Three months have passed since Matthew Stowe won the third season of Top Chef Canada, but the Cactus Club Cafe product-development chef is still savouring his victory. When the Georgia Straight catches up with the chef at the chain’s Vancouver test kitchen, Stowe is eager to talk about his experience on the Food Network Canada show.
“I watched the first two seasons, and from looking at the level of cooking, I thought I had a pretty good chance of doing well,” Stowe recalls. “To be able to not only represent B.C. as a province but also all of the farmers that work here and all the chefs that are so dedicated to supporting the local food movement, it was a huge honour for me to, one, get on the show, and two, be able to represent B.C.”
Stowe points to the strength of the Lower Mainland’s dining scene as a factor in his success in the competition.
“The products that we have here are better than anywhere else in the country. As a chef, it creates a very awesome place to cook, but there’s also definitely pressure to do well,” he says.
The 31-year-old chef also credits his high-school cooking teacher, who helped him discover his passion.
“I took cooking in Grade 11, and the instructor there must have seen some promise in me or something because he put me in some cooking competitions,” Stowe explains. “I went into these competitions and I did well, so I ended up deciding that I wanted to be a chef.”
Stowe worked at the Pan Pacific Hotel Vancouver and the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver while still in high school, and moved to New York to attend the Culinary Institute of America at the age of 18. After graduation, he worked in Manhattan for two years before returning to B.C. in 2004 to lead the kitchen at Sonora Resort. In 2010, Stowe started cooking alongside Rob Feenie as a product-development chef at Cactus Club.
“The great thing about Cactus is we kind of appeal to everyone,” he says. “The food is globally inspired, but we use as many local ingredients and products as possible. We take flavour profiles from all over, and it’s very Canadian because Canada’s very global.”
The B.C. chain recently opened a new restaurant in Langley and has plans to launch in Edmonton and Toronto within a year. “We’re taking a West Coast concept and moving it to the East, so it’ll be interesting to see how it’s welcomed,” Stowe says.
With a two-year-old son and a new house in Cloverdale—equipped with his Top Chef prize kitchen—Stowe plans to stay put for a while. At home, he enjoys cooking pasta, and one of his favourite dishes is a version of his mother’s crab spaghetti.
“When I make it, it takes me back to that time when I was a kid. I remember just loving it when I was growing up, and pasta is still one of my favourite things to eat,” Stowe says.
“My son’s been pretty good with food so far,” he adds. “He definitely goes through little pockets of time where he doesn’t eat a certain thing, but he loves pasta, so I’d love to make this with him one day.”
To go with the crab’s delicate flavours, Stowe suggests a crisp Sauvignon Blanc.
Matthew Stowe's Dungeness crab spaghetti
1 lb (454 g) spaghetti (or spaghettini, linguine, or bucatini)
½ cup (125 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
⅓ cup (90 mL) shallots, minced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated with a microplane
1 tsp (5 mL) red chili flakes (optional)
¾ lb (340 g) fresh, cooked Dungeness crab meat, picked over for shells
2½ cups (625 mL) heirloom tomatoes, diced
1½ cups (375 mL) Brie, cubed
¼ cup (60 mL) fresh basil, chopped
1 tsp (5 mL) lemon zest
2 Tbsp (30 mL) lemon juice
- Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a rolling boil. Add pasta and cook about 8 to 10 minutes, or until al dente, and drain.
- Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine olive oil, shallots, garlic, and chili flakes before placing over medium heat. Cook about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until ingredients begin to sizzle. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Combine all remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl, then pour olive-oil mixture over the top.
- Add pasta and toss well to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve immediately or refrigerate and serve cold.
Yield: 4 entrée-sized servings or 6 side servings.
Recipe has not been tested by the Georgia Straight.