Mauro Martina ponders taking OEB Breakfast Co. global

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      Chef Mauro Martina learned at a very young age to appreciate the farm-to-table movement. For the first five years of his life he was raised by his grandmother in the small town of Copertino in Southern Italy, where the local food culture became, as he describes it, part of his DNA.

      "We went shopping every day," he recalls on the phone from Calgary, "there wasn't one day that I remember that we didn't go shopping. Whether it was for cheese or fish or just vegetables, fruit, whatever--every day we went. So I got brought to every market, to every fishmonger, to every butcher, and that really stuck with me throughout my young life."

      When he was five Martina moved to Germany to be with his parents, eventually enrolling in culinary school, taking a three-year apprenticeship program followed by one year studying baking and pastry. That training and his early childhood education in where food comes from helped him greatly when, after working as an executive chef in Toronto and Calgary, he founded OEB Breakfast Co., setting up shop with a small Cowtown restaurant in 2009.

      "I learned that you can't make great out of mediocre," he explains, "so I go for the very best. I do let the ingredients speak for themselves, and when you have greatness on your hands, then you only need a little bit, right. And so when I create a menu, or I create dishes at OEB, you can count the ingredients which are in there. It's usually five or six, that's it. I wanted simplicity.

      "An heirloom tomato is a god-given product," he continues, "It's already at 99-percent there. A little bit of extra-virgin olive oil and good sea-salt and we're good to go. What more does it need? Why do I have to remove the pulp and do this and do that, or make a tomato in the shape of a strawberry? That's too far out. For me, simplicity seals success, and so that's what I would say my cooking is all about. Do the hard work of searching for those ingredients yourself, but let the purveyors, and farmers, and ranchers shine."

      As of today, OEB Breakfast Co. has several locations across Canada, including three in the Metro Vancouver area, in Burnaby, North Van, and Yaletown, with a fourth set to open in West Van's Ambleside neighborhood very soon. The franchise offers a wide variety of delectable meals targeting the morning crowd, including such menu items as "Pierogies & Duck" (hand-pinched pierogies, hardwood smoked bacon, duck confit, green onions, raspberry vinaigrette, two sunny side eggs, and micro-greens) and "Gold Digga" (poached eggs, duck fat-fried herb potatoes, Saint Cyrille curds, Berkshire roast pork, black truffles, and brown butter hollandaise).

      "And we have some pretty cool deserts," he adds. "We have our French Toast Trifle [brioche, lemon curd, market berries, pistachios, and torched pavlovas], which was featured on one of the magazine covers here in Calgary. Something that people have never seen before."
      Another mouth-watering item on the OEB menu, for those with a sweet tooth, is "Do Not Even Go There", which features a French-style crêpe, vanilla custard, berries, banana, fresh whipped cream, pistachios, and almonds. It's all topped with Quebec maple syrup, so, I mean, who wouldn't want to go there?
      When it comes to his own favourite OEB dish, Martina says that it depends on the day and the mood he's in.
      "My definite go-to is like the two-egg breakfast," he says. "It's one of those things where, you know, it's the duck-fat fried potatoes, the artisanal bread that we have--we have our own baker. So that would be something that I would choose on a day when it's raining outside. I would probably go for that, comfort food on a plate, right."

      As well as its locations in Vancouver, Calgary (four), Edmonton (two), Toronto, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, and Kelowna, OEB Breakfast Co. has a franchise in Scottsdale, Arizona, and just last week Martina was down in Newport Beach, California, cutting the ribbon on a new restaurant there. He has no plans to slow down the expansion.

      "I would be thrilled to be an international company," he says. "I mean we're already international, counting in the U.S., but we do have right now interest out of Switzerland, we have interest out of Beijing. Obviously there's Dubai and Abu Dhabi, but those are interests, right--those are people talking to us and saying, 'Hey, I can see you there, and I can see you here.' Will it happen? I don't know."

      Whether or not Martina's duck fat-fried herb potatoes ever knock 'em dead in Dubai remains to seen, but the company's cuisine has definitely made an impression on Vancouver diners. At this year's Golden Plate Awards OEB won in the best Yaletown and best brunch categories, came in second for best breakfast, and was third for best gluten-free.

      "I could sit here and take all the credit," says Martina, "which I won't, because at the end of the day we have phenomenal chefs in this company that truly believe in what we do and how we do it. And they've chosen a lifestyle over their personal sort of egos, to say, 'I work as a chef, I love it, it inspires me, and I want to keep going.' And so the awards are really for them; it's the Vancouver stores and the drive that they have for this."