The Tomato

The Proust Culinary Questionnaire

Meet Liana Robberecht, executive chef WinSport and chair WCR Calgary conference. She is a true champion of Alberta’s food scene.

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 himself in a friend’s Confession Album.

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

Chef Liana Robberecht (robwrecked) has been instrumental in the development of the Alberta food scene, both as a chef championing local producers and her work in the kitchen with her people. She was the executive chef at the Calgary Petroleum Club for 13 years and currently is the exec at WinSport at Canada Olympic Park. She is in demand as a speaker and presenter. A board member of the Women’s Chefs and Restauraters Association (WCR); in 2015 she brought the first Canadian WCR conference to Calgary. The second, themed People. Purpose. Passion. The Pathway to Success is on September 16, womenchefs.org.

Chef Liana Robberecht

Chef Liana Robberecht
Illustration Rasmussen
click image to zoom

Hometown?
Smithers, B.C.

Years cooking?
My whole life. My mom always says I would pull over a chair to the counter, hop up and insist on helping with dinner.

Where would you like to live?
Somewhere close to the water, which is weird ‘cause I don’t know how to swim.

Your favourite food and drink?
Spaghetti and meatballs or roast chicken. Water! I love to create and combine unique flavours and textures for others. Personally, I am a very simple diner.

What would you be doing if you weren’t cooking?
Can’t imagine not cooking. I’m already doing all the things I love, already I create; I’m a project-driven creative person — from culinary to painting, to creating fascinators. My dream would be to have a huge loft with studio space and a dream kitchen.

What quality do you most appreciate in your friends?
Kindness and laughter.

Your favourite qualities in a dish?
Flavours and textures.

A wine?
Lightness and crispness.

Who would be at your dream dinner table (dead or alive)?
Kate Bush, Picasso, John Legend, Elizabeth Baird.

Who would cook?
John Legend’s wife.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
With friends: This is my most favourite song ever! At work: I have a vision.

Current culinary obsession/exploration?
Squash and watermelon radish. I get obsessive about an ingredient then get over it. But I always seem to circle back for a second or third run on these obsessions. For a while, everything imaginable was in the form of a fritter.

Meaningful/crazy cooking experience?
Wild Women of the West at James Beard House, NYC, I was there, cooking with my pals — Nicole Gomes, Connie DeSousa — how amazing is that!

Cooking in the Bahamas for Peter Nygård — crazy cooking conditions, nothing worked, it was a poor set up. It took everything you had to triumph. There was a sense of weird satisfaction — of being dragged from the bottom to the top. Sometimes the hardest cooking experience becomes the most memorable.

Best (cooking) thing that ever happened to you?
It has opened so many doors for me. Cooking has offered travel and experiences — to collaborate across the country and participate in events like Food on the Edge in Ireland and Terra Madre.

Mentors?
I have been fortunate to have different mentors for different stages of my life. Starting with my art teacher in high school, Mr. Finlayson. Then Stanley Townsend from NAIT, chef Yoshi Chubachi, (I worked 11 years with him), to chefs Michele Aurigemma and Michael Allemeier. I have been so lucky with amazing people in my life.

Favourite casual cheap and cheerful/afterwork food?
I get really excited about eating an orange. I forgot how good they are. They smell good, they taste good. So juicy, wakes you up. I’m pretty passionate about oranges. And tomatoes — man oh man, I am bananas about tomatoes.

Philosophy?
Simplicity is the hardest thing to achieve. So often chefs want to pile all the trendy techniques and all the ingredients into one dish. Hone your skills to let the ingredients speak for themselves.

What’s next
I am very passionate about the Women’s Chefs and Restaurateurs (WCR) Association. It has given me so much personally and professionally. Our committee has been working so hard on this conference; I just cannot wait until it happens. We have speakers from NYC, Italy, Mexico, and all our local superstars. What else is next for me? I will continue to grow myself professionally and spiritually. I work in an amazing environment full of support and inspiration — this really motivates me. I have an incredible boss, Jason McKay. He is a big picture thinker; he gets my crazy visions and encourages me to make them happen — this is electric!

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