Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

Life as a Canadian chef in India

Tori Macdonald (Culinary Arts ’05) used to cook Indian-themed meals for volunteers at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. Those dishes included curried carrot soup, chana masala, Jade chicken and a cinnamon and cardamom rice pudding for dessert.

She’s still working with those spices – but more than 12,000 kilometres away, as chef of the Humming Tree, a bar and live music venue in the southern Indian city of Bangalore.

Macdonald (pictured above) moved to India in 2014, following a boyfriend she met in Toronto while working under celebrity chef Lynn Crawford (NAIT’s 2014 Chef in Residence). She credits her Canadian culinary education and work experience for landing a job at the Humming Tree – and helping to introduce her to a new way of life.

These days, Macdonald takes a rickshaw to work, is learning Hindi, Nepali, Tamil, and Kannada from her kitchen staff between shifts, and fields questions about Canada. Reached by email, here Macdonald offers a glimpse of cooking, eating and living in India’s third most populous city.

A favourite dish

Sorpatel. It’s a Goan (western India) pork dish that has an amazing balance of spice and sweet with a little sour that really brings the fatty pork to a whole new level.

I also like the idli (similar to steamed buns), dosas (or Indian crepe doughnuts) and vadas (like fritters) that you get for breakfast the local shops and chai stands. All 3 are served in the mornings with chutneys and sambar (a thin spicy vegetable curry), and you normally have a sweet and milky chai with it.

Or, if you’re like me, you go for the South Indian coffee which is made with a really strong espresso-like coffee, and lots of milk and sugar. It’s honestly such simple and tasty food.

Challenges of cooking in India

For the most part, cooking here is the same as cooking in any kitchen you'd find around Canada, just a little dustier and every once in a while a gecko may crawl down from the roof.

In terms of equipment, we tend to use the most basic. There aren't a lot of fancy items here: a large mixer, gas ranges, flat top stove and a double decker pizza oven. Also, gas here isn't set up the same way. We have large gas cylinders and when they start running low we have to send someone down to change them.

Adding Canadian flavour

Since I've joined The Humming Tree, I've added perogies to the menu, amping up the flavours with chili flakes in the potato cheddar filling. Also another item that has become a huge hit that I have introduced is the Jameson Whiskey Bacon Chocolate Tart. I was inspired by a good old fashioned butter tart. (See the recipe below).

Memories of Edmonton

One thing I do really miss about cooking there is the produce, especially in the summer. The sheer vastness of different types of berries – like fresh raspberries, blackberries, saskatoons –  heirloom carrots, and leafy greens are just unavailable here without paying an extreme premium.

In terms of foods, I really miss the pastries at Duchess Bake Shop, my mom's bison rouladen and quality maple syrup.

Advice to the travelling chef

Don't be afraid! Just go for it. If you know what country you want to work in then make sure you know what the labour laws are, including rules around foreign workers and salary. Try to connect with someone already there who has been through the process.

It can be frustrating at times, but if it's what you want then you need to persevere. I have met so many amazing people and I’m always learning here.

As told to Linda Hoang

Recipe: Jameson Whiskey Bacon Chocolate Tart

Ingredients

For the dough

310 ml (1 1/4 cups) maida flour
20 ml (4 tsp) sour cream
125 ml (125 g) cold butter
1 ml (1/4 tsp) salt
60 ml (4 tbsp) ice water

Method

In a large bowl mix salt and maida. Cut in the cold butter blending until crumbled to size of peas to ensure a flakey pastry. Add the water and mix until a ball forms. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

On a lightly floured surface roll out the chilled dough until 1 1/2 - 2 cm thick. Line a 25-centimetre (10-inch) tart pan with the dough and put back in the fridge while you make the filling.

For the filling:

Ingredients

8-12 slices (250 g) raw bacon, diced
75 ml (1/3 cup) bacon fat
2 eggs
125 ml (1/2 cup) maple syrup
30 ml (2 tbsp) of Jameson Whiskey (or any other whiskey)
175 ml (3/4 cup) sugar
Approx. 500 ml (250 g) chocolate, chopped

Method

In a small frying pan cook the bacon until crisp. Drain off the fat and allow the bacon to cool. In a small bowl blend the rest of the ingredients except the chocolate and set aside.

Take the chilled pastry shell out of the fridge. Scatter the chopped chocolate and cooked bacon over the bottom of the tart shell. Pour the sugar and whiskey mixture over top. Place in an oven preheated to 170 C (325 F) and bake for 25 minutes until set but still wobbly. Allow to cool for 1 hour before serving with vanilla ice cream.


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