Some of Brian Skinner’s fondest memories involve spending time in the mountains. He started skiing when he was three years old, and his family went to their cabin in Manning Park most weekends. When the Vancouver chef was 20, he spent two seasons at Big White Ski Resort near Kelowna. After that, he lived in Whistler, shredding the slopes during the day and cooking at night.
“I needed a job that would allow me to snowboard,” Skinner tells the Georgia Straight during an interview at the Mount Pleasant home he shares with his wife and infant son. “I worked at Earls in Whistler for two years. It was a lot of fun—you party, you snowboard, you cook. It’s a great lifestyle, but I realized that I needed to focus and get my professional life in order.”
Skinner moved back to Vancouver and completed his culinary apprenticeship at the now-closed Bin 942 through Vancouver Community College. He then travelled to Europe, where he was exposed to high-end cuisine while working at Michelin-starred restaurants in England. Before returning to Canada in 2011, Skinner did a stage at the revered Noma in Copenhagen, which he describes as life-changing.
“I learned more there in five weeks than I did in three years at culinary school—just more about the psychology of food and the approach to food,” he says. “When you’re growing up as a teenager and listening to punk rock and snowboarding, you just don’t see or hear about food like that.”
In 2012, Skinner helped open the Acorn, a Main Street restaurant serving high-end vegetable-based dishes. Skinner says that although he’s favoured a plant-based diet for most of his life, his intention wasn’t to open a restaurant that would exclusively cater to vegetarians and vegans.
“We’re just a restaurant that serves vegetables, and it’s incidental that it might be vegetarian. We want people who enjoy food to come down, instead of people who are vegetarian and looking for options. I think that was a big part of our success,” he says.
Skinner left the Acorn in October and is now focusing on personal-chef services (www.chefskinner.com). He plans on opening a new restaurant in 2015.
Without the demanding schedule of a restaurant chef tying him down this winter, Skinner will be spending more time skiing and snowboarding on the local mountains. He looks forward to the day when he can pass on this hobby to his son and, after a day spent on the mountains, warm up with a bowl of tomato soup together—just like he used to do with his father.
“When we were staying up at our cabin in the mountains, we’d come in for lunch and he’d cook this soup,” he explains. “When I was living at Whistler and Big White, I’d make big batches, come home for lunch, and heat it up on the stove.”
Over the years, Skinner has modified his dad’s soup by adding more vegetables and varying the noodles. To go with it, he suggests a bottle of your favourite beer or a mug of hot apple cider.
Brian Skinner’s tomato soup with cavatelli and Swiss chard
- ¼ cup (60 mL) coconut oil, divided
- ½ red onion, diced
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- 1 small leek, white part only, diced
- ½ small yam, peeled and diced
- 1 slice ginger, peeled and minced
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
- ¼ tsp (1 mL) ground turmeric
- 14 oz (400 g) crushed canned tomatoes
- 4 cups (1 L) water
- 1 tsp (5 mL) coconut sugar or granulated sugar
- 1 tsp (5 mL) salt
- ½ tsp (2 mL) sambal oelek chili sauce
- 1 cup (250 mL) cavatelli pasta, or similar
- 1 bunch Swiss chard
- Heat 2 Tbsp (30 mL) of coconut oil in a large pot over medium heat. Sweat the onion, celery, leek, yam, ginger, and garlic for 10 minutes until soft. Add turmeric and cook for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, water, sugar, salt, and chili sauce.
- Simmer uncovered for 30 to 45 minutes until vegetables are mushy. Turn off heat and purée until smooth using an immersion blender or a stand-alone blender.
- In a separate pot of salted water over medium-high heat, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and keep warm.
- Wash Swiss chard under cold water. Break off leaves and set aside. Chop stalks coarsely.
- Heat remaining 2 Tbsp (30 mL) of coconut oil in a medium pan over low heat. Add stalks with a pinch of salt and cook for 15 minutes, covered. Add leaves and cook for another 5 minutes.
- Stir pasta and chard into soup. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Yield: 4 servings.
Recipe has not been tested by the Georgia Straight.