Christopher Gillard Q & A

Karl Wells
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Christopher Gillard is only 39 but he’s been a chef in hot restaurant kitchens since he was 16.

That’s 23 years of washing dishes, chopping vegetables, slicing tenderloin, stirring sauces and doing everything else that makes up the daily work of a journeyman chef.

Gillard has worked as a chef in Alberta, Mexico and locally at restaurants such as the Pepper Mill, Basho and Raymonds.

There have been highs and lows for Gillard.

A high was opening his eponymous restaurant. A low was closing Christopher’s.

Despite the peaks and vales, he always manages to bounce back and maintain an infectious, youthful exuberance about food and cooking.

Christopher Gillard is the real deal.

Q: Did you grow up in a home with an appreciation for real cooking and good food?

A: My mother was an amazing cook. She was a nurse, but with all her crazy hours she still managed to have a wonderful meal on the table for supper.

Then, my brother Michael moved away for his chef training at Holland College and my parents said to him, “OK, we’re putting you through culinary school so when you get home we expect you to cook supper every night.”

Ultimately I fell in love with watching Michael and my mother cook, and again, where Mom was a nurse, I’d often have to fend for myself.

My father was on the road, too, so I would frequently cook my own lunches and dinners.

Q: Did your brother’s example motivate you to become a chef?

A: Pretty much, yes. Watching my brother fine-tuning everything and cooking so elegantly was very influential.

I would sit in the kitchen at 15 years of age and watch him prep for dinner.

I found it amazing what could be done with food. It was like, my God, you can do that with that?

Q: What was your first paying job?

A: My first job was at the now-defunct Marconi’s restaurant on Torbay Road. I was 16 and I walked in, thinking it was easy to be a chef, since I’d watched my brother.

So I went in and applied for a job as a cook and the chef laughed at me. He said, “How old are you?”

Then he told me he didn’t need any cooks, but to come back when I had some experience. I walked out very disappointed.

Next thing he chased me down on the parking lot shouting, “My dishwasher just quit! Do you want the job?”

After three weeks he noticed I was helping to prep as well as wash dishes. I was fast.

Then he put me on the line and I basically proved myself worthy of cooking with a bunch of chefs.   

Q: Did you go to culinary school at some point?      

A: I ended up going to the College of the North Atlantic for three months.

I was ignorant as to what culinary school was all about and felt there was something it wasn’t giving me. I became very disgruntled and quit.

My brother (who’s now chef at the Cosmopolitan Casino Resort in Las Vegas) suggested I move to Alberta and get a job in one of the CP hotels.

During the winter months they bring in chefs from all over and you can do your schooling while you’re at work, so that’s what I did.    

Q: How do you describe your food?

A: It’s French-influenced for sure. French is the mother cuisine for me.

I love the richness of gravies, sauces and braised dishes.

On my days off I cook two really fantastic meals a week for myself.

I’ll go to the market and just walk through the aisles until something inspires me.

Then I’ll go home and cook for three hours with a nice bottle of wine and sit down and enjoy it.

Q: Do you think Newfoundland chefs are weak in their knowledge of wines?

A: I think it comes down to where the chef is working. A lot of chefs just aren’t interested in wine.

They focus on the food and if you ask them when they’re off duty, “Would you like a glass of Pinot Noir?” they’ll most likely say “Nah, just gimme a Labatt Lite.”

Unfortunately here in Newfoundland that’s how it is, but it’s slowly getting better.

I think if you’re an industry chef you have a responsibility to learn about wines because you want your food to pair well with wines. Food and wine go hand in hand.

Q: What’s your view on the “eat local” trend?

A: Brilliant. There’s so much available, from wild berries to fresh fish that’s being caught just off our shores.

I love the freshness. You can’t beat it, especially if you’re in a restaurant and your waiter comes over and says, “This vegetable was grown especially for us at so and so farm” or, “This meat came from Bay Roberts.”

You don’t even have to try to sell products that are local and that good.

Having said that, I’m a chef and you have to be realistic. Unfortunately, our growing season is brutally short. So I say support local during the season.

But as soon as the snow falls everything is coming from away.

Pineapples are coming from California and oranges from Florida.

But if we couldn’t get those foods here it would be almost impossible to survive. We’d all be underweight and pale. Root vegetables will only get you so far.

Q: What are you doing these days?

A: I’m the executive chef at Inn by the Bay in Dildo. I’ll be here until the end of the season, which could be October, maybe November.

We’re going to see how the season flows. There’s a beautiful dining room here overlooking the water.

Obviously the people staying at the inn get dining room preference, but if we have tables available we do accept diners from outside.

We provide breakfast and dinner service for inn guests; however for walk-in diners it’s just dinner.

Q: What kind of food are you doing at the inn?

A: We’re focusing on as much local as we can.

I’ve got a free-range chicken sous vide; we have access to some beautiful fresh cod; I’m doing local braised lamb shank, seafood chowder and soups that change daily.

We have a couple of farms with greenhouses in the area that are producing a lot more than I anticipated at such an early stage, so we’ll be offering salads and other additional items once we get into full operation.

Thank you, chef Christopher Gillard.

                                          ...

For regular updates on “One Chef One Critic,” my Telegram Dining Out column and the latest developments on the local culinary scene please follow me on

Twitter @karl_wells.

 Karl Wells is an accredited personal chef and recipient of awards from the national body of the Canadian Culinary Federation

and the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador.

He is also a restaurant panellist with enRoute Magazine.

Contact him through his website,

www.karlwells.com.

Twitter @karl_wells

Organizations: College of the North Atlantic, Cosmopolitan Casino Resort, CP Canadian Culinary Federation Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador

Geographic location: California, Newfoundland, Las Vegas Alberta Bay Roberts Florida Dildo

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