Meet the very talented chefs to who provide members with outstanding food
Calgary Winter Club
The Calgary Winter Club’s Jeff Merrin CCC, is both Executive Chef and Food & Beverage Director. Most of his time is spent in the F & B role, and he is one of a handful of chefs in Canada pursuing the Certified Master Chef designation. He finds the program both challenging and rewarding, not to mention time-consuming, perfecting his craft. Time to hunt and fish is tougher, but he makes time with his son and does much of the cooking at home. Pork is his favourite ingredient due to its versatility, and he can’t live without butter and mushrooms.
Merrin grew up in Kingston, Ontario and initially pursued a BSc. degree. A stint in Japan teaching English sparked a love of Asian foods and he travelled and took classes while there. To this day he is a purist at heart when it comes to the flavours and how to combine them. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in NY, he has worked in London’s Mandarin Oriental, Fairmont Lake Louise and Banff Centre. Memorable career moments include his first meal for 2,000 and his first Châine de Rotisseur dinner.
F & B at the Winter Club requires Merrin to be diplomatic, especially when dealing with member concerns. He must also fully appreciate the relationship between the front and back of the house.
In describing his food philosophy, Merrin says, ‘Making things from scratch allows us to control quality and reduce the amount of preservatives one finds in processed foods. The healthfulness is removed with processing. Cooks need to develop their skills to make food taste like what it is; a chicken curry should still taste of chicken.’
Dean Kanuit is the Executive Chef at the Glencoe Club. He says, “I finally realized I did okay for myself, when two years ago, I did a pop-up restaurant in Munich and was housed in a 5* hotel”. Not bad for a native Calgarian, who as a youngster, watched the Galloping Gourmet. It helped that his mother was an excellent cook and his father enjoyed cooking Chinese food. He enrolled in SAIT’s Professional Cooking program, to which his father retorted, “Just what the world needs, another hamburger flipper”.
Dad ate his words, as last year Kanuit coached the gold medal ‘Best of the Best’ dream team challenge in Hong Kong. This fit his traditionalist approach to food, as three SAIT graduates prepared, served and paired wines fora 3-course dinner, tableside. “The trick is to take classical roots and evolve it into a contemporary presentation style”, he says.
Kanuit worked at La Chaumiere before heading to South Africa to compete for Canada in the Commis Châine competition, where he placed third in the world. He was quickly snapped up and stayed in South Africa, where his wife made more money working the casino. His advice: “Follow your passion, as there is not necessarily a lot of money.”
Kanuit’s credits his mentors, Otto Daniels for instilling palate and taste, and Vincent Parkinson. He also believes in sending staff on plum opportunities to foster their growth.
Kanuit does much of the cooking at home. Foie gras is his luxury ingredient and cardamom a favourite spice. He sees food trends supporting more whole foods and wishes fewer menus listed Caesar salad. We are lucky to have Kanuit’s recipe for lamb loin with spring vegetables, as he is currently doing double duty while the F & B manager is on leave.
Calgary Petroleum Club
One of the few prominent local female chefs is Liana Robberecht, Executive Chef at the Calgary Petroleum Club. She started cooking at a very young age, helping her mother. Growing up in Smithers, B.C., Robberecht supports local farm to table; the club’s kitchens make everything from scratch, down to juicing the oranges and using the peel for vinaigrette. She utilizes all of a product to keep her costs in line, and challenges her staff to come up with ways to maximize value from ingredients.
Robberecht attended NAIT Culinary School when it was a male-dominated profession. She participated in her first competition while working at the Centre Club in Edmonton, and remembers being told, “Don’t put too much effort in as you are just a girl.” She credits Yoshi Chubachi for pushing her hard in her early years to make her better.
Robberecht returned to Smithers for a time to operate her own business. She says, “I was the bomb”. Although pursuing excellence almost burned her out, she took away, “To be an effective leader you have to share, collaborate and trust others to do work.”
When not in the kitchen, she enjoys painting in oils and acrylics – and sells her work. The creative penchant does not stop there; she created the online ‘Lollipop Girl Accessories’.
Favourite ingredients are yuzu fruit and apples. She is not a fan of organ meats and believes people need to go back to real food to be more healthful. The recipe she is sharing uses Asian apples.
Swiss-born Kenneth Titcombe is firmly ensconced in the Ranchmen’s Club, Calgary’s oldest, most prestigious club, with two restaurants and 14 private dining rooms. He had humble beginnings at age 14, working for friends in a Greek restaurant in Jasper. Titcombe says, “It’s important to create great food and be true to who you are. I found it boring when my father would explain mechanical engineering as there was not enough change”.
His career is punctuated with quality experiences that moulded his approach to cuisine. He apprenticed under the fabled Zimmerman at the Westin Calgary before employment in Switzerland and Canada under renowned chefs. By age 23 he held senior positions at the Pacific Rim Vancouver, Four Season’s Edmonton, and with Lidia Shire in Los Angeles and Mark Baker in Boston. The Post Hotel in Lake Louise recruited him at age 29, and he was integral in helping them achieve Relais et Chateaux status. The Ranchmen’s Club followed where, “I met the love of my life, Angela. As a member she fell in love with my cooking before we met”.
“My most memorable moment is becoming a father and watching my two children grow into beautiful human beings. Being invited to join the Châine de Rotisseurs at 29 comes a close second”. At home he shares meal prep with Angela, who is an excellent cook. He tends to cook for guests, leaving fabulous décor to Angela. “I feel sorry for some wives when everything falls on their shoulders”.
Titcombe says, “Source the best and healthiest ingredients and treat them with respect. A fresh, modern approach to the classics is best”. The home larder must have Starbucks French Roast, Swiss chocolate, lemons and homemade chicken broth.
Kenneth’s Arctic Char on Wasabi Mashed Potatoes, Soya Lime and Ginger Sauce, Shiitake Mushrooms and Baby Bok Choy
Photos by Ingrid Kuenzel