Stirring the Pot with Chef Martin Kouprie

Ask chef Martin Kouprie the secret of his culinary success and he’ll tell you that it’s a love of fresh food. This passion for freshness and an understanding of the science of cooking allow him to create menus and recipes that celebrate the magnificence of each season’s harvest. Although local ingredients hold centre stage in Kouprie’s cooking, he also views his pantry through the lens of the latest food trends. As a result, Kouprie’s fans come to Pangaea (1221 Bay Street), the restaurant he co-owns with business partner Peter Geary, to enjoy his ingredient-driven cooking which is simultaneously regional, modern and sophisticated.

Kouprie and his staff participate in numerous charitable events each year including large fundraisers such as Toronto Taste and Empty Bowls as well as smaller grass roots events. He has also been an active participant in programs such as Oceanwise, an initiative spear headed by the Vancouver Aquarium, which works with fish and seafood suppliers to ensure that chefs can access products that not only taste delicious but have a negligible impact on ocean ecosystems.

In his personal life Martin Kouprie is an accomplished carpenter and a speciality scuba diver. He is the father of a son, Oliver, and is married to cookbook author and food concept architect Dana McCauley. His first book, Pangaea. Why it Tastes So Good will be published this November.

What inspired you to become a chef?

My earliest recollection of inspiration came from the pages of Gourmet Magazine that my mother would buy to read and occasionally cook from. Those pages were filled with interesting people, cultures and places that all connected with food at their centre. In high school I started washing dishes and circumstance had me cooking within a few months. I recognized that I had a knack for cooking and more importantly, multi-tasking. This was followed shortly afterwards by an epiphany that this was to be my chosen profession. It was a crystal clear moment with the background of the Byward Market in Ottawa all around me (one of my happiest memories). After that I sought out the best chefs and knocked on their doors every month until I was hired. Christian Rassinoux, exec chef at Westin Ottawa (presently exec chef at MGM Grand Las Vegas) was the first one to hire me followed by Robert Bourassa, Chef Patron Cafe Henry Burger, Gatineau PQ three years later. A great start for me with two great chefs that would set a tone for a lifetime. Since then great chefs have continued to inspire me, including Mark McEwan and Micheal Bonacini, but the real inspiration lately is coming from my cooks at Pangaea and especially Derek Bendig, my chef du Cuisine. Derek continues to challenge himself and push me along in the process. I’m extremely proud of him.

What is your favourite dish at the restaurant where you cook and why?

Too many to choose, it depends on my mood. One thing is certain, I don’t tire of my own cooking.

Three ingredients you couldn’t live without and why?

Eggs because they are incredibly versatile.

Kosher salt because you need this for virtually anything from seasoning to preserving food.

Wild foraged mushrooms, because life is an adventure.

On your day off – what are you cooking at home? If you’re eating out, where do you go?

If I’m on my own I don’t usually eat that much, in fact you could say that I fast. When I’m with the family we usually eat whatever Dana has planned. Rule of thumb in our house, if you don’t cook, you clean. So I’m happy doing the dishes. When we eat out, we visit small local restaurants, usually authentic Asian (that doesn’t serve shark fin!!!).

What is your favourite thing about the food scene in Toronto?

Diversity of cultures in our food. Where else in the world can you choose from the best examples of cuisine from Ethiopia, Portuguese, Italian, Mexican, Brazilian……

With this diversity comes ingredients and different preparation knowledge for these. Fresh wasabi root from the cold streams of Japan, for instance. You find this and you’ll never use wasabi powder again, I promise.

What’s coming up?

In November (the short list):

I’m speaking at the OCTA November 1st. I’m competing in Gold Medal Plates on the 4th. My cookbook, Pangaea. Why it Tastes So Good, comes out November 15th. I’ll be in a OceanWise chowder competition on the 17th, and then I’ll be in Korea for 10 days on a cooking holiday from the 18 to 28th.