Restaurant Awards 2022: Chef of the Year

He exhibits what one judge calls a “mind-blowing reverence” for ingredients.

As much high-level praise as Gus Stieffenhofer-Brandson has collected, the soul of the chef seems as down-to-earth as a short-order cook. Give him his druthers and his formal chef’s whites are replaced by a plain white T-shirt and sturdy no-nonsense apron. Ask him to do a “chef collaboration” and one imagines that his first thought would be to call a buddy who makes fried chicken or birria tacos or pizza. His kitchen seems to have zero use for the harsh rigours of the brigade system and its inflexible pecking order and barking of commands. And give him a day off and he’ll take his Jeep out into the middle of nowhere to forage for mushrooms.

But, luckily for us, that practical soul is connected to the mind of a food savant. Stieffenhofer-Brandson seems to show a photographic recall of all the flavours and textures he’s experienced over the past three decades—ranging from meals at his grandparents’ farm in rural Manitoba to his work in the kitchen at the legendary Noma, where he staged earlier in his career—as well as a skill for putting together those culinary building blocks in bold and inventive ways that seem to occur only to him. He exhibits what one judge calls a “mind-blowing reverence” for ingredients, and is willing to go to any lengths to make sure the ones he uses in his kitchen are the pinnacle of their relative expressions. And the plates that emerge from that kitchen have a balanced composition that would inspire Kandinsky.

Gus Stieffenhofer-Brandson
Photo by Tanya Goehring

And when that catalogue-level memory and artistic skill meet, magic happens. Wagyu and rutabaga are both treated with equal awe at Published on Main, Stieffenhofer-Brandson’s restaurant. The chef notes that he has always wanted his room to be the sort of neighbourhood joint where locals could pop in for a casual—if expertly conceived and prepared—small plate of something, in this case, something like wagyu carpaccio with pickled elderflower and ginger miso.

And while food critics tend to pigeonhole his restaurant as a destination spot with their constant stream of accolades (how could they help it when he creates incredible dishes like lamb sweetbreads with fermented Zaklan Farm pepper sauce, creamy Saint Agur sauce and pickled celery), this scrappy kid from Winnipeg steadfastly refuses to let his room become “fancy.” And he keeps it even more real at Bar Susu, this year’s Best New Restaurant, where he and his team helped design the menu—and made sure to import that same magic blend of casual and focused. Whichever of his restaurants you look at, you’ll see a place where respect comes from accomplishment and actions, not standing or title. And his patrons are the lucky beneficiaries.

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