On the shelves with a homegrown catering treasure
For someone who can whip up, and I quote, really awesome, wicked, high-end private dinners, or serve 30,000 meals one fine Olympic Games day - even winning, along with his wife, Hilarie, a national best-of award on behalf of their company, Whistler Cooks Catering - Grant Cousar has a wonderfully down-home, unpretentious fridge.
That goes for both the contents and the fridge, which Grant himself calls "pretty ugly." The fridge also causes his designer-type friends to go, what the hell? when they visit for it juts out in the Cousar family home in Black Tusk like the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The Cousars' what-the-hell fridge is one of those old, side-by-side KitchenAids from the days when it was "special" to have fridges panelled in wood that matched your kitchen cabinets.
The effect isn't so special any more, thank goodness. But for now this KitchenAid remains covered in dark green wood panelling with the exception of one exposed side, which Grant and Hilarie covered with chalkboard paint for notes, pictures and the all-important height records of their kids - Hannah, 12, and eight-year-old Stephen.
As monolithic anchor, this fridge is also emblematic of all things eminently practical in family and work life, so we find ketchup - Stephen's all-time favourite poured on nearly everything except cereal - along with Whistler Cooks condiments, naturally.
"You can't live on foie gras," says Grant. "I work, I've got two kids and a busy life, so I'm just as happy to come home and have a potato, broccoli and a piece of chicken. Just because I know how to cook doesn't mean I want to eat rich, opulent food all the time, because at the end of the day it's all about balancing basic nutrition."
So as we open the fridge door, what else would we find but that staple of Canadian nutrition - beer. A couple of bottles of Vancouver Island Brewery's Piper's Pale Ale, to be exact, along with Liberty yogurt, a can of soda, and bright yellow No Name mustard - kids' mustard, Grant calls it.
Next is some Happy Planet juice; a little jar of Hellman's mayonnaise; Caesar salad dressing from work; Kikkoman soy sauce; Dairyland sour cream; a jar of Mott's applesauce; and some Heinz hot dog relish. (Grant has no idea how the relish got there. He doesn't use it; the kids don't use it. So we put it down to one more artifact from the world of nuclear preserves where nothing goes bad.)
Moving down, we find a much, much bigger bottle of soy sauce. The kids love rice - brown, basmati, any kind of rice - with soy sauce; and Grant and Hilarie love sushi, too. Every night they could cook pasta or rice for the kids, which they don't; but they do both cook at home, with most suppers in Hilarie's court.
Since Grant often works later, a slow cooker is currently his favourite kitchen toy. And while he's a professionally trained chef - he switched gears to culinary arts at Dubrulle when he realized he enjoyed his part-time job at The Keg more than his urban development path at Langara College - Hilarie can totally take care of herself in the kitchen.
She's a mean cook, he says, using recipes when it's not one of her usual dishes. Grant, on the other hand, never uses recipes outside of work.
"I prefer to dabble and play around with things," he says. "Even if I look at a recipe I'm going to change it, so why start with a recipe? At work we have to have recipes for consistency and costing... but at the end of the day I want my guys to know how to make food properly. You do that by feeling it and knowing how food should taste and look."
If you're young and just learning to fend for yourself in the kitchen, Grant's best advice for learning how food should taste and look is to "just do it."
"Instead of being lazy and opening up Kraft Dinner, look at a cookbook and figure out the basic essence of making a cheese sauce. It's not that hard to make your own macaroni and cheese - it takes 20 minutes longer to make an excellent, nourishing meal than it does to make some piece of preservative junk."
Grant's mom, who worked in real estate when he was growing up in Regina, got him to help peel carrots in the kitchen because she believed in taking that extra 20 minutes to make balanced meals with real food.
Now the Cousar kids, too, are learning about real food fast - and loving it. They love baking, especially the result that comes from baking. And one of their best memories from a European trip last summer that involved all the typical kids' stops was watching the owner of an Italian villa they stayed at make a very simple, very delicious pizza.
That might partially explain the huge container of Saputo parmesan cheese, which we find next, and which Hannah loves. Then there's a jar of sambal oelek, the Indonesian chilli paste Grant uses as an easy way to liven up meat and fish; Dijon mustard; some spiced green beans; cream cheese; peeled garlic from work; and sirloin steak from Shaw Creek Farm in Pemberton that's headed for that night's dinner table.
The Cousars all like their cheese, so in the cheese drawer we find a white, aged, Canadian cheddar (Balderson); marbled cheese for the kids; more parmesan; and two goat cheeses.
The veggie drawer contains carrots, romaine lettuce, broccoli and some "Pemby" (as in Pemberton) nugget potatoes. These, Grant likes to boil until they're fork-tender, then he tosses them with some Whistler Cooks mint Dijon tapenade sauce and roasts them in a 450-degree oven for about five minutes.
The fruit drawer is admittedly meager, with some oranges, a lonely apple and a grapefruit. But on the fridge door, as you might expect, it's condiment city. There, among other things, we find more mustard, barbecue sauce, maple syrup, shiro miso, jam, and a whole row of what Grant calls crafty condiments - homemade things like lime jelly that people like to give them.
Surprisingly, we only find two more of Grant's own products, the previously mentioned tapenade sauce along with his blackberry vinaigrette for salads.
That makes only three Whistler Cooks products in total in the award-winning Whistler Cooks owners' fridge, along with the No Name mustard and President's Choice jam, all of which is terribly reassuring and Canadian to me in this time of food-ism run amok.
Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance writer who's so glad Whistler Cooks has gone from being corked to screw caps.