Not everyone knows that ten years ago I put university on the back burner and enrolled in culinary school. Explaining that to a crowd of academics in St Andrews is good fun. I’ll fill you in later but for now, a little tribute to one of my favourite instructors, Chef Bain.
I’ll admit it. I caricatured the chefs at Vancouver Community College before I had the chance to meet them. I blame Gordon Ramsey. I assumed most would be egotistical men with violent tempers, red faces and sweaty brows. I imagined they would be overweight after years of tasting decadent assignments, their white chef jackets stretched over rotund bellies, buttons clinging for dear life. I was not entirely wrong.
JC cooked for Will & Kate but Bain cooked for the King of Pop. Between the two families, my loyalty sides with the Jacksons every time. Plus, Bain is Scottish and he gets retroactive bonus points because since moving to St Andrews I’ve fallen in love with Scottish food.
Bain was not what I expected in a chef. He was neither fat nor aggressive but his charisma summoned our attention. His eyes smiled from behind glasses and something about him was always a bit mischevious. He bounced from station to station and delighted in calling each of us Chef, completely ignoring our nametags. He hardly raised his voice yet commanded our best performance and nearly everyone rose to his expectations. As you can imagine, he had excellent rapport with his students.
There are two things that stand out in my memory of Chef Bain.
The first is this: He didn’t allow a dish to leave the kitchen without a garnish. “Every plate needs lipstick, Chef!” he would remind us as we approached the pass with our creations. If you can recall, I’m all about lipstick.
The second is this: He treated everyone equally. The idea that some restaurant patrons could receive VIP treatment didn’t sit well with him. Every diner deserved the best from the kitchen. “The only person who gets VIP treatment from me is my mum,” he told us.
I’ve heard that you don’t necessarily remember what good teachers taught but you remember how they made you feel. Chef Bain was outstanding. He made everyone feel inspired and dare I say happy. He opened my eyes to joyful culinary expression and when I generously dress my curries with chutney and fresh coriander* I say a word of thanks for my time in Malcolm’s kitchen.
*Cilantro for all you people in North America.