knife you are alright.
A chef that inspires you? Thomas Keller. He is quite influential; I have all his cook books. A lot of famous Chefs have left his kitchen and done their own thing. His drive and his food philosophy inspire me. His philosophy is more about who is in the dining room, giving people the best possible experience that he can possibly get from service to the food. I have only ever eaten at one of his restaurants – Bouchon and it’s so well thought out – the whole experience from start to finish.
Favourite cuisine? French. I like sauces, I like the flavour you get from it.
One dish you can’t live without? Steak tartare – I just love it. Anywhere I go if they have steak tartare on the menu I will order it. And Foie Gras Torchon. These are two dishes that just do it for me.
What’s one food trend that needs to end? I don’t know if there is any food trend that needs to end; I think there are some that have slowed down. I am all for the molecular gastronomy but I think if you are not going to do it properly there is no point in doing it.
Favourite food from your childhood/ Describe one of your first food memories. It goes back to barbecuing. We used to go a couple of times a year as a family to Maine for the weekend and there was a place there called the Clam Bake – the lobster there was one of those that I remember. It used to be a massive diner – with over a 1000 seats – you go there order your food, get a number and then you go and pick up your food and it’s like steamed lobster and clarified garlic butter – that’s it. You order more sides of course.
Last thing you cooked for yourself? It would have to be a Beef Burger – tri tip cut in a brioche bun, a bit of cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle – no condiments.
Describe your cooking style in 3 words. Fresh, fun and tasty.
THIS OR THAT
Food on a skewer or food in a tiny spoon?
Hot curry or haute cuisine?
Buffet or sit-down dinner?
Mints or gum?
Soup or salad?
Greek yogurt or labneh?
Butter or olive oil?
Chicken breast or chicken thigh?
Baked or fried?
Waffles or pancakes?
Lobster or steak?
And lastly, cake or pie?
Well, that’s that! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!