I recently picked up a gig interviewing embassy chefs for “Eater in the Embassy”, a monthly series that runs on the food & restaurant news website Eater DC. Last week I had a pleasure of visiting the Canadian embassy to chat with their fun-loving chef, Thomas Naylor. And sadly no, I did not get to meet any of the Toronto Maple Leafs…
There’s an old stupid joke about yogurt having more culture than Canada, but it will only take five minutes with chef Thomas Naylor to highlight just how incorrect that is. The 10-year veteran of the position of chef at the Canadian embassy allowed Eater to step behind the scenes during a recent event for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He discussed cooking for diplomats and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as Canadian culinary delights from caribou to cod cheeks with scruncions. And he shared why the best poutines are the ones you eat when you’re drunk.
How did you end up cooking at the Canadian embassy?
I was working north of Ottawa and I went down for a meal and the chef was telling this story about one of his employees that was going to interview for this job. In the hotel where I was the executive chef I worked 16-18 hour days. Three times in a row I didn’t have a day off for 30 days. Obviously there was no vacation for almost 2 years. It was all about my job — food was my lover. So when this guy told me about this job I thought, “Well, I could pick up any moment and leave.” They wanted a Canadian chef. They had a French chef and a Belgian chef and they wanted a Canadian chef to bring the Canadian flavor down.
What was the interview process like?
There was the original phone interview with the executive assistant. Then there was a phone interview with the ambassador’s wife. Then there was clearance interview. Then a face-to-face with the ambassador’s wife. Then they came up to the hotel on the busiest day I ever had. I had 200 people for a graduation, 150 people across the street in the banquet room for a wedding, 18 people for a tasting menu in the basement, 40 people in another room for a buffet. We had three teams going, no one really knew what was going on and I was doing the interview. I sent out five courses each so they got to taste 10 different dishes and the ambassador almost ate everything.
Walk us through one of your days…
I come into work, check my emails. A lot of the finances go through me, and so I have to keep track of it very meticulously. Then usually I’ll do daily shopping or shopping for an event. And I have to run the house. Think about taking care of a large house, all the plumbing, electrical, window problems, cleaning, putting up the Christmas lights — all that we have to organize. I’m a manager and managing is the hardest job to ever have. Not only am I an executive chef but I can’t yell at anybody. I used to, and it was a really great way to get things done. But now I have to be so diplomatic.
Click here to finish reading the rest of the interview on Eater DC
That’s what my youngest brother Brandon (Sibling #8) contributed to our discussion on favorite childhood food. Ah, life in Canada must be good! When we were living in Asia the only steak we ever tasted were the bites we stole off our pregnant mom’s special dinner plate (yes, we were monsters). When it came to beef, we were more familiar with what are politely called “inexpensive cuts”. I’ve had liver every way possible, from fairly tasty—coated in cracked wheat and pan-fried, to the truly inedible—boiled. There was even a period where my parents tried, with modest success, to get us to like tongue.
Like the rest of the Stirlings Brandon eats practically anything served to him, but I have an inkling that he perceives starch and vegetables as squatters on real estate best occupied by succulent slabs of beef. Brandon is what I would call a “scrapper”. Quiet and rather small for his age but with a quick wit and an alertness that makes me think he’s simply counting the moments until his height catches up to his mind. A few more of these juicy steaks and it’s just a matter of time before I show up at my family’s front door and am greeted by a tall, gravely voiced young man with one arm swung lazily over a stacked hottie.
This simple method of cooking a steak is something I picked up from watching the meat cook at the restaurant where I worked. Although Brandon likes his steaks rare I timed this one to be about medium-rare. Simply shave off a minute in the oven if—like him—you prefer things bloody.
While writing this post I realized that the youngest Stirlings may have missed out of some key character building experiences such as trying to masticate an incorrectly cooked beef tongue. No worries. That can be easily rectified. On my next visit I will serve up some of the retro-Stirling culinary delights with my very best “back in my day” speech.
Thyme, still alive and growing on my balcony despite the recent cold weather
1 Ribeye steak (about 1-1½ inches thick) *See Cook’s Note
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, crushed—papery skins left on
2 sprigs of thyme
1 Tbs. butter
- Dry the steak with paper towels. Season generously with salt and cracked black pepper
- Heat a skillet over high-heat until lightly smoking. Add a good bit of oil (about 2 Tbs.) Once the oil is hot add the seasoned steak to the skillet. Sear the first side for a minute and a half.
- Turn the steak over & sear for 1 minute. Add the crushed garlic, thyme & pat of butter to the pan (I like to place the butter directly on top of the steak).
- Place in the oven, on the center rack, for 3 minutes.
- Remove. Return the skillet to the stovetop over medium high heat and tilting the skillet towards you, baste the steak (spoon the butter & pan juices over the top) for 30 seconds.
- Remove the steak from the pan & let it rest for 5 minutes.
* Cook’s Note: It’s very important that you remember to take the steaks out of the refrigerator 15 minutes before you’re ready to throw them on the stove.
I’m horrible with diets. Tell me I can’t eat something and I’ll crave it ferociously. Earlier this year my husband and I decided we would give up meat for Lent. I lasted five days.
I dieted seriously only once before. It was after a six-month stint in Mexico, where I ate tacos for breakfast, lunch and dinner and made monthly pilgrimages to Texas to devour the delights of Whataburger. So upon returning home to Taiwan I ate only fruit for breakfast, half a whole-wheat tuna sandwich and raw vegetables for lunch—followed by the exact same thing for dinner. It took a month of that diet combined with daily weighted runs up the eleven flights of stairs to our apartment to erase the damage. But that was when I was 18, intensely motivated by my severe lack of self-confidence and the desire to quiet the snarky comments about my ass.
Now that I’m just a smidge older (ahem) my priorities have changed. I don’t care what bitchy women think of my size, or whether or not a guy finds me attractive (my hubby is locked into thinking it… or at least lying about it FOREVER) but now I’ve got new issues to deal with, namely my health.
Sadly, what our parents threatened is in fact true: as you get older you can’t eat like you did as a teenager without negative consequences. But the other side of the spectrum—only eating turkey breast, brown rice & steamed vegetables is no way to live either. So I’m attempting to mitigate the damage my favorite foods might be doing by throwing them together with “super foods”.
This autumn I’ve been particularly enamored with kale. Raw, sautéed, or added to soup—I love it all. On a recent Sunday after yet another afternoon spent at FedEx field watching disappointing Redskins football we returned home heads hung low & arms cradling a bucket of leftover Popeyes fried chicken. Ten years ago I would’ve devoured the leftover chicken while watching the late night game (who am I kidding, two years ago I would’ve done that) but my newly accepted reality inspired me to throw together this healthy salad which turned out to be a surprisingly delicious compromise.
I am hopeful that the combined vitamin power from a kale, almonds, flax and chia seeds turn this dinner into a super meal capable of undoing (almost) any damage from the fried chicken.
5 kale leaves (any variety)
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 Tbs. champagne vinegar
1 tsp. mustard
1 tsp. honey
4 Tbs. olive oil
salt and pepper
2 pieces leftover fried chicken
1 Tbs. almond slivers
2 tsp. flax seeds*
2 tsp. chia seeds*
½ Fuji apple (a handful of dried cranberries would also work beautifully)
- Remove the thick stem from the kale leaves. You can cut it out or simply tear it out. Stack the stem-free leaves and cut into thin strips.
- Mix the garlic, vinegar, mustard and honey in a bowl. Add the oil and mix to incorporate. Taste and adjust the vinaigrette to your liking. Add a pinch of salt and black pepper.
- Dress the kale, mixing the salad with your hands so that it is evenly dressed. Cover and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
- If you are using cold leftover chicken reheat it in an oven set to 350° until warmed through. Remove and tear the meat and skin up into bite size chunks.
- Put the almonds, chia and flax seeds in a skillet over medium heat. Toast gently, tossing frequently until the almonds are fragrant and golden. Set aside
- Cut the apple half into 4 pieces. Remove the core and peel (if desired). Slice thinly.
- Assemble the salad by tossing all the ingredients together in a large salad bowl.
*Flax and chia seeds can be found in the bulk section of Whole Foods grocery stores.