Andrey Durbach first worked in a professional kitchen while in high school, but he chose to do a degree in theatre at UBC before returning to the restaurant industry. He attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York and is now the co-owner and executive chef of four Vancouver restaurants—La Buca, Pied-à-Terre, the Sardine Can, and the Abbey.
“Some people dream about being the best chef in the world but don’t necessarily want to have their own restaurant….I’ve always been interested in the confluence of those things, where the commercial meets the culinary,” he told the Georgia Straight during an interview at La Buca late last year. “I like food, but I love restaurants.”
Food and beverage entrepreneurship is in Durbach’s blood. One set of his grandparents ran a chain of small hotels and restaurants in South Africa. While a student at the CIA, he took an interest not only in the cooking classes but in the business lectures as well.
“One thing that has stuck with me throughout my career is that you could be the best cook, but if you’re not meeting your food-cost targets and the owner has to stand outside the door and hand people five-dollar bills every time they turn up for dinner, you’re useless,” he recalled. “That really made me understand how important the commercial aspect of the business is.”
Minding food costs when cooking at home is important to Durbach as well. Thus, he prefers simple, traditional dishes with flavours that are proven to go together and ingredients that are economical and easy to find. His recipe for Tuscan chicken, which he shares below, is one he makes often at home. He debones the whole chicken to reduce the cooking time.
“If you take the bones out of it and flatten it out, you get the maximum benefit from skin exposure and it all cooks at the same rate,” Durbach explained. “I’ve done it a zillion times so I know where all the bones are, but if you’re not comfortable doing it yourself, go to a butcher, show him a picture [of a deboned chicken], and say, ‘Can you make the chicken look like this for me?’ ”
Kale, beans, pancetta, fennel seeds, and tomato sauce complete Durbach’s Tuscan-themed dish. He recommends a glass of Chianti or Brunello di Montalcino to go with it.
Andrey Durbach’s Tuscan chicken with kale and white beans
1 whole chicken, about 3 lb (1.4 kg), deboned by butcher (for an instructional video, see below)
2 Tbsp (30 mL) mixed chopped fresh herbs (such as sage, thyme, rosemary, oregano), divided
2 Tbsp (30 mL) all-purpose flour
5 Tbsp (75 mL) olive oil, divided
1 lemon, halved
4 oz (115 g) pancetta, diced
½ rib celery, diced
½ onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
½ tsp (2 mL) fennel seeds
½ tsp (2 mL) dried red chili flakes
1 cup (250 mL) cooked white beans, drained
½ cup (125 mL) tomato sauce
1 cup (250 mL) chicken stock, divided
1 bunch lacinato kale, ribs removed and discarded, leaves roughly chopped
- Preheat oven to 475 ° F (240 ° C)
- On a clean cutting board, lay the chicken skin side down. Season generously with salt and pepper, and 1 Tbsp (15 mL) of the herb mix. Flip the chicken over and dust the skin side with flour. Pat flour into the skin and shake off any excess.
- Heat a large, oven-safe pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add 2 Tbsp (30 mL) of the olive oil. Carefully transfer chicken to the pan, skin side down. Cook for about 3 minutes or until the skin starts to brown. Place one lemon half in the pan, cut side down. Transfer pan to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat reaches 165 ° F (74 ° C) and juices run clear. Remove the chicken from the oven and, using tongs, carefully flip it on its flesh side. Let it rest in pan for 3 minutes, then transfer chicken to serving platter or clean cutting board. Set pan aside until step 6.
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, cook pancetta in 1 Tbsp (15 mL) of olive oil. Cook for about 2 minutes until pancetta is lightly browned and crisp. Add celery, onion, and garlic, and cook for 2 minutes or until vegetables are translucent. Add fennel seeds, chili flakes, beans, tomato sauce, and ¼ cup (60 mL) of the chicken stock. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until mixture reaches the consistency of a thick stew. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and keep warm.
- In a separate medium-sized pan, heat remaining 2 Tbsp (30 mL) of olive oil. When hot, add kale and sauté for about 1 minute. Add ¼ cup (60 mL) of chicken stock and juice from remaining half of lemon. Cook for about 2 more minutes, or until kale is wilted.
- Place the pan that you cooked the chicken in over low heat and carefully squeeze juice from the baked lemon into the pan. Add remaining 1 Tbsp (15 mL) of herb mix and ½ cup (125 mL) of chicken stock. Cook until liquid comes to a boil.
- Place the whole chicken, the bean mixture, and kale on a large platter. Top with gravy and serve family-style, or divide between 4 plates.
Yield: 4 main-course servings.
Recipe has not been tested by the Georgia Straight.