Shelley Robinson is a seasoned culinary veteran and one of Canada’s renowned female chefs. Educated at Dubrelle French Culinary Academy and Vancouver Community College, Shelley has co-authored four cookbooks and owned and operated two restaurants, a café and an artisanal grocery store.
Her colleagues acclaim her advanced leadership style, working alongside sous chefs, sharing her culinary ingenuity, respect for local seasonal ingredients and absolute obsession with quality. Her empathetic yet fierce working style has enabled her to strike a balance, stay driven and defy the odds of women in the professional kitchen.
Shelley’s cooking focuses on local, seasonal and sustainable foods. She has spent her entire career developing relationships with farmers, growers, and artisans. Chef Shelley has twice been nominated to represent Canada as a delegate for Slow Food in Turin, Italy. Her food has won the accolades of countless food critics and been featured in publications such as Avenue, Western Living, Eat North, Where and Canadian Living.
A regular TV, radio and celebrity chef personality, Shelley was the 2014 winner of Food Network’s “Chopped Canada” and competed in the 2014 “Top Chef Canada.” An active member of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, Chef Shelley was recently awarded the Julia Child “legacy scholarship” from Les dames d’Escoffier. Shelley serves as a role model for aspiring female chefs in the industry and is a committed community member, using her culinary talents to create awareness and help for those in need.
Shelley’s passion for the industry includes; consulting, catering, project management, training, financial leadership, special events, pop-ups and recipe development. Nothing gives her greater pleasure than sharing her craft and bringing people together to enjoy great food. No matter what or where she’s cooking from her large repertoire of culinary experience, this busy chef is committed to innovative, personalized cuisine delivered with her own brand of personality and flair.
Shelley took some time off from her Executive Chef position at Banff, Alberta’s PARK Distillery to chat with us!
Why Alberta, Shelley? When you could be working anywhere around the globe with your credentials and reputation, what keeps you prairie-bound?
I fell in love with Alberta in the late 90’s when I first moved to Calgary…There was so much passion to create a vibrant food scene and as an emerging chef I found the public so receptive to new ideas and concepts. The relationships I developed with many farmers and producers fuelled my personal desire to cook sustainable and within the confines of our region to cook authentic Canadian dishes from the fabric of Alberta. Spending 7 years cooking in Banff National Park for guests from all over the world validated my desire to continue to create regional cuisine for Alberta as I really began to understand that culinary tourism is a thing and Alberta has so much to offer the world. I also an avid skier, hiker and outdoors woman, so it’s not too shabby to be in the company of the Rocky Mountains!
Where did you learn to love food/have a passion for cooking etc.? (family?)
I think my first love of food came from spending time as a child with my grandparents who had a property in the Okanagan. I loved picking fruit, digging for vegetables and dragging it all back to the kitchen to prepare. I spent a lot of time as a “sous chef” to my grandma who was always, pickling, jamming or distilling homemade spirits of some kind. My favourite memories as a child where summer nights where we would eat outside and the table would be filled with produce from the garden. This was just a natural introduction for me to pursue a career as a chef – although “farm to table” wasn’t a thing when I started cooking, at least not in Canada.
Why focus on local, seasonal and sustainable foods?
For me, it is natural to want support the people in your own community so they too can have vibrant business and support their families. Showcasing what we produce and what makes the regions of Alberta unique to the world is very much about hyper seasonality, which is sustainable.
How important is it for you to support other women in the industry? And why?
I‘ve had as many challenges as other chefs, male or female through my career, long hours, low pay, disingenuous employers, failed relationships, lack of personal time etc…As a female chef, the most obvious challenge I knowingly have faced is pay inequity and the lack of female mentors. I’m so very pleased this has begun to change and the last 5 years of my career I have had the pleasure to work in collaboration with several other strong female leaders. I support other women in my industry, of course! I do so because I believe that there is still a huge gap (not only in hospitality) in gender equity in the workplace and women still need strong role models, just as men have had. With that said I also support and promote male chefs because without a balance of genders, ethinicities, varied beliefs and opinions we are not vibrant as a humanity.
Tell us a little bit about the types of cheeses and dairy you use in your menus?
If cheese was a person I would marry it! I love that there is so much variety!!!I recently won a scholarship through Le Dames d’Escoffier International which sent me to Westport Point, MA to learn the fine art of cheese making. Happy cows produce high fat milk which produces the yummiest cheese. I try to use locally sourced cheese where the cheesemakers know where their milk is coming from – so much of the end product is about what the cows eat and how they live – you can really taste the difference. I have also begun to focus on vegan alternatives and work with a wonderful vegan cheesemaker in Banff who is doing some delicious nut cheeses!
What are your favourite types of Switzerland cheeses and why?
Gruyere and Emmentaler are my two “go-to” cheeses for our winter fondues at PARK Distillery. Simply put, the flavour profiles and melting capability are completely reliable. I love raclette, especially melted on or with potatoes. In general, I just love working with Swiss produced cheeses as it truly is a country with a passion for cheese making – as a chef in the Rocky Mountains – any of the many cheeses from Switzerland are a great fit for our regionally inspired cuisine.
Help us put together the perfect cheese plate, what should we include?
On cheese boards, I like to include at least 5 – a soft blue, we are currently using poplar grove tiger blue, something firm and sharp like the Sylvan Star Grizzly Gouda which is cave aged 4 years, and something luxurious ! like a very ripe Camembert or Brie, either in cow or goat milk, I’m currently loving a beauty of a Le Chevronne produced out of Quebec. There has to be cheddar aged or smoked – and something fresh like a tangy ricotta or Cloumage, with lots of good bread, crackers, pickles, fruit chutney and WINE!