by John Lee

Sous Chef Trista Sheen. Photo: Ed Rek

Since her early placement at the Crowne Plaza Hotel as a teenager and after graduating from the Culinary Management Program at George Brown College, Trista has worked in Australia, The United Kingdom as well as here in Toronto for such notable chefs such as Eric Chaveaux (one star Michelin), Heston Blumenthal (the Fat Duck), Tom Aitkens and Keith Frogett. She is presently the Sous Chef at Crush Wine Bar.

The Interview

GFR: Knowing that you are married to a very talented chef: Nick Liu from the Niagara Street Cafe, is there a certain amount of competitive tension at home?

Trista Sheen: No not at all, we divide up the work load and go from there. I always do the desserts because I enjoy it and Nick will do the proteins usually. Just like at work I am his sous chef….we make a great team.

GFR: What qualities do you hate the most in the chef’s that you have worked for and what would you do different when you get the top spot in light of the aforementioned?

TS: I come from a Scaramouche background so when I work for another chef that tries to teach me a new way of doing something that I don’t agree on that can be frustrating. I also believe everyone consumes information in different ways so you have to try and figure that way out, you can go old school and yell at them till you are blue in the face or be patient and make them love what they are doing.

I also hate when chefs aren’t hands on enough. Your staff need to see what you are capable of, therefore you are setting an example.

GFR: Given the work-load that sous are expected to carry, what is your best coping technique?

TS: It is important to be able to vent and have someone that is able to listen, understand and give you guidance along the way (Nick). I like to think I have a great sense of humour. You have to laugh about things and have fun, you are there with your staff more than anyone, so I like to be a goof when it is appropriate but when it is game on bring your A game.

GFR: What part of the job do you hate the most?

TS: I have always complained about the hours, you miss out on a lot of things, family events, friends, vacation time… the list goes on. Another big one is being a girl. I have always hung out with the boys but sometimes it would be nice to have three hours to get ready to go out instead of ten minutes in a stinky change-room.

GFR: What part of the industry troubles or irritates you the most?

TS: I get worried about the future and being comfortable in my profession, it is a fierce industry and only the best succeed, not to mention benefits and mat leave. I don’t want to be 45 years of age and still working on the hot line or calling orders in at 12 AM on a Saturday night.

GFR: What food related magazines or publications do you read and/or respect?

TS: This is a tricky one cause I pick up tid-bits on everything through the grape-vine… My best source is word of mouth through my industry peeps.

GFR: What is your favourite cookbook?

TS: Oh, this is a tough one but if I were to pick I would say Bouchon or Zuni Cafe . I love good food done well

GFR: Where and what would be your dream restaurant?

TS: A small place that was word of mouth that people just come because they absolutely love it. No high maintenance customers, I call the shots and everyone enjoys being there. I would make everything in-house and be able to play around with whatever I would be craving that day, no guidelines. It could be Moroccan one day and Thai the next: we’d have fun. Just remember, you did say “dream” in the question

GFR: What did you want to be when you were old enough to know what this meant?

TS: At first I wanted to be a animal doctor (can’t spell vet apparently) then realized science did not come naturally for me. My dad was a baker and I was brought up around the skill so I did my high school co-op program at the Crowne Plaza Hotel when Ned Bell was at Accolade when I was 15. I did an event with Michael Stadtlander and he got me to rip heads off of live prawns while they were still alive, loved every second of it and I knew at that time this was the industry for me.

GFR: What is the worst thing that a chef has asked you to do? And I mean the absolute worst!

TS: I really don’t have an answer for this one, I guess I have been fortunate. I don’t get phased easily.

GFR: Who do you admire the most (does not have to be food person or chef) and why?

TS: It is a toss up between Keith Froggett and Nick Liu. I worked for Keith for so long and he is just really amazing at what he does business wise and cooking. The care and respect that is put into his food as well as his staff is bar none. As for Nick I have known him since he was a senior saucier at Scaramouche, to watch him succeed and go through the highs and lows and make it as a head chef is amazing. I also love the fact that he is able to come up with new menu items that he has not done before, a lot of chefs can get writers block or fall into the same food all the time.

GFR: Has a meal or dish ever affected you emotionally?

TS: I don’t know about emotionally but memorable I will never forget the bacon and egg ice cream I had at the Fat Duck. And my favourite thing is steak tartare at Scaramouche.

GFR: Finally, what is your most treasured kitchen item?

TS: Well I would not usually say my utility Mac knife that I use for everything but the boys at Scaramouche got it for me and engraved my kitchen name `T-Bird` on it. Also my dad’s pallet knife (metal spatula) that he used to use.

John Lee is the President of Chippy’s Fish & Chips