Where Chefs Behind Brand-Driven Restaurants Like Chop and Earls Find Inspiration

At upscale-casual restaurants like Chop and Earls, menu planning is less whimsical and more the result of consistent execution.

Photograph by Jared Sych

 

In restaurant kitchens where Claire Cameron had free rein, seasonal ingredients and a variety of cookbooks informed the dishes she created. Now, as the head chef for Chop‘s Barlow location in the city’s northeast, inspiration isn’t just about what’s on the plate. “Inspiration is what drives you. It doesn’t have to be just food,” says Cameron, who was also the personal chef for rapper-actor Common when he was here filming Hell on Wheels.

When making the switch to a corporate-chef role, Cameron came to a position where all the structures – staff, inventory, process guidelines, menus – were already in place. It is within this structure, Cameron says, that she finds her inspiration, along with a balanced approach to ensure equal attention is paid to guests, staff and the business.

On the food side, Cameron participates in taste panels with the executive chef and other staff and has some say on what goes on the menu. (The Barlow location is a test site for new menu items and dishes that eventually get rolled out to other restaurants.)

“I’m proud of the brand and the food we’re serving, which is inspiring,” Cameron says.

Like Chop, Earls also has test restaurants – including Earls Tin Palace in Mission – which serve as spots to dish up trial-run offerings created by the group’s culinary development department.

The main source of inspiration behind those new creations are the trips that take the Earls culinary development team around the world to discover what’s new in the world of food, says Phil Gallagher, Earls executive chef for Western Canada.

“We come back from that and put our heads together and talk about what’s happening in our market and how we can take things [from our travels] and apply them,” he says.

While those trips serve as the backbone for the inspiration, Gallagher adds eating locally, staying on top of social media, seeing what’s up-and-coming through newly published cookbooks and simply visiting Earls restaurants are also sources of creativity.

“The more we talk to our customers about what they’re eating today, the more we can get inspired,” he says.

 

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