Re-introducing Chef Élise
Jun. 07, 2013
Food services and the operation of the kitchen is one of Julie’s principal responsibilities. From planning the menus to selecting suppliers to managing the Aikens Lake Kitchen, the task is onerous. She will tell you that a good chef and competent staff are the key ingredients in that department. She was very pleased when Danica Ritchot came back to fill the sous-chef position for the third year in a row. When our chef for the last two years, Chad Robinson decided to accept different employment this spring, Julie went to her “ ace in the hole “. Long time employee and former chef here at Aikens Lake, Élise Blouin was available and Julie wasted no time filling her dance card, so to speak.
We did an interview with Élise so that we could trace her passion for food as well as her attachment to Aikens Lake. Here what she had to say about this and that!
Gerry: When did you start at Aikens Lake, what did you do and are there still employees there that started the same time as you?
Élise: 2007 was my first summer and this year will be my fifth summer working here. I took 2011 and 2012 off to pursue other work in the food industry. I did come in a few times to fill in for the chef when he had to go out, but that was the extent of it. When I first started, I did not know anyone there and had no connections to management. But left from that original crew are Janelle Trudel, David Smith and Éric Toupin-Selinger. I am very close friends with all of them. I was a bridesmaid for Janelle. We were all teenagers when we arrived so you could say we all grew together into adulthood. We have shared the ups and downs and maintain a close bond.
Gerry: You are right; building lifelong friendships is an integral part of working here. What positions did you hold prior to this year?
Élise: During my first two years I was sous-chef and learned a lot about the Aikens kitchen. I also started with Julie as my boss right away so it helped me along the way knowing her expectations and standards. On my third summer, Pit and Julie offered me the top position in the kitchen. I was happy to accept and take the ongoing training to develop my skills and prepare to meet their expectations. I did it for two excellent seasons. So then I decided to expand my horizons by taking on other jobs in the food industry. Pit and Julie asked me to return this year and I am totally thrilled to be back.
Gerry: What did you do for two years in the interim? How did your work help to perfect your skills?
Élise: I stayed employed in the restaurant industry both as a server in higher end restaurants or working at different roles in the kitchen. I did both so I got firsthand experience in different cooking styles and specialties. While serving, I got a better understanding of what customers want and expect with the presentation and preparation. As a server, I got to wait on high end customers and VIP’s, including Marion Warhaft, the Winnipeg Free Press Food Critic. I was very nervous when I found out who she was as I knew she would pay attention to every detail. I guess we did well as she wrote a positive critique of her experience with us. One of the things I’ll always remember from her is when she said to me “you always eat with your eyes first “so the presentation must make a good impression or you will be climbing up hill with the rest. I put that saying into practise every day at Aikens.
Gerry: in your many years here, what constitutes your favorite memory?
Élise: There isn’t just one moment or memory. Why I love coming back to work here is because I love to see people enjoy the food we prepare. Cooking for the guests is our daily focus, but feeding a hard working staff appetising and nourishing meals three times a day is very gratifying. Tending to their special dietary needs like gluten-free or dairy free foods is rewarding, especially when they acknowledge our efforts. That’s what makes every day special for me. There are tonnes of special moments with the fishing, the parties, the staff and the guests, but it all boils down to people appreciating what we do.
Gerry: Last question… in one word, convey to the readers how you perceive your job this summer.
Élise: The first thing that comes to mind is “exciting“.
Élise: because this year, I have the experience and maturity to be very confident in what I’m doing.
Gerry: Thanks for taking time out of you busy day to share some of your insights with our readers. And to all of our guests and staff…