Chef of the Year 2020: Andrea Carlson, Burdock and Co
2702 Main St., burdockandco.com
Deep down inside it’s a heartbreaking job, this being a chef. Here’s what the public wants from you: an unwavering commitment to quality 24/7, a focus at work normally reserved for PGA golfers, an unhealthy dedication to your kitchen that prohibits any sort of reasonable personal life and a resolve to always choose passion over profit. Oh yes, and don’t expect to earn even close to proper compensation for all these extreme sacrifices, because we freak out if your menu prices ever increase. The miracle is not just that Andrea Carlson seems to clear of all these insane hurdles, it’s also that she does it and still seems to keep a crooked smile on her face throughout.
This year should have been the crowning achievement for Carlson. Her restaurant, Burdock and Co, celebrated its seventh birthday, they were just coming off their most financially successful year ever and she had the crowning glory of publishing an acclaimed cookbook. It looked like a victory for a chef who always seemed to be guided by passion rather than stability, who’s more comfortable cooking than schmoozing. And then COVID hit. Burdock was a restaurant uniquely screwed in its ability to weather the storm, with its triple whammy of a small dining room, limited outdoor space to expand into and a cuisine that doesn’t translate to being put in a box and driven across the city for 40 minutes. By all accounts, it should have been death-watch time.
Photo by Clinton Hussey.
But our Chef of the Year wouldn’t let that happen. The judges voted on this award before COVID arrived and they agreed that Carlson’s sublime cooking was worthy of this recognition. They loved her slavish devotion to her producers that is not just about ensuring their financial stability (through both Burdock and her trailblazing CSA at Harvest Community Foods), but also about doing her best to really honour their labour with the dishes that come from her kitchen. That she treats fresh carrots like they were wagyu; for using a perfectly served, properly portioned duck breast like the string section in a symphony, rather than a guitar solo from Whitesnake. And for being the veg-lover who can crank out joyful-tear-inducing fried chicken if she so chooses. And after COVID, our esteem has only grown, because in addition to the obvious culinary chops comes the waves of caring and resolve, of grit and graciousness that make her one of our city’s most important ambassadors.
Photo by Janis Nicolay