The Proust Culinary Questionnaire

Rod Butters, 2018 NAIT Chef in Residence

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.

Rod Butters has been celebrating Canadian cuisine for his entire career; as the first chef de cuisine at the celebrated Wickaninnish Inn and now, in the Okanagan with the resto group RauDZ Creative Concepts, co-owned with Audrey Surrao. He has been instrumental in connecting farmers with chefs up and down the valley, both in his own kitchens and with Okanagan Chefs Association members.

Chef Butters is the 2018 Hokanson Chef in Residence at NAIT, March 12-16. The program provides students with a rare opportunity to learn first hand from renowned chefs such as Susur Lee, Massimo Capra, Lynn Crawford, Michael Stadtländer and Amanda Cohen.

“I’m incredibly proud and excited to be the next NAIT Chef in Residence,” says chef Butters. “It’s an amazing lineup of previous chefs. Many of them are friends and I’m humbled to be included.”

Rod Butters, 2018 NAIT Chef in Residence
Illustration  by Gerry Rasmussen

Port Coquitlam, the home of Terry Fox.

Years cooking?
38? I think now?

Where would you like to live?
Alba, Italy, I mean who wouldn’t?

Your favourite food and drink?
Red wine and good dark roasted coffee. A simple grilled cheese, sometimes with a fried egg, throw on some bread and butter pickles.

What would you be doing if you weren’t cooking?
Major league baseball coach, I’m too old to be a player. I tried to be a professional but then I went back to the thing (cooking) that I was actually good at.

What do you most appreciate in your friends?
Their wine cellars.

Your favourite qualities in a dish?

A cook?
Being humble and a willingness to learn.

A wine?
Balance, drinkability.

Who would be at your dream dinner table (dead or alive)?
Ken Dryden is top of the list; cried as a kid when he retired. The guy inspires me. Farrah Fawcett, Jeremiah Towers, my dad. He died when I was a kid and he was a good cook.

Who would cook?
Pot luck, or we could all cook together. I’d make Jeremiah wash the dishes.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Awesome, namaste, just breathe.

Current culinary obsession/exploration?
Lately it’s been a lot of research on diners and griddle cooking as we get ready to open Sunny’s Modern Diner.

Meaningful/crazy cooking experience?
I’ve done a lot of crazy — cooking on glaciers, opening the Wickaninnish, a remote Relais & Châteaux property at the end of the road on Vancouver Island. That changed my career and changed Tofino forever.

Best (cooking) thing that ever happened to you?
On my very first day of culinary school instructor Keith Thomas showed us how to make mayonnaise. It was my aha moment. I didn’t know what a professional chef was. He had a white hat, white apron, white jacket, white clogs, oh my fricking god! I used that example in my convocation speech. I call it my mayo moment and I still talk about it today.

Ultimately, the ingredients are my mentor and the farmers, ranchers and artisans who grow them. Bernard Casavant, still my chef; Kerry Sear, my chef at the Four Seasons Vancouver, who opened my mind to the art of food. Charles McDiarmid from the Wick, who allowed me to think about what’s actually possible.

Favourite casual cheap and cheerful/afterwork food?
Chips, chips, chips.

Gotta be a good neighbour. Buy local, eat and drink local, buy shoes at your local shoe store, support your community.

What’s next?
Sunny’s is immediate, we are actually postponing the opening so I can be at NAIT. A catering operation, we are revisiting bringing fine dining back to the Okanagan. I am looking at buying a farm to grow fruit and vegetables, maybe eggs for the restaurants and to have the ability to do funky dinners on site. Another book is on the horizon. And soon I’ll be gardening and introducing a new puppy to my 14 year-old Golden, Sunny.