Some chefs know early on in their working lives that they want to make a living cooking food.
For Saskatoon Chef Evelyn Reisner, this notion didn’t arrive until after she’d established herself in the non-profit sector. Facing burnout and the desire to do something different with her life, she enrolled in a cooking class in Italy seven years ago and hasn’t looked back.
Evelyn created her company, Fresh Dish Catering, shortly after her return from Italy, and has been treating Saskatonians to well-crafted, upscale and diverse fare ever since.
Feeding people delicious food is nothing new for this chef. She grew up in a family where eating well and preparing meals from scratch was the norm. Evelyn credits her parents for instilling this love of food in her — particularly her mom, who is an excellent cook — and for developing her culinary roots.
Evelyn’s family travelled a lot, living in Italy for 18 years, then Southern California, and finally Vancouver. These travels inspired her mom’s cooking, and Evelyn says all of the great things that happened in her family happened around the table. It was always about good food and good conversation. With her parents working, Evelyn helped out in the family kitchen as much as she could, and the cooking bug took hold.
For this chef, food is love. It’s how she expresses love to friends and family, and watching guests enjoy her cooking is how she gets fed emotionally, she says. Hearing positive feedback from her clients is pure joy.
Evelyn and her catering team are currently working out of the very pretty Barn at Wind’s Edge — just a hop, skip and jump from the new Costco in Saskatoon. Evelyn is the in-house chef for the Barn, but also caters to off-site locations. She thrives on feeding people innovative and yet accessible meals.
Working the bride and groom’s personalities into menu items is something she and her team are proud of and have a lot of fun doing, she says.
Food waste is at top of mind for this chef. She’s careful to not purchase more ingredients than needed for an event, and she’s even teamed up with a local farmer who gets the table scrapings and kitchen scraps in exchange for farm fresh eggs.
As with other chefs we met this year, COVID-19 certainly threw a loop into Evelyn’s business, causing cancellations of many weddings and other major events. Like all great chefs, Evelyn has had to pivot her business to doing pop-up dinners, teaching cooking classes, and catering smaller events where social distancing can take place.
She managed to keep one full-time employee working during the pandemic, but has had to lay off others. She hopes they can come back soon.
The day we visited, Evelyn was preparing pasta al puttanesca, with fire roasted tomatoes. She charred the fresh tomatoes over an open flame burner, chopped them up and added them to a pot with a good glug of olive oil, a little garlic and onion, chopped kalamata olives, some capers, a little anchovy and red pepper flakes. Served over fresh pasta and garnished with Parmesan cheese, it was a feast for the senses. As Evelyn created her fresh dish, we chatted a little about this and that.
Q: What is your favourite Saskatchewan ingredient to cook with?
A: Lentils. I love lentils. We have a connection with a local organic grower, so we make this really fantastic lentil salad made with those beautiful little du Puy lentils. We’re also looking into producing pasta and sauces for people to buy from us, and we’re doing some research into a lentil-based pasta that will be made with locally grown red lentils. I also love the foraged items, like mushrooms, fiddleheads, and we preserve various pickles. The bounty of Saskatchewan is very broad.
Q: If you have 15 minutes to cook, what are you eating?
A: During our busy seasons there isn’t a lot of cooking at home. For me, cooking for myself at home is more ritualistic in the sense that I kind of plan it to be something I wouldn’t do on the fly. I’m going to spend the day cooking something special, like something from my childhood, or if I’m cooking for friends, I’ll prepare paella, which is one of my personal favourites. If I’m throwing together a meal, it’s pasta with fresh roasted tomatoes or something like that.
Q: What is your guilty pleasure grocery store item?
A: Lays Plain Potato Chips. Just plain, no dip.
Q: If you could cook for anyone famous, who would it be?
A: Lynn Crawford. I’d have to make a decision to cook something I really love to impress her, or to make something that I think she would be interested in. If I wanted to impress her, I’d make paella, because it’s one of my favourite dishes and is dynamic and interesting. If I was making something she would be interested in, it would be simpler, with a local focus.
Q: Did anyone inspire you to become a professional chef?
A: I watched a lot of cooking shows and one of my favourite chefs is Lynn Crawford. I love her energy and her style. She appears to be a no fuss, no muss kind of gal, and a fantastic chef. I’ve always wanted to meet her.