What's in your fridge? 

On the shelves with Sue Adams: A force of nature

click to enlarge PHOTO BY BOB ADAMSWhat's in Sue's fridge? "Cool ideas, recipes and possibilities." Shelf No. 2 holds about one-20th of Sue Adams' cookbook collection — but she still really likes to ad lib. It's an Aussie thing.
  • Photo by Bob Adams<
  • What's in Sue's fridge? "Cool ideas, recipes and possibilities." Shelf No. 2 holds about one-20th of Sue Adams' cookbook collection — but she still really likes to ad lib. It's an Aussie thing.

It's hard to predict such things, and normally I'd be the last person to say something like this, but the world would likely be a much-diminished place if Sue Adams had actually gone to art school.

To start, her fridge would be much less exotic. Cooking, Sue says definitively, is her passion. I say it's also a major creative outlet, or at least one of them.

This bent for cooking maybe isn't so surprising if you know that Sue, along with hubby Bob, owned The Grocery Store in Whistler Village for 27 years, fostering a hugely creative team (their witty full-page ads in Pique were legendary) before selling it to long-time produce manager, Mike Groot. After all, you'd be exposed to tons of interesting food products and samples (we'll get to those later) when you own a grocery store. Two, actually — the Adamses still own Pemberton Valley Supermarket.

But you could also extrapolate that these ventures are simply an extension of her entrepreneurial streak — well, that along with the cooking passion — for Sue has a list of accomplishments as long as your arm. Among them, she's chaired Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival, won a Canadian Independent Grocer of the Year Award, and received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for her contributions to small business and the arts and culture community.

But her culinary cred stems from key involvement in two Vancouver classics: The Amorous Oyster and Contented Sole restaurants, and as founding partner of Culinary Capers, now parlayed into one of the most successful catering companies in North America.

This is all the more remarkable for Sue's cooking and cheffing; even her business management skills, are self-taught. Her professional training is in occupational therapy, which focuses on getting people back to work after mental or physical disruption.

Born near Canberra and raised on a 1,700-hectare sheep farm with some 5,000 sheep, Sue hit Vancouver in 1967 on the first leg of a typical "young Aussie," post-college round-the-world travel adventure with her girlfriend. In Vancouver, she landed an amazing job in mental health as an occupational therapist and met Bob the first day on the job. They've pretty much been together ever since.

"I wanted to go to art school (Sydney Technical School fine arts program, now subsumed into Australia's National Art School) but my parents wouldn't have any of that. So they said, no-o-o — how about occupational therapy? That's full of arts training, which it is," says Sue. She learned everything from how to set a printing press to weaving and potting pots.

Like her mom, Sue is also a great cook who loves entertaining. At home in Whistler, it flows from the heart of the Adams' Sub-Zero fridge. Faced with the same maple paneling as the kitchen cupboards, the fridge sits in the middle of the kitchen, which sits in the middle of the main floor, where Bob and Sue mostly hang out in their 15-year-old wood-and-stone "Whistler special," as she calls it. This is maybe the smallest house in Nicklaus North, and it looks out over the golf course with a winter view of Whistler Mountain.

Overall, there's something very contradictory about the contents of this fridge — exotic and expansive, yet spartan and practical at the same time. Little excess. Much promise. For other than myriad condiments, which could be used to start a thousand dinner fires, and lots of fresh fruit and veggies, it really only holds the fixings for one dinner.

"It drives my husband crazy because there's never any junk in here," says Sue, who is the main household cook. "He always says there's nothing to eat. It's true."

On the top shelf we find some Liberté plain Greek yogurt, feta cheese, a bit of ricotta cheese and some liquids: Soda water, Sprite in case a child shows up, some San Pellegrino, and "always a bottle of sparking wine because you never know when you'll want to toast something."

But back to that ricotta. It's left over from two recent dishes: one, a ricotta and herb fritter appetizer from Delicious.com; one a sauce for some "little ears" pasta (orecchiette). Only a couple of tablespoons are left, but Sue will use it in something. She hates throwing out food.

"It just doesn't fit with me, who never ever threw food out, from the farm, to being a student, to whenever," she says. "I love cooking, doing things with leftovers. That's where I get my inspiration." And that, in turn, comes from an impulse to be flexible and ad lib — two characteristics of dyed-in-the-wool artists.

"When we opened The Amorous Oyster (the same year Granville Island Market opened in Vancouver), I was the head chef, bottle washer, president — the whole thing. And we were revolutionary in that we had a blackboard menu. That meant that we could change the menu everyday.

"So that's where I got my inspiration... Oh my god, we've got three chicken breasts left over, we've got this broccoli, and we need a lunch special today. What are we going to do?"

The cool thing was that it was the first blackboard menu in Vancouver, but it was a huge trend in Australia at the time, and still is.

Catch more leftovers and a Middle Eastern theme on the shelves in Part II with Sue Adams next week in Pique.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who also hates throwing out food.

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