Welcome one and all, with all of us in isolation lately plus my opportunity to film The Archer Report, The Hot Seat and Thad About Town stifled due to social distancing and postponing of shows and businesses, I thought I’d switch things up.
This is Thad Talks, the premise is simple, I interview a local #YEG personality and throw it up here for you to get to know them better. Now being accustomed to video and doing most of my work extemporaneously you will have to bear with my grammar and overall writing chops.
My next guest is a local chef that is well renown for not only his passion for food but his passion for the industry itself. He’s championed a fight against some local restaurant owners garnishing the tips of their servers. He is unabashedly himself and never has an issue telling things like they are. He undyingly champions and promote local restaurants and businesses and has no issue calling out ones that are detrimental to the rest. Today, I speak with The Burly Chef Daniel Huber about his career, his passions, his life and maybe some of his pet peeves.
Dan thanks for participating sir, I always start with a simple wrestling question, who had a better overall career or body of work, The Rock or Stone Cold Steve Austin?
This is tough for a couple of reasons close to my heart. The Rock ended up transcending the sport and becoming his own man, due to his generational talent and swagger. Stone Cold did almost the same thing but in the more traditional sense. He is also his own man outside of the sport and created a legacy based on what he did in wrestling that carried over outside the sport.
One of my all-time heroes of sport was/is Muhammad Ali, for his talent and his outspoken political character and actions. For these two reasons, I give this one a tie and Ill tell you why. Rock grew to be a bigger and arguably more powerful man than Vince. He dropped the Peoples Elbow on the whole establishment. Stone Cold also did his own thing and because of that is a legend, outside the sport he has come out in favour of LGBTQ rights and pretty much like most of the good rural folk in our neck of the woods, said to the world “what someone does with their own life is their own life you dumb sumbitch”…gotta admire both of them for their wrestling skills and their ability to turn it into something bigger.
Not so simple answer sorry.
You have been a chef for years, what drew you to the trade and ultimately what cemented the fact that you wanted your career to be a chef?
It was a way to be me and find a career inside a system I didn’t identify with. When I started working in the industry and it ended up being like what you would imagine being on a Pirate ship would be like. I was sold.
You consider your home town to be Wainwright, AB, TA3 fun fact I was born in Wainwright and spent every summer helping at my grandparent’s farm, it’s a big change community wise from, say, Edmonton. What are your fondest memories in Wainwright?
Pass, nah, the people. There is something to be said for small towns. Things close at six, people go home to be with family. Priorities are in a bit of a better place at times. The truly great memories would be too unsavoury to share in this forum.
Once you left Wainwright where did you go, you ultimately settled in Edmonton, but was there anywhere you lived before here on your quest to cook?
North Battleford for a few years while our family sorted out our long term path. (I) needed a change after graduating and it was great to move to somewhere so different. Then Merritt, the birthplace of the Chef.
My parents retired and once I saw they were settled, I decided to forge my way back here to conquer demons and sew some oats.
Landing in Edmonton one of your first jobs here was a dishwasher, ultimately it was a step in your career cooking, how did you get your break into doing the cooking side of things.
The blessing and curse of the restaurant industry is enough people fuck up on a daily basis that the ladder is easy to climb if you pay attention, show up for work and actually care.
I’ll just leave it at that because most successes in our society are built just a touch on the backs of another and I don’t have enough time or space to thank everyone who screwed the pooch as well as the folks who propped me up.
What would you consider your top three restaurants you’ve worked at?
The ones I have opened, solely because they are the culmination of my experience and its the best I could offer and do. Anyone in the industry knows the restaurants are built on people and without them they are nothing.
So I built some teams based around the people I loved, fully knowing they would exceed what I could do but giving them my ideas and experiences. This career is about paying it forward, no matter what bullshit you see on the food network.
What would be your worst experiences working for a restaurant? You don’t have to name names but the atmosphere of hospitality and the restaurant industry can lead to some intense emotions and moments, which ones stand out the most?
Whyte Ave between 2005-2015 approx was the fucking Wild West. Not because anyone was doing anything cool per se but a book could be written about all the bullshit I was witness too and dealt with. Oddly enough the playoff run riots were a fun break from life cooking there lol.
Who would you consider your mentors in cooking, who are some of the chefs that helped guide you along the way to becoming a journeyman?
People who I have worked aside and have worked for me as subordinates. I have always learned more from those around me, within collaboration and on a day to day basis of back and forth than any Chef I worked under.
It’s not rocket science, the people who stick with you and you truly learn from are the ones grinding it out on line every day, they keep the kitchens open while the Chef ends up having a pretentious drink at the bar while you work through the late rush.
Which chefs, whether it be TV chefs or more renowned chefs do you admire?
Too many to name, I think its known, although never dangerous like other professions, its so high stress with so many financial and mental health risks, if you can keep a business open and functioning and not commit homicide, you get props. Those worthy of admiration are the Chefs who do that and make a name for themselves and add something back to the community or humanity.
So cats like Bourdain and David Mcmillan (Joe Beef) and Julia Child..who are larger than life folks. That’s what you want in a Chef, picture the punch drunk ex-heavyweight champ shaking hands at the tables of his hole in the wall restaurant in Manhattan. I don’t want timid by the books people. I want to be inspired and leave feeling like I met someone with character.
Ramsay (yes the food at his high-end restaurant in LA blew most shit out of the water)…and Chefs like David Chang and Jose Andres who are using their skill and voice to be Chefs and activists. Because a lot of Chefs in the industry think just because you can deconstruct a fucking fish and chips means you are offering something to the community. Food is inherently the language of the common person and if you aren’t perpetuating that you are engaged in a career-long circle jerk.
Guess what it’s not “art”…most art doesn’t get dropped off in the toilet the next day. Its communal, beautiful, simple, home-cooked, hand-forged and inherently everyone’s to enjoy.
What is the one restaurant, anywhere in the world, that you have to eat at before you die?
Joe Beef and a close tie with anywhere back in New Orleans, even the Popeyes is better there, some juju from that place makes everything better.
Time to take a breather on the food and industry questions, we will come back to that, but let’s get to know you a bit better overall. You enjoy your music, what are your favourite bands and musicians? Which genre do you find yourself listening to the most for comfort?
Yikes, this is one of those things where I would need a week and an assistant to map out everything. As I get older its about “phase” and revisiting things I love.
If I wanna wake up and open the blinds and let the sunshine in some Motown and Raggae and Fifties era oldies. If I want to get motivated and face the daily bullshit, RATM, Refused, IDLES, Johnny Cash
If I wanna dance or get someone’s pants off, QOTSA, Royal Blood, Massive Attack, Tove Lo, the Music
And if I need to tune the world out and drift off Chelsea Wolfe and Jeff Buckley, just couldn’t live without them.
Honestly, music is such a huge part of my life, I am blessed to say I have no shortage of bands and artists I love and couldn’t list them all or I would look like a (bigger) asshole.
Which is the best concert you’ve ever attended, and who was playing?
That’s hard, I think the funnest concert I ever saw was the band the Music from the UK at Starlite Room like ten years ago. They have a specific style, rock music that’s actually danceable and Edmonton (Alberta for that matter) has always had this amazing ability to see bands before they get massive, or they already are massive abroad but they sneak in the radar here and you can see a world-class band at a 500 person venue. One of the many reasons to appreciate this city.
Outside of music, even through your cooking, you’ve had a chance to attend a lot of events. In fact, I had some part to play in having you as the food vendor for The Clandestine Society show last year, what was your take on the show? Have you attended any other wrestling shows before?
Yeah, honestly when I was a lot younger, high school semi-pro ones in and around small-town Alberta and a couple of ones in Vancouver.
It was fun, the music and cooking scenes tend to get log jammed with douchebags who put style above substance and in wrestling, that’s part of the gig but it’s done with a nod to humour and grassroots culture.
What I saw at that event was a smelly, dingy room full of screaming, laughing and clamouring fans who weren’t there to be seen but to actually shut the hell up and letting the entertainers do their thing.
Its one of the few instances were people yelling at the people you came to see is actually part of the show and encouraged. Wrestling fans are witty as hell and I don’t cringe when they engage each other or the entertainers.
Plus it is one of the few art forms where you have to work from the bottom to the top, no hopping the fence with social media.
I have an unexplainable respect for the performers, its high stakes, its real and the only thing fake is the story to bring you along for the ride.
Being a wrestling guy, I have to ask even though I’m not sure how much of a fan you are or have been, who are your favourite wrestlers?
Used to be a huge wrestling fan up until I would say Rock and Stone Cold era as funny as it is. Dad watched it with me growing up and it was larger than life, so Rowdy Roddy Piper is the GOAT to me.
I would dare say the best heel in wrestling history. Whip-smart, treaded that line of saying things he shouldn’t have, swagger, unique anti-hero.
That whole era I could hold court in conversation with any wrestling fan on. Nowadays it’s actually cool to see some of the female wrestlers take that mantle. Lacey Evans is a gem and watching Alberta collectively shit their pants when she held character is a reminder that a lot of people scoff at wrestling, its fans and performers but it’s so much smarter than the average person even notices.
Wrestling is a reflection of the times, the racism, the collective hopes and dreams of people looking for a better life. Its modern-day Greek Gods and I am happy to see it still thriving.
If you are or have been a fan, what would be the pivotal moment for you that intrigued you with wrestling? Was there a specific match, wrestler or event that drew you in?
When I was watching a wrestling event in Wainwright at the Community Hall when I musta been nine or something, my Dad took me and when one of the “bad guys” was coming to the ring, Bam Bam Bigelow type guy.
My Dad, Mark, encouraged me to yell at him, call him a bum, that kind of thing. The guy was having none of it and stopped dead in his tracks on the way to the ring and looked at me, towering over me and said “what did you say you little puke?!?!?!” ….I nearly shit my pants. He broke the fourth wall and my mind. It was awesome. I was hooked since.
You’ve done some travelling, where would you love to plant roots if you weren’t in Edmonton? What’s your favourite city you’ve travelled to?
New Orleans, New Orleans…and if something prevented me physically I would set up camp in Baton Rouge nearby until it blew over.
It’s my Mecca. It may not be a feasible long term plan as its smack dab in an emerging failed state/country. But the people and culture and food and spirit is an example for how to live life.
Let’s get into politics, you are very vocal about politics on social media from the municipal level, to provincial to well anything, one thing you’ve championed is Edmonton offering free transit, why would this be best for our city?
I want to preface this with two major things. One, before it can be free it has to run properly. I wake up daily and wonder to myself how something so basic to the lives of Edmontonians can be overlooked so frequently and I have come to the conclusion its about class. The working person in this City has to fight for a job and once they find one, if they need to use public transit, they have to fight to be on time. Fight for their safety and ability to just get to work and put some work in and get home to their family without incident. This isn’t something someone in a civilized and modern society should have to fight for.
Secondly, even before current events have us shacked up, unemployed and scared for our lives. I knew we have to be pragmatic about things, it can’t be free until we sort through this mess and we get our financial house in order and someone with a backbone takes on the province to make sure when we pay our property taxes, we get more than 6 cents on the dollar back here to be able to fund these things. Its a complex problem and unfortunately that’s not sexy to a lot of armchair activists and politicians, so I think this next election cycle you might see me get involved to ensure real people are in there making decisions that force change. Politics has become reality TV and you can’t really turn the channel, you have to take over the station.
While on the subject, most of the people in politics, left or right, are for lack of a better word are hard to trust. Who are some of the politicians at any level of government that you support and respect the most? Who are the worst and why is the premier of Alberta?
Because the current system we have in place puts politicians in opposition to the communities they oversee. Rarely do they come from working-class backgrounds, so making ground-level decisions in a timely fashion, with the means they have available is a Herculean effort for them. They aren’t us, they don’t work our jobs, they rarely come to visit us and take the temperature of the average person day-to-day. They are reactionary and often cowardly and the internet has only worsened this. They will make decisions on what will keep their job, rather than what is in the best interest of everyone long term. Until we change this, until normal people run and everyone voting accepts these people may not look as pretty and bullshit as eloquently, then we will continue down this road. They don’t even talk like us, do they? That’s why you can’t trust them, your instincts kick in and are hard to deny, no matter how much you hate politics if you want things to change you have to get involved personally.
As for who I support, there are a lot of good people coming up with great ideas and working them out daily to better our lives and communities and then there are no shortage of politicians looking to piggyback that.
I challenge anyone to find the last great government initiative they’ve seen and trace back its roots, it’s not often sussed out in an office somewhere but made to work in the community either in business or regular circles. Politicians grab onto these ideas and ride them into the sunset.
I had hope for Obama but he is a prime example of how the system will keep you slowed down and compromising.
We have a handful of competent, compassionate and informed city Councillors this go around in Edmonton who seems to have the ability to look you in the face while they discuss why they did something and my hope is this will enable a generational shift in politics here.
I have more hope in you, Sir, and the guy who made me supper yesterday and the woman who worked on my teeth last month then I do career politicians.
As for our current Premier. There isn’t much more to say other than our political system is broken when incompetent sociopaths can fail upward into high office in this land. It’s not native to Alberta but oh boy but does it ever happen here. I disagreed (publicly) with our previous NDP government on a lot of issues but I could see the humanity in our former Premier. I do not see an ounce of it in a man who calls people with disabilities “People of modest human capital”…
Marrying the food industry and politics, you made a point a couple of years ago to launch a campaign against local restaurants to end ‘house tipping” to non-working owners. Essentially owners were having servers pay a percentage of their tips to them, not just the other working staff like, say, bus people or chefs. Why did you fight for this and where did it ultimately lead knowing other provinces have banned this practice?
It didn’t lead anywhere (yet) as Alberta is always about 20 years behind on gender, workplace and safety issues but I reserve hope with the new generation. It’s illegal in other provinces because it should be just that illegal.
Scumbags tax their employees because they entered an industry with tight margins and for some reason, that burden is in some instances passed along to the lifeblood of the business. It is, without hyperbole one of the greasiest piece of shit moves in modern workplaces and anyone engaging in it is a scumbag. End of story.
So with that in mind, I got fucked over and grew up and once I worked up the courage to change it, I did as much as legally possible in my workplaces, then I decided once I was secure enough in my career and people knew what I was about and how I speak freely. Why not speak truth to power that might make someone’s life easier. You earn the money you should keep it. The restaurant and bar industry has always been this weird bubble where the most heinous occurrences will happen and people brush it off. No more and not while I draw breath. At best it can force others to realize they have power, they aren’t crazy in being upset about this and if they organize in any way they can disrupt this bullshit. Worst case I make a handful of clowns in the province get sweaty because they get called out. Which I can say with a full and happy heart, has happened. I am living rent-free in a lot of owners’ minds and when you can shift that power it is invaluable. Because that power and silence and fear is what keeps the practice going.
Tell me about Leftovers.
(Leftovers) was a non-profit food rescue I worked with and oversaw in Edmonton that took food that was otherwise great and healthy and safe, save it from being thrown out and reroute it to agencies so they could use that perfectly good food to help people in need. Was like a perishable food version of the food bank.
One thing I’ve seen you very vocal about is senior care facilities in the province, I’m a firm believer in respecting and cherishing our elderly, what gave you this passion? Is it that you once worked in the field and how can we help fix the state it’s in?
Start caring about our elderly. Like don’t just say you do but expect minimum levels of care and compassion for the generations that got us to our current comfortable lives. Hold the government accountable and most importantly ourselves. Because governance can fix big picture issues and concerns but a lot of families neglected their loved ones and didn’t visit. That’s on the families not just those in charge.
As a person that has commanded many kitchens, led them through services, what is the biggest group you’ve catered to?
1200 person wedding, it sucked and people are animals. It was fun as a challenge but special occasions sure have a way of making people ordinary.
You’ve owned restaurants in the past and you have made a career consulting for them, which do you enjoy more and why?
Consulting because you are offering up your ideas and sweat and getting paid directly for it. None of the bullshit of “oh you are a valuable member of the team” and continue to make a modest wage.
Also, because most of the time, unless I wanted to make a lot of money at once for a house downpayment or trip, I have the ability to turn down projects and pick and choose what I do.
Restaurants are a grind and noble but not worth the pain and physical sacrifice. The model will shift here in the next few years and I hope it does with that in mind.
Daniel one of the reasons I respect you the most is you truly push to support local, what are your favourite restaurants in Edmonton and why?
Anything Daniel Costa has touched, Avila Arepa, Northern Chicken, Local Omnivore, Jumbo Dim Sum, Rostizado.
Everything is great at these locations and they aren’t trying to be anything but themselves.
What was the best dish you’ve very had served to you? If it wasn’t in Edmonton what was the best dish you’ve ever had here, otherwise abroad?
Probably this shrimp and Crab bisque at John Besh’s restaurant in New Orleans. A friend and I went on a 10-day food and booze trip and the day before we ate some bad seafood and both got violent food poisoning.
The reservations took six months and was a pre-paid 14 course (with drink) journey. We braved through it and the food was so good, through the fog of illness it left a lasting impression.
Turns out Besh was a real asshole and creep but the food transcends the Chef and let’s be honest, he wasn’t even in the building. Sous Chef’s are the real MVP’s
I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you: what are your top three #YEG breweries or distilleries? Furthermore, what is the Burly Chef’s drink of choice?
Straight up Bourbon, local? Sea Change has killer products AND treats their staff well, I hear about all this kind of stuff now and everyone has nothing but good things to say.
Alley Kat is a staple for sure and always has tasty seasonal.
This may be cliched but I always ask, what are the ‘Hidden Gems’ in Edmonton, places, people, or things that everyone might not know but should know about?
Oh boy this is a long list so I’ll take a different approach and hit up a couple food items that can’t be missed. The dough wrapped cheese, that’s deep-fried and served like pillows of God Cheese from Avila Arepa.
I really think the peach shrimp you can get at most good Dim Sum joints is one of a kind and a gift from the Chinese Canadian community on every plate, Pinnochio Ice Cream is not a hidden gem per se due to popularity but the Fact Tom uses real ingredients and you can taste the quality in every bite is a rarity nowadays. Also, enjoy a sandwich from Farrow for lunch, they source their bread locally and its the last piece of a delicious puzzle.
There are so many places to go and so many amazing things to eat in this City.
A quick aside to food, I’ve noticed you’ve made a point to become a 100.3 Bear regular show contributor, I adopted this years ago based on their sense promoting local and of creating a community with their fanbase, what brings you to the table and keeps you coming back with this?
The gents on the “Worst Show Ever” are fun guys and if I can make dudes who make so many laugh, laugh themselves its a fun thing. Its a competition to fight to get on air with something ridiculous and rattle some cages and I like the challenge. I did a University radio show for a couple of years and that was fun and life experience but it’s tough and I appreciate and applaud what those guys do because nowadays having a radio show seems to be a constant barrage of assholes and they handle it like professionals.
Back to food, what are the three dishes you think you make the most at home? What is your wife’s favourite?
Risotto, she loves that. It takes forever and its a labour of love but so is everything worth its own in a relationship so when I make it, it reminds me of her constant work and patience. It’s quite cathartic actually.
I love Perogies, I even life-hacked making them in a wok with hot oil after boiling and its like a fusion of cultures with the same result.
Love hand made pasta…and as I transition into eating less meat, a nice salad with a fresh soft cheese, balsamic and fresh vegetables, with pan made croutons is pretty killer.
Your top three favourite tools in the kitchen, GO?!
My cleaver, I use a Chinese Chef’s Knife as my go-to knife, then probably my copper pot for even boiling, sauces and cooking and finally my hand mixer.
If you had never taken your journey to become a chef what would be the career path you would have taken? What would Dan be doing today had he not become the Burly Chef?
I wonder this daily, whatever it was it woulda probably ended up on Netflix, as a stand up special, a documentary or cautionary tale.
Bang, Marry, Kill? Martha Stewart, Rachel Ray, Michelle Remple
Jesus, you bastard. Well I want to run for office one day so I would have to say Marry Rachel Ray, Fight to the death with Martha Stewart solely because she’s been to the big house and has seen things, I have a feeling she would be a good fight and if I lost at least she would shank me with an artisan, cranberry scented shiv. Can Michelle Rempel just fuck herself and save me the disappointment? She seems like a joyless person and I have already been inside enough of those.
I always end on this because I’m selfish and I tirelessly promote wrestling, if tomorrow you were offered a job in wrestling what would be the role you’d enjoy the most? Wrestler, booker, promoter, referee, play by play or colour announcer, ring announcer, manger?
Oh manager for sure, I would be getting paid to travel the world and shit talk people. That’s living the dream
Well, a giant thank you to The Burly Chef Daniel Huber for joining me this week! Make sure you follow him on social media for some of his spectacular content. We will be back next week with another guest and I’m looking to all of YOU for more ideas of prominent local #YEG people that I can interview via social distancing!
Tune in next week for another Thad Talks here on the Win Column Sports Network!
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