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Station: Chef de Mission

Brad Boisvert - Andrew Leong
Brad Boisvert
— image credit: Andrew Leong

A fireman, a police officer or doctor.

Cowboys, astronauts or even jet fighter pilots.

These are just some of the shoes and boots many boys talk about filling when they grow up.

However, and perhaps sadly, less than 20 per cent of those who took part in a recent survey conducted by Salary.com say they’re living out the dream jobs they wished for in the days before first kisses, growth spurts and breaking voices.

According to the survey, a mere 16 percent of us are living our dream occupations.

Bradford Boisvert counts himself among those lucky few.

The celebrated valley chef and owner of the popular Amusè On The Vineyard restaurant not only knew he wanted to be a chef; he started training for it when he was in the fourth grade.

When he thinks back, Boisvert admits his desire to lead a kitchen may have started even earlier.

“My mother says my first word was ‘cook,’” said the married dad of two.

Born and raised in Warwick, R.I., the second largest city in the smallest U.S. state, the 35-year-old chef remembers the day his parents took him to a demonstration at a mall.

“Culinary students from a nearby college were doing vegetable and ice carvings,” he said.

“I watched them for eight hours and afterwards asked my parents if I could do that.”

They said yes and, less than a year later when he was the seasoned and ripe old age of 10, Boisvert started his own catering business.

“It started when someone would ask me to make them a small cake. Maybe from being young and naive I would say ‘Yes,’” said the chef. “Then later I would figure out how to do it.”

Boisvert the boy was soon catering adult functions and his business grew to where he needed kitchen staff. Luckily, help was close at hand.

“My parents would drive me (to the jobs) and a lot of times (would) work for me,” said Bradford — and it is Bradford, not Brad or Bradley.

“They would help carry things in, then they and my siblings would help serve.”

Boisvert began to garner widespread attention, and not just from the hungry faithful. When he was 12, Forbes Magazine did a feature on the pint-sized kitchen whiz. Since then, he has graced the pages of many more newspapers and magazines, including Newsweek, USA Today, Epicure, National Geographic Traveler and, now, Station.

Despite the fame, Boisvert continued to cook and to learn his craft.

Part of the fledging chef’s experience came at the now defunct Aerie Resort, a high-calibre restaurant on the Malahat.

Boisvert later returned to the States where he received a bachelor’s degree in restaurant management at the Culinary Institute of America.

He’s since cooked in restaurants in the U.S. and Europe, but it was the warm land, fresh fish and promise of clean produce that captured his heart and wooed him back to where he knew he belonged.

“I’ve travelled quite a bit and can say there is no better place to be a chef than the Cowichan Valley,” he said.

Boisvert opened Amusè — pronounced Ah-muse-ay —in a converted Shawnigan Lake house nearly eight years ago.

“We wanted to amuse the valley with our food,” Boisvert said of the name. “We had our logo designed and the mark above the E in Amuse was just the designer’s brush stroke and, so, we became Amusè.”

The restaurant has since moved to Unsworth Vineyard on Cameron Taggart Road in Cobble Hill and is now know as Amusè on the Vineyard.

No matter the moniker, Boisvert has carved his name in cooking circles, much of that because of his imaginative flair with food, and his almost fanatical desire to use only local meats and produce, much of the latter from the restaurant’s own garden.

“I believe food starts way before it gets into the kitchen, it starts in the ground,” said Boisvert, espousing his “seed-to-table” philosophy.

“I meet with our gardener and decide what we’re planting,” he said. “It's the same with other farmers. I meet with them in January and tell them what we need — there are no GMO seeds.”

But there are a couple of things Boisvert can’t get from the Island.

“Truffles and citrus. Citrus like lemons and grapefruit are a little difficult to source locally,” he said, adding he hopes one day they too will be locally grown.

While truffles are being grown in some areas of mainland B.C., other Valley fungi are a wonderful food source for the chef, a bounty he shares with others.

“At this time of year we do mushroom tours every Saturday,” said Boisvert.

“Brother Michael, a Benedictine monk, and I take about 10 people to show them the environment to find them, and then come back and do a three-course lunch with wine to pair with that.”

To get in on those excursions or to make reservations, call the restaurant at 250-743-3667.

 

Boisvertisms:

• “A home chef only needs three or four knives in the kitchen: a paring knife, a chef’s knife, a bread knife and a boning knife.”

• “There are three things everyone should know in the kitchen: how to make a basic stock, how to butcher a fish and to know where your products come from.”

• He’s not too crazy about any of the popular television chefs. However, Boisvert does have a soft spot for one of the pioneers of the business. “Julia Child,” he said. “I met her lot of times and sat down for a glass of wine with her and it was a huge moment.”

• He maintains a relaxed kitchen. It’s true, forget all that yelling and carrying on you might see from television chefs; Boisvert’s kitchen is a very mellow place and you half expect spontaneous group hugs with the staff and the odd peace sign flashed between courses. “If there is chaos in the kitchen, that’s reflected in dishes,” Boisvert said.

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