Q&A with Chef Denise Marchessault

“I grew up in an era of heavily processed food: fish sticks, Rice-A-Roni, and Hamburger Helper were standard fare… My mother’s favourite kitchen tool was a can opener!”

I walked in to the smell of gougéres and a ratatouille tart, that were fresh and hot out of the oven and in an instant I fell in love with Chef Denise’s humble little home. She is one of this incredible women that you instantly want to adopt as your aunt, and you look up to in the same way you would Julia Child or Delia Smith. An absolute natural in the kitchen, you can’t help but watch her cook in the same way you used to look up at your mum with wonder and fascination as a child, with that old fashioned cooking style that just makes you feel right at home.

For the past while she has been working with photographer friend, Caroline West, on a stunningly beautiful cookbook, British Columbia from Scratch. Fingering through the final draft, I was blown away by the stunningly, simple photography, and totally approachable, yet impressive looking recipes. You really get a sense of her cooking style, a perfect balance between meticulous pastry chef, and relaxed French cuisine. You will constantly be moving it from kitchen counter to coffee table, as it belongs equally on each. Filled with recipes simple enough for weeknight dinners, impressive looking dinner parties, and more elaborate labours of love for Sunday afternoon projects.

Her upcoming Fundamentals Series is a must for those who have been cooking for years, for weeks, or never at all. As the name suggests the class will cover the fundamentals of cooking, from mastering a flavourful homemade stocks, the art of bread making, and the most tempting of all desserts. No matter what your level of cooking prior to the class, you are guaranteed to leave having learned something new. Plus for those of you that book into all six classes of the series, you will leave with a shiny, new copy of Denise’s new cookbook, British Columbia from Scratch.

What sorts of food did you eat growing up?
I grew up in an era of heavily processed food: fish sticks, Rice-A-Roni, and Hamburger Helper were standard fare. Mushrooms, green beans, corn and fruit cocktail came from a tin and parsley and dill were found in the spice rack, next to the taco seasoning. My mother’s favourite kitchen tool was a can opener!
Tell us about your background and how you got to where you are today?
I’ve always been an enthusiastic home cook, with a penchant for cooking from scratch. When I had the opportunity to pursue a culinary education, I dove in head first. (It was a second career for me; I had an import business for nearly 20 years). After graduating from culinary school in Ottawa, my family and I moved to Victoria and I opened French Mint. What started off as a pastry kitchen, soon morphed into an intimate cooking school. After we moved to the mainland, I wrote the cookbook, British Columbia from Scratch, a collaborative project with photographer Caroline West.
If you could pick one meal to eat over and over again, what would it be?
Right now I can’t get enough of the turmeric coconut curry soup served at Chau Veggie Express.
What food are you most excited about this season?
Summer fruit! Cherries, raspberries, blueberries, black berries, peaches…
What one ingredient and kitchen tool could you not live without?
Ingredient Kosher salt. Used properly, it enhances everything. 
Kitchen tool If I can only pick one, I’d have to say my chef’s knife but my baby whisk would be a close second. I’m constantly reaching for it — it’s just the right size for mixing ingredients in small saucepans and bowls. I use it for everything from sauces to dressings.
Favourite food blog or cookbook?
Yogurt Culture by Cheryl Sternman Rule. If you’ve ever wanted to make your own yogurt, you’ll love this book.
Favourite place to eat, anywhere in the world?
Sorrento, Italy. The food is pure and simple with extraordinary flavour.
To find out more about what Denise is up to, keep an eye out for her classes with us here, be the first to know about the launch of her upcoming cookbook British Columbia from Scratch over on her website, and what she’s cooking over on her Instagram.
Photography and interview by Kateland Clarke.

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