Chef Paul Shufelt doesn't have even a hint of a Quebecois accent. But just ask him about his cooking philosophies or his ideas on personal style, and the monsieur in him reveals itself.
By Sydnee Bryant | March 2, 2014
styling by Erin Monaghan; hair and makeup by Nicola Gavins. Photographed on location at The Parlour. photography by Ashley Champagne
Chef Paul Shufelt doesn’t have even a hint of a Quebecois accent. Although he grew up southeast of Montreal and lived in the city itself for four years before moving west, his Quebec roots don’t really show. But just ask him about his cooking philosophies or his ideas on personal style, and the monsieur in him reveals itself.
Shufelt, who is the corporate chef and a managing partner for the Century Hospitality Group, didn’t start his career in the culinary arts. He studied engineering at Dawson College in Montreal for a few years, while working in a restaurant as a part-time dishwasher. As he began to move up the ranks in the kitchen (dishwasher, prep work, line cook, sous chef), he decided to turn his passion for cooking into a career. At 21, he moved to Canmore and worked at the Silvertip Golf Course. Then, he moved to Banff and spent two years apprenticing under chef Thomas Neukom at the Buffalo Mountain Lodge, before completing the three-year culinary apprenticeship program at NAIT.
So how did a guy in his mid-20s go from being a newbie chef to the head chef of multiple successful restaurants? By taking risks. A few months after graduating, he moved to Switzerland on a whim to work with a former classmate. “As much as NAIT was my formal education, I feel like I really got schooled in a European kitchen,” says Shufelt, now 35. “It was very French, classical cooking. Right out of the book. It had to be perfect and it had to be the same every single time.”
After a year and a half, Shufelt returned to Edmonton, although he didn’t expect to be in the city long. “My first, almost-embarrassing-to-admit job was at Jox Sports Bar & Grill in the north end,” says Shufelt. He was told he would move up after the restaurant got back on track but, by the two-month mark, he could tell that would never happen.
Shufelt took a job at Chance, a Century Hospitality Group restaurant located in the building that is now Lux Steakhouse and Bar. “My first day, I was a line cook, and, by the end of my shift, the chef pulled me aside and asked me to be a sous chef.” Now, almost a decade later, Shufelt has created about 500 dishes for the eight restaurants under the Century Hospitality umbrella.
When cooking, he chooses comfort and function over style. Away from the kitchen, he trades in his clogs for leather dress shoes and his chef’s coat for designer dress shirts – his style might be understated, but never sloppy.
Tell me about The Parlour, the newest restaurant in the Century Hospitality chain. What’s the concept?
I would definitely say this concept is Italian for Canadians. It’s not going to be as focused on specific dishes being from certain regions. It’s more approachable, Canadian Italian. But at the same time, it’s still relying on those same classic techniques.
We brought in Carlo Raillo, a pizzaiolo from Italy, from Naples, who has done this for over a decade. He worked in his family’s pizzeria and has literally made thousands upon thousands of pizzas – 300 to 400 pizzas a day. He and I made pizzas last week and it was so exciting just to watch him. He’s a machine. For him, it’s an art form. I’m excited to use the handmade pasta machine, use some local ingredients, bring some Canadian flavour to those dishes.
How much time do you actually get to spend in the kitchen?
I feel like I spend as much time in front of a laptop as I do in front of a cutting board. I try to make a point to spend half my time each week in the kitchen, not always necessarily with a knife in my hand, but doing one-on-ones with the chefs, et cetera. As we continue to grow, it becomes more and more difficult for me to be in every business, every day. I have to rely on great people around me to make sure that my vision is seen through.
You met your wife in a restaurant, right?
Yeah, she was supervising at Century Grill when I met her. We got together in 2008, and we got married almost three years ago. We have a one-and-a-half year old girl. Of all the things I’ve made in my life, having a daughter is, without a doubt, the most amazing thing I’ve ever created. She’s the only girl that I would ever get out of bed at five in the morning for and not be mad.
Did you guys make your own baby food?
Yeah, we did a lot of that. We definitely didn’t buy any of the jarred stuff. But we put her on solid foods quite quickly. I think it’s important for us to keep the preservatives out of her mouth, and all of the things that you can’t pronounce on a jar shouldn’t be in there. We were pretty adamant about making sure we fed her fresh food as much as we could.
Do you take a health-conscious approach when you’re developing your menus?
I don’t think that’s ever been my speciality. You have to be mindful of it, you can’t be oblivious, but, if you look at our menus, they’re verymuch about contemporary comfort food and that’s going to require a little more butter, a little more cream. My concept is working with real food instead of processed food. We’re very adamant about doing as much in-house from scratch – virtually everything is done from scratch – and knowing what ingredients go into our dishes.
When you come to one of our restaurants, you should be able to indulge a little bit but you should also leave knowing that your meal wasn’t filled with preservatives or made in a factory thousands of miles from here and reheated in our restaurant. I focus more on that. Maybe there’s a little more cream or butter in the mashed potatoes than there should be but, man, they taste good! And they’re real potatoes!
How would you describe your style?
I want to look good, but also be comfortable with how I’m dressed and be myself. That being said, over the years my personal style has definitely evolved. I think, as you become successful and your personality becomes more defined, so does your personal style. Plus, as you age you can afford to spend more.
You lived in Montreal, Banff and Switzerland prior to Edmonton. How has travelling influenced your look?
Living in Montreal and Switzerland gave me a real sense of the importance in taking pride in your appearance. The vast majority of people in Montreal are well-dressed no matter what the occasion, and the same could certainly be said for Switzerland and virtually all of Europe. The same can’t always be said for Edmonton. It taught me early on that when I go out in public I need to be presentable.
Growing up in small-town Quebec and then moving to Montreal meant I had to adapt and put more focus on my appearance if I was going to keep up with my peers. As for Banff, I don’t think anyone is learning anything from the fleece, flannel and yoga-pant trends of the Canadian Rockies.
Who are some of your favourite designers?
Ted Baker and Brooks Brothers. If I’m travelling, I like to pick up something special – for my wife as well – and I hear a Tom Ford suit is pretty nice. I’m going to have to make time to get one of those soon. For dress shirts, I like Ted Baker and Michael Kors. The Ted Baker shirts really fit me well. I’m a bigger guy – it’s hard to find a designer that makes shirts that you can still look good in but are made for my size.
Do you ever wear accessories?
You might catch me wearing a nice watch – I would love a Rolex. Right now, I have TAG, Tissot and Guess watches. I’m almost at the point where it’s time to indulge and get something really nice.
Do you prefer to wear colours or neutrals?
Neutrals. Hands down. But, hey, a pop of colour can be fun.
What type of shoes do you normally wear?
Almost always Kenneth Cole or Steve Madden dress shoes or kitchen clogs, but I also enjoy a good pair of kicks when I get the chance to be a little more casual. Kitchen clogs range from $150 to $200. They either have wooden or rubber soles – they are durable and made to take a beating. If I’m cooking, I wear kitchen clogs. If I’m in the kitchen just expediting food or something, I’ll wear dress shoes.
What’s the one piece of clothing that you would never give up?