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One-on-one with Chef Adam Ryan

Canadian cuisine’ is hard to define. We often ask chefs what they think defines ‘Canadian food’ and of course, the answer varies. As Chef Adam Ryan says, “there is no right or wrong answer here.” 

In fact, he comes up with two answers for what Canadian food is: simply, Canadian food is food cooked with Canadian-grown ingredients, or, alternatively, Canadian food is food created within Canada. These definitions may seem vague, but considering the mash up of traditional and non-traditional, and the mix of cultures present in Canada, it makes sense that we open up what we may consider ‘Canadian’. 

Seeking out new and interesting ways to cook ‘Canadian’ is where Chef Adam seems to excel. Chef Adam grew up in Ontario and began his culinary career here as well. One of his first jobs in the foodservice industry was at a local restaurant, Bluebird Cafe & Grill in Orangeville. At Bluebird, Chef Adam got his introduction to cooking and learned to make tasty comfort foods. However, it was while working at Spirit Tree Estate Cidery in Caledon, Ontario that he truly started to appreciate what it means to cook Canadian.

One on one with Chef Adam Ryan
Fava Beans with Pea Puree, Strawberries and Birch Syrup by Chef Adam Ryan

Spirit Tree Estate Cidery is an active farm, producing fruits and vegetables for use in the kitchen. There, Chef Adam’s appreciation for farming really solidified as he found a deeper understanding of a restaurant and chef’s relationship with farmers.

At Spirit Tree Estates, Chef Adam utilized as many locally-sourced ingredients as possible to produce dishes that exemplifies what it means to ‘cook Canadian’. He emphasizes how  seasonality challenged his cooking skills and creativity; only being able to use what is available at that time, or how he needed to adjust ingredients to be used in winter. However, he also points out how the diversity of the Canadian terroir means that he has access to an array of ingredients. “They’re even growing olives in British Columbia now and producing olive oil, and we even have Northern kiwis now (a small grape-size kiwi),” he points out. 

When it comes to showcasing the flavours of Canada, one of Chef Adam’s favourite dishes to cook is a ‘Crispy Maple Leaf’. Chef Adam explains how he uses a local cider to make a batter, dipping the maple leaf and frying it up, topping it with seasonal and local herbs.

Chef Adam recently made the move from Toronto to Calgary, where he took over as chef at The Coup, a well-loved Vegetarian establishment. Talking about the differences between Toronto and Calgary, Chef Adam says that, really, there isn’t much of a difference in the food scene. He elaborates, “It’s much the same in the sense that there are chefs cooking good food in both cities, however, the biggest difference is there are a few unexplored trends in Calgary that provides an opportunity for chefs to bring in new ideas.”

One on one with Chef Adam Ryan
Gin and Sumac Tonic Gel with Fresh Juniper by Chef Adam Ryan

Making the move to cooking vegetarian at The Coup was a much-needed fresh challenge for Chef Adam. While the move to Calgary wasn’t exactly a calculated decision, the decision to make the switch to a Vegetarian restaurant was. “If you’re cooking a steak,” explains Adam, “you don’t need to embellish it, adding sauces and spices, get a good cut of meat and people will be impressed.” He goes further saying, “But with vegetables, you need really need to test yourself creatively without adding fat or meat stock. You can’t just boil a carrot and place it on a plate and impress someone.” 

Chef Adam is honing his craft at The Coup, focusing on the vegetarian tasting menu that skews the very trendy meat replacement options and instead, accentuates seasonal veg and fruit from across Canada. Looking ahead, Chef Adam is excited to bring in guest chefs at The Coup – chefs who wouldn’t normally cook vegetarian, and he’s also looking forward to Canada’s Great Kitchen Party (formerly Gold Medal Plates) in November. 

We sat down with Chef Adam to ask him a few quickfire questions about his favourite comfort foods, what he admires in other chefs, and what makes him tick in the kitchen.

What’s the last thing you burned?

The new Taylor Swift album for my Discman.

Your favourite spice?

Sumac Attack! Canadian AF.

What makes you ‘kitchen angry’?

When people are careless.

The latest flavour you discovered?

Aspen bolete – it’s a wild mushroom that a forager in Alberta recently brought into the restaurant for me to try. 

What’s your most extravagant purchase?

A bottle of 1968 Gaja Barbaresco.

Favourite song in the kitchen?

Mr. Jones by Counting Crows.

What’s your comfort food?

Chili – it was my favourite food growing up and still love it to this day. The spicier the better!

One on one with Chef Adam Ryan
Tomato Salad with Roasted Tomatillo Sauce

What’s your most essential tool?

My hands; I use them more than anything else on a daily basis.

If you could change anything in the food industry, what would it be?

More restaurants and chefs would support their community and the farmers/producers around them.

Your favourite smell in the kitchen?

Charcoal or wood burning, and brewing coffee! 

What do you admire in other chefs?

Their passion, dedication, and creativity. 

Who or what is your greatest inspiration?

Restaurants and chefs who dedicate themselves to a style of cooking and represent that style; places like The French Laundry, elbulli, Noma, and St. John’s.

The dish that you are proudest of?

Crispy maple leaves with smoked crabapple and maple syrup sauce. They’re super Canadian and make everyone happy.

What’s your end of the world menu?

All the tacos. Maybe a few margaritas as well.

Your favourite advice or quote?

“Sense of urgency” – it’s the quote posted on the wall of the kitchen at the French Laundry.

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