Pat McKenna takes a cook’s tour of famous, infamous and soon-to-be famous Yukon chefs.
Featured today is Mary-El Kerr of Whitehorse.
Mary-El Kerr, owner and operator of Mary-El Fine Food & Catering, brings a wide variety of expertise and pizzazz to the table.
An early start cooking at her father’s restaurant launched Kerr into course work at SAIT (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology) where she completed professional cook’s training, Red Seal exams and journey-level status.
Following this came the grueling reality of cooking for an oil company, north of Herschel Island, working long hours “mostly in the dark” preparing fabulous food for large numbers of drillers.
Eight years of camp cooking in this extreme environment gave Kerr the experience of a lifetime. Afterwards, travels abroad allowed her to find courses in France, Italy, Ireland and Mexico, expanding and honing her culinary skills.
These cultures contributed to a continuing love of ethnic cooking applied to her thriving business here in the Yukon.
Seen in her food presentations are vibrant colours, intense tastes, local ingredients and lots of wild meat, game and fish. Kerr likes to focus on locally available foods flavoured with rather exotic ingredients. Some originate in her greenhouse while others come from her husband’s prowess as a hunter and still others from her travels and contacts abroad.
One of her favourite foods to cook is wild sheep. Her advice when cooking with wild meats is to “season ever so lightly, allowing the pure flavour of the meat to come through.” She says that the freshest Yukon sheep, properly cooked, will taste of mountain sage.
Catering to small, intimate family gatherings as well as large corporate and government affairs keeps this very particular and organized chef extremely busy. Not only does she cook, but Kerr also trains apprentices.
She has been an instructor at Yukon College, providing, with her apprentices, VIP food for the 2007 Canada Winter Games and has served as a mentor and judge for Skills Canada Yukon baking and culinary competitions.
Kerr encourages learning and continues to appreciate and study food wherever she goes.
Daily shopping to pick out the best products, frequenting the Shipyards Park market and ordering supplies from local farmers supports her mandate of using the freshest ingredients available.
Like others who cook in the North, Kerr is no stranger to making do with what is at hand. A well-stocked pantry and freezers, as well as putting up garden produce, helps her meet this necessity.
Picking wild berries and herbs, and using the beautiful edible flowers grown in her backyard, results in stunning presentations of food arrangements.
You can contact Mary-El Kerr at her kitchen (456-7080) for your next catering event and enjoy some spectacular Northern cuisine exquisitely presented.