Chef Lee Cooper combines skills honed in certain of the world’s finest restaurant kitchens with local ingredients and French culinary technique at L’ Abattoir.
L'Abattoir combines locally sourced West Coast ingredients with classical French technique in the experienced eyes and hands of Chef Lee Cooper and his culinary team.
Like many chefs Cooper discovered his passion to cook in early stages. He says, "My dad owned and managed several A&W restaurants on Vancouver Island. From a very young age, I worked in the kitchen area pre and post school to earn spending money. As well, my uncle, Chef Bernard Casavant would be a highly-regarded chef in Vancouver, and seeing his great success helped me realize that as being a chef might be a career choice that will provide me with lots of opportunities to achieve success."
Hard Work and Dedication
Chef Cooper's early career started after going for a one year culinary program at Malaspina College in Nanaimo. He went to work for his uncle Chef Bernard Casavant at his restaurant for two years in Whistler before opening Rod Butters' fine dining restaurant Fresco within the Okanagan. The chef moved to the U.K to cook at Heston Blumenthal's internationally renowned, three star Michelin restaurant The Fat Duck where he admits that he learned, "simply how much hard work and dedication was necessary to cook at the highest level."
He moved back to the West Coast and took a job at The Pear Tree restaurant before another internationally known chef, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, recruited him to spread out his West Coast restaurant. He admits that after 13 years of cooking he was all set to go it alone and thus L'Abattoir was created.
Part of being a chef is learning from those who you've worked under. Cooper highlights, "You take the great habits, ideas and leadership skills the thing is on the way making them a part of your repertoire, so when the thing is stuff that don't work you make mental notes from the items that you have to avoid when you are the chef."
In relation to specific chefs who’ve positively influenced him the chef says, "There definitely have been several chefs who may have had a major affect on me in additional direct ways as well: guys like Bernard Casavant, Scott Jaeger, Rod Butters, Michael Allemeier and Mark Filatow have all had an effect on how I look at cooking, leadership in the kitchen and more importantly how to run a business."
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"Would I like Eating This?"
Chef Cooper's method of food is easy and straightforward. He explains, "I attempt to prepare food that our guests enjoy eating. It’s fairly simple really: you conceptualize a dish beginning with the raw product and work through it logically. Then you definitely view it and say, would I enjoy eating this, and may I manage to sell it at a cost that individuals are willing to pay? You may be the best cook in the world but if you don't earn money it ceases to become a business and running your personal restaurant becomes merely a very costly hobby."
For Cooper there's nothing like using locally sourced ingredients. He says, "You actually can't beat serving produce picked that morning or eggs laid that day to guests. Dishes created using fresh local ingredients simply have a lot more life in them. Sometimes you have to be a bit more flexible, because small producers can’t always guarantee that they’ll be able to supply all you need, however the incredible quality of the items they grow causes it to be well worth the effort."
In terms of farms he makes use of the chef mentions Hazelmere Organics in Surrey and North Arm Farm in Pemberton.
Seasonality plays most in Chef Cooper's cooking. He admits that, "Cooking seasonally is simply good sense. You take advantage of things that are for sale to only a couple of weeks enjoy yourself creating dishes around them. When they’re gone you progress on to the next thing that’s prepared to be harvested. No one wants to eat the same thing all the time anyway."
Being an executive chef isn't a simple matter of cooking as Chef Cooper explains. He admits that, "Leadership, drive, stamina, adoration for the business. Both capability to build a team that may execute how well you see, and also the stamina to continually maintain and rebuild that team. Understanding that your staff is things are critical to being able to run a good kitchen. It’s quite simple to become an outstanding cook, but being an excellent chef is really a entirely unique ball game because of so many different things that need your attention."
At no more the day Cooper says he loves his job because, " It’s fun. I get to work with people who cook simply because they enjoy it, not for the pay cheque."
For more information, visit Labattoir.ca
This interview with Lee Cooper was conducted via email.