Unlike some chefs and restaurateurs, Brendan Ladner didn’t learn how to cook from his mother. In fact, his mom rarely made meals from scratch, so Ladner—who is the oldest of four children—taught himself.
“With a lot of my friends, both parents worked and didn’t make time to cook,” he told the Georgia Straight during an interview at his restaurant, SMAK Healthy Fast Food (1139 West Pender Street). Consequently, Ladner and many of his peers felt lost in the kitchen.
As a child, Ladner read cookbooks to learn simple recipes. When he attended Kitsilano Secondary School, he enrolled in a home economics class.
“We had the option to take a cooking class, and I thought it was great—I got a free meal every time I went to class. It was awesome, and I got to cook anything I wanted to,” he recalled. “But I was in a class that could have held 30 people with only 12 [students in it] because everyone was busy taking computer studies.”
After working as a server at Monk McQueens, Milestones, and the Sequoia Company of Restaurants, Ladner opened SMAK in 2013. The small eatery uses local produce, free-range eggs, and hormone-free meat to create healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner options. The menu is gluten-free with vegan options, and dishes are served in compostable containers.
“Our mission is to empower people to make the [healthy] decisions they would like to make for themselves,” Ladner explained. “If you want to eat healthy food that actually tastes good, there are so few options available. To see people eating food that’s healthy but clearly doesn’t taste good and that they’re not enjoying, it hurts my soul.”
On most days when Ladner is working, he eats one of SMAK’s salads, wraps, or rice bowls. On his nights away from the restaurant, he enjoys cooking healthy, easy vegetable-based meals.
“If I’ve got 15 minutes to make dinner, this is what I make, or a slight variation of this depending on what’s in the fridge,” he said of the noodle-bowl recipe below. “There are a few things I always make sure I have in the fridge: fresh herbs, some sort of leafy green, some sort of protein, eggs, and we pretty much always have rice noodles in the cupboard.”
The noodles can be served warm or cold. During winter, Ladner often adds extra camelina oil—a healthy cold-pressed oil from Saskatchewan—for richness. To pair with the meal, he recommends a glass of crisp Sauvignon Blanc.
Brendan Ladner’s healthy fast-food bowl
⅓ cup (90 mL) tahini
1 Tbsp (15 mL) red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp (15 mL) camelina oil or extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp (15 mL) water
¾ tsp (3 mL) salt
1 tsp (5 mL) tamari or soy sauce
5 lettuce leaves, thinly sliced
1 cup (250 mL) chopped watercress
1 cup (250 mL) chopped cilantro
1 cup (250 mL) chopped mint leaves
7 oz (200 g) rice vermicelli, cooked according to package directions
½ cup (125 mL) cucumber, thinly sliced
½ cup (125 mL) sliced red bell pepper
1 cup (250 mL) cooked meat or seafood, such as chicken, salmon, or shrimp
- Bring a small pot of water with a splash of vinegar to a boil over medium heat. Once water comes to a boil, carefully crack in eggs without breaking the yolks. Poach eggs for 3 minutes, then use a slotted spoon to remove from water and place in a small bowl.
- For the dressing, whisk together the tahini, vinegar, oil, water, salt, and tamari or soy sauce in a small bowl.
- In two large bowls, place greens on one side and vermicelli on the other. Add cucumber and bell pepper, then top with poached eggs. Pour dressing over the salad. Top with cooked meat.
Yield: 2 main-size servings.
Recipe has not been tested by the Georgia Straight.