Harold Wollin, Blue Chair Café

In the late nineteenth century, French novelist Marcel Proust participated in an exercise which could be thought of as the Facebook of its era — he answered a questionnaire about his personality in a friend’s Confession Album.

Proust’s answers have been published, in one form or fashion, for more than a century. Several have used the questionnaire for their own devices, the most notable being Vanity Fair Magazine’s Proust Questionnaire featuring celebrities. City Palate now gives it a culinary twist.

Meet Harold Wollin, owner of the south-side music eatery, Blue Chair Café.


Edmonton. The restaurant is in the ’hood I grew up in. I used to deliver groceries for what is now the convenience store on the corner.

Years cooking?

I graduated from NAIT in 1974. I made the tuition by working at a pizza place for $2.75 an hour. I quit there to take a better job ($3) at a Ponderosa Steak house. Kids today don’t believe that. But I’ve been playing music even longer, since I was eight. The mandolin is my favourite instrument.

In Micronesia, in 1987, I cooked on a dive charter boat. There we were, in the middle of the Pacific pulling fish over the side and having sashimi 3,000 miles from anywhere. I’ve cooked on an icebreaker/supply ship. We went through the Northwest passage and on to Scotland. We also got caught in Hurricane Hugo.

After the last ship thing, I completely washed my hands of cooking for a living. I learned to cook for fun. Then I went to Vietnam and Mexico, and learned how other people cook, went into their kitchens. I love that.

Where would you like to live?

Mind changes, somewhere near the sea, with a temperate climate.

Your favourite food and drink?

Mexican food — food that’s light and simple. Tequila.

What would you be doing if you weren’t running a restaurant/cooking?

I’d be sitting in a beach hut writing stories.

What do you most appreciate in your friends?

That they are there. They make me happy. The fact that I have friends is good.

Your favourite qualities in a dish?

Simplicity. Unless it’s complicated like a Thai curry, or Indian food.

A cook?

Cooks who love their work; cooks who get it. Gotta love the food they make — gotta love food. Treat every piece of food with respect.

A wine?

Every wine has its purpose. Just getting my smell back due to a sinus infection. I have to relearn.

A musician?

Gotta have soul.

Who would be at your dream dinner table (dead or alive)?

A writer, Ernest Hemingway, for stories and mojitos; hot musicians, Richard Thompson (Fairport Convention) and Willie P. Bennett to jam with.

Who would cook?

An old Thai lady. We’d be sitting outside on blue chairs and she’d be bringing us stuff.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Happy to be here; happy to be alive.

Current culinary obsession/exploration?

Freshness, cucumbers to make pickles and vegetarian for sure. Vegetables are just so much fun to work with. My job is to inspire. Now I believe to trust and encourage people to do good work, to bring our food into focus, so it’s as much about the dinner as it is about the show — to make our food as good as any place in town. Food plus music.

Meaningful/crazy cooking experience?

Cooking on the high seas when the fridges die then tossing food and drink. Watching formerly-frozen turkeys (yes, we took the plastic off) bobbing in the wake. Sloshing through a four-foot wave pool of Coca Cola and beer.

Best (cooking) thing that ever happened to you?

Going to the back of a restaurant in Thailand and seeing what goes into the curries. Hung with those folks for about a week then came home and went to cooking school.

Getting fired from a bad job and getting hired at the Faculty Club and working with Anton Peter.


Anton Peter (chef, Faculty Club 1974). Tammy Jorgensen.

Favourite casual cheap and cheerful/after work food?

Ham, cheese, lettuce and tomato sandwich. It’s comfort food at the end of the shift.


Be positive; be happy.

What’s next?

We’re renovating — moving the stage, putting in a new bar. Expect to be finished in early 2010. We’ll have dinner shows and casual dining too. To inspire young cooks, I believe in them.