Most youngsters try on adult roles from time to time, but few go from role-play to reality as seamlessly as Eric Pateman moved into a career in hospitality.
The founder and president of Edible Canada has photos of his 5-year-old self with a waiter’s towel draped over his arm, serving lunch to his grandparents, complete with a written menu. “I’ve always been enchanted by food,” he says.
By the age of 12, Pateman was already working in restaurant kitchens, but dreaming of a career in professional baseball. “When an elbow injury ended that, I kind of fell back into the cooking world,” he says. “I opened my first catering company on my own when I was 17 years old, so certainly I’ve always been touched by the entrepreneurial bug as well as the food side of things.”
After paying his dues with the “20-hour days of craziness” as a young chef, Pateman earned a Master’s degree in business, studying the impact of the Olympic Games on hotels and restaurants in host cities.
That led to a job as hospitality consultant with a New York-based company. “But I still had this insatiable passion for food and for eating out, and my accountant was giving me a hard time for the amount of money I spent in restaurants,” the fourth-generation Vancouverite admits.
The two began talking about a business called Edible Paris, which provided a ‘culinary concierge’ service helping tourists and locals find memorable food experiences in the City of Lights.
A new career direction was about to unfold that would justify the cost of the 20 or so restaurant meals Pateman consumes in a typical week. “That’s where it all started from,” he says. “We set up a website called Edible Vancouver and started acting as a culinary concierge,” he says.
The business soon branched out into events such as gourmet kayaking dinners and “fun food tours” in the Vancouver-Richmond area, as well as a retail space offering local food product in the Granville Island Public Market.
Before long, his entrepreneur’s “constant need for chasing shiny objects … led us to doing market dinners in the aisles of the market and adding more tourist events.”
After those “once-a-month or twice-a-month dinners” became almost a daily affair, Pateman moved outside the public market, adding a restaurant and retail space to the brand of Edible Canada’s brand as a culinary concierge.
He now spends at least half of every month on the road, promoting Canadian cuisine and food products, and helping people discover gustatory experiences that won’t necessarily break the bank. “I could take you to the best five-star restaurant in any city in the world, and you’d have a great experience,” he says. “But let me show you the hole in-the-wall noodle shop that’s going to blow your mind with huge flavours and going to cost you ten bucks. That, to me, is where the value is”.
Despite years of international travel and high-end dining, Pateman says nothing beats the simple pleasure of good, fresh simple ingredients. “I’d rather have an absolutely perfect tomato with some sea salt on top of it and a touch of olive oil. That would blow my mind far more than some super-elaborate dish.”
He’s also an enthusiastic booster of Canadian cuisine, which he says enjoys an edge over many other countries. “When you look at France or Italy, or these hugely serious food cultures, they’re bound by tradition, they’re bound by reputation, they’re bound by techniques,” he says. “Our chefs are not bound by anything, other than the fact that Canada grows some of the most amazing products you’ll find anywhere in the world. “That, coupled with an unbiased and unassuming ability to use whatever cultural influence we want, is what makes Canada such a fun playground for chefs.”
Pateman paid his first visit to the Yukon last summer, to play in the ‘chef’s playground’ known as the Yukon Culinary Festival. He’s been back five times since. “I very rarely go back to the same place more than a few times, but the Yukon’s captured my heart,” he says.
Now he’s here again as a guest chef, feeling “crazy excited” about tackling a new cooking challenge at this year’s festival. “I’ve never seen anybody roast a side of elk on a spit before. I’m apprehensively nervous … but we’ll figure it out, we’ll wing it.”
As for the festival itself, the career foodie says it will be “a really fun weekend to show off a lot of the great local produce, and great local meats, and get people excited about what’s really in their back yard.”
For more information about this weekend’s Yukon Culinary Festival in Whitehorse and Dawson, go to http://www.tiayukon. com/Events/TheYukonCulinaryFestival.aspx