Canadian Cuisine

Inspired by the concept of sustainable food: comes from Canada

Ensue Restaurant — This restaurant is located in the best position on the 40th floor of Shangri-La in Futian, Shenzhen. With floor-to-ceiling Windows, it looks out on Ping An Tower, the tallest building in Shenzhen, overlooking the whole city. In recent years, high-end restaurants in Shenzhen have developed rapidly, and Ensue, which opened in 2019, is one of the ceilings of western restaurants in Shenzhen.

In March this year, Ensue ranked 19th in the “Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2022” list, which also shows its strong strength. The Best 50 official praises it, calling it “South China’s new culinary plateau where East meets West”.

The restaurant’s Canadian chef Miles Pundsack-Poe is part of the team behind the legendary three-Michelin star restaurant Meadowood. Ensue is the main focus of Miles Pundsack-Poe’s discovery of the fusion of Cantonese and Western food after coming to China. And Christopher Kostow’s Californian culinary philosophy at Restaurant at Meadowood, for which he has been widely acclaimed and continues to win awards.

In this “Inspired Canada” interview series, we had the opportunity to have an in-depth conversation with Miles, who shared with us his growing up experience, the sustainable concept he developed while living and working in Canada, and the successful practice of this concept at Ensue Restaurant. Although Miles has spent his career in Canada, the United States, Spain, China and many other countries, working in many different restaurants, his concept of sustainability, exploring local ingredients, and innovative blending and presenting techniques all come from the land where he was born and raised — Canada. And will continue to be his culinary career and give birth to more moving works.

A celebrity chef from a small town in Ontario

Miles was born in Canada and lives in Guelph, Ontario. He began his career as a chef in a small restaurant in downtown Guelph and quickly worked his way up from dishwasher to chef. Miles then went to Stratford Chef School, where he completed his education and earned his certificate, and went on to work at a local restaurant in Stratford.

Miles had a strong curiosity about famous high-end restaurants and their dishes, and looked forward to working in such a restaurant one day. Miles joined the only restaurant in Canada to make the San Pellegrino’s 50 BEST Restaurants list (there were no Michelin restaurants in Canada at the time). One feature of the restaurant is that it has a farm and tables can be arranged outdoors on the farm. Miles cherishes this opportunity very much. He gets up very early every day to feed the animals and take care of the vegetable fields. By the end of the day, his hands and clothes are often covered with dirt. The experience of working on the farm in the morning and preparing dinner in the kitchen in the afternoon is etched in his mind, and it is also the beginning of his sustainable food philosophy.

Miles then developed a passion for restaurants in luxury hotels and went to work at Cambridge London Hall, also a BEST 50 restaurant. With the growth and enrichment of his career, Miles’ dream of Michelin restaurant began to burn in his heart. After trying to win a scholarship for a special project, he finally had the opportunity to go to Spain, where Michelin restaurants abound, and worked and studied there for more than two years. I also worked at Asador Etxebarri, a Spanish barbecue restaurant with one Michelin star. After leaving Spain, Miles moved to California to join three-star Michelin chef Christopher Kostow. Miles returned to Canada for a short time to work for a company that operates luxury helicopters, providing exclusive catering services for high-end guests who follow the helicopter to enjoy food, skiing and other activities.

Talk to Miles Pundsack-Poe

T&L: Canada has unique resources in terms of ingredients. Please share your understanding of the characteristics of Canadian ingredients. What Canadian ingredients do you particularly like and recommend?

Miles: Similar to China, Canada is a huge country. It’s relatively warm in the south, but as you go north, there are more forests. There are lots of pine trees and so on. These places are a treasure trove for me to find quality ingredients, and there are a lot of great export ingredients, some of them are special ingredients that are world famous, for example Canadian spotted shrimp is very famous, super delicious.

Canadian oysters are also delicious when grown in cold weather, not to mention the well-known Canadian seafood representatives such as king crab, lobster, etc. Canada also has excellent flounder, salmon, trout, etc. When I was young, I used to go fishing in freshwater lakes with my family. These freshwater fish are very fresh and delicious. There are also some traditional varieties of Canadian pork that are so special that they once sparked a taste craze. Of course, beef is very popular in Canada, and Canada also has very good beef.

Central Canada produces excellent wheat and exports it all over the world, providing excellent bread, pizza and pasta for people everywhere. One of my favorite things to do in the summer is to go to the farmers market, where he loves Montreal peaches and strawberries and lots of other fruits, and the foie gras is fantastic. Finally, don’t forget Canada’s most famous maple syrup!

T&L: Diversity and internationalization is one of the characteristics of Canadian cuisine. Can you share your feelings and opinions on this feature?

Miles: It’s hard to define Canadian food culture in one word. Canadians are associated with nature, camping, and the outdoors. Being able to feel the natural flavor of the farm at the table is a very important theme in the concept of Canadian cuisine.

In Canada, multiculturalism is very prominent, every city has many different small communities, you will come across a small street store, or a small Chinatown, in all of these places, you will find some very good small restaurants with different flavors. The cuisine of these places is more diverse and international than that of some big cities elsewhere. When I travel to these places, I can easily find very authentic and authentic restaurants of different countries run by local families and taste very authentic dishes and food of various flavors. Therefore, Canadian cuisine cannot be defined simply by one flavor or style. Multiculturalism is an important feature of Canadian cuisine, which makes Canadian cuisine culture more unique and charming.

Canada has a lot of big cities, small cities, neighborhoods, restaurants that I like to explore. Victoria on Vancouver Island has a great farmers market, Queen Street in Vancouver, University Street in Toronto, all of which I really like, and there are a lot of small shops where the owners are dedicated to making interesting and delicious food. Montreal is also a city that I love very much. I often go to the bakeries and coffee shops there to enjoy the wonderful time, and those scenes still appear in my eyes from time to time.

T&L: Ensue is unique in its concept of sustainability. Can you share with us the origin of your concept of sustainability and your current efforts in China?

Miles: Living in Canada and working as a chef has deeply influenced my culinary philosophy. When I was in Canada, I went camping a lot, and I really liked the feeling of being completely in nature — walking through the forest, going for long distances, even canoeing, going into the depths of nature without people, and only then can you really feel nature and learn to know and live with it. These experiences and feelings made me understand the value of nature, which is the earth mother that human beings depend on for survival, and if we don’t know how to respect the nature, we will be punished by the nature. The concept of sustainability was naturally born in my mind, because I live with the nature day and night and spend a lot of time growing up with the nature. With the trees and the soil and the animals.

There should be respect for ingredients, and this respect for ingredients and sustainability has been a constant throughout my career. When I find something amazing and delicious, I’m always very curious to know how these amazing ingredients were created by nature? How to grow little by little? Who took it out of the dirt and brought it here? I’ve always maintained this curiosity, this incredible respect for the ingredients.

It is important to use as much local food as possible and reduce the use of imported food. This not only minimizes the carbon emissions from transportation, but also supports the development of local agriculture. At Ensue, our team of chefs use mushrooms from the mountains in the southwest, wild caught or sustainably raised seafood from the seas around Guangdong and Dalian, naturally raised meat from the north, and free-range poultry from the south. Chefs often organize ingredient trips to find pigeons in Zhongshan, hairy crabs in the east Lake of Yangcheng, and the source of caviar production in Qiandao Lake, to find quality ingredients in their origin. In addition, some interesting local ingredients from neighboring Guangdong cities have been added to Ensue’s menu, such as panfish from Shantou and duck from Heyuan, which are rare in Western restaurants.

Ensue is also a big fan of fermenting food. Fermentation will allow for more variety in the complex seasoning, but also to get the most out of the ingredients. When seasonal ingredients arrived, most of them could not be used up and only a certain part could be used. For example, hairy crabs were only used in the dishes at that time, so I would use crab shells and crab feet to make crab dew. For other things, for example, the remaining bread would also be fermented with soy beans as a curve to make soy sauce. Almost no food is wasted at Ensue. Our sustainable philosophy is perfectly put into play at Ensue.

T&L: How do you feel about the fact that Toronto and Vancouver are on the Michelin list this year?

Miles: I think it’s a big event to watch. On the positive side, it’s going to bring international attention to Canadian food, it’s going to open more restaurants, it’s going to drive innovation and growth in food and tourism in these Canadian cities, and it’s going to attract more Canadian chefs to stay and work in Canada. I even expect that there will be not only French and Japanese food in the next Canadian Michelin list, but also a Chinese restaurant with Chinese and Western fusion opened by myself!

I also have some expectations and personal thoughts about the Michelin list, such as how to encourage sustainable restaurants, especially in a place like Canada where farm-to-table and sustainability are all about; Could it be expanded to include some of the surrounding areas of Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal and continue to attract international diners to visit Canada? In addition, this Michelin list is a “safe” list, as it is dominated by French and Japanese food, and it will be interesting to see how the next Michelin list will incorporate more international or truly traditional restaurants. At the same time, I think Michelin should only be a reference for chefs and diners, not the whole thing!

T&L: Can you recommend some cities, neighborhoods and restaurants in Canada where you like to discover and experience food?

Miles: I haven’t lived in Canada for five years. The last place I lived briefly before leaving Canada was a quaint little town called Nelson in the Kootenay Mountains. Many tourists travel here and I highly recommend it, especially if you like winter skiing.

Last summer, I spent some time at home in Ontario. My home is rural, but there are still hidden treasure restaurants around, like Heart’s Tavern in Kimberley.

Another of my most memorable food experiences was dinner at Eigensinn Farm, where I later worked for a while, and Eigensinn Farm left me with an unforgettable memory and a lot to learn about as a chef and as a dinner.

 

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