By Dan Clapson, Swerve | Calgary Herald
From owning a restaurant in Signal Hill years ago to playing in a band and running one of the best food trucks in town, Braizen, Chef Steve Glavicich has been a long-time nomad of our city’s food scene.
The food truck phenomenon has only been around Calgary for two years. What were you up to before that?
I dipped in and out of [cooking], you know, I’m kind of a jack of all trades. I have a mechanical background, cooking, sales, I’ve done a lot of different stuff and I kind of drift in and out of things, but, yeah, I loved cooking at an early age. My grandma was an amazing cook and was a real inspiration to me. She taught me about respecting humble ingredients, not screwing with things too much and just letting products shine.
When did you first get into a restaurant kitchen, then?
I started cooking really young. My first job was a restaurant job at about 14 or 15. I’m from Montreal originally, so I started out at a little greasy spoon place cutting potatoes…washing and cutting, dishwashing, eventually got up on the line with the cool guys and I was hooked.
So from chopping potatoes as a teenager to eventually moving across Canada, how did that happen?
Well, a girl broke my heart and I needed a change of scenery. My brother-in-law’s band was out here and they were looking for a bass player. So, I thought I’d come out for a few months, do the album with them, relax a bit and then go back [to Montreal]. But, that was almost 20 years ago and I’m still here! I worked at Sinclairs up in Canmore, which isn’t there anymore, but at the time, it was one of the only fine dining spots there. I was the sous chef there for a couple of years…Then I came back to Calgary and got my first head chef job at Criterion…Again, a lot of these restaurants are gone now, but Criterion used to be on Stephen Avenue, right across from The Joyce, it was a really contemporary space, really ahead of its time…
I did that for a while, then I did catering. I had just kind of had it with the late night contemporary [dining] scene and I wanted to get into something a little different. Sorrenti’s has always been one of the top caterers in the city for big, big events. So, I kind of cut my teeth through that.
What did you move onto after your catering experience?
I got an opportunity to open up my own place with a business partner, so we opened up Pau Hana Grill in West Market Square, up where Sunterra is on 17th Avenue and Sarcee Trail. We did really well there; (food critic John) Gilchrist listed us as one of the top three best new restaurants in the city for that year. We did Pau Hana for about a year and then I got married and started having a family. I realized that being a chef and working long hours with a young family wasn’t really working. So, then I backed off [from the restaurant scene] and did some work in music publishing, which really, wasn’t that much more conducive! Ha, ha. But, it was exciting.
How did you come to own a food truck?
The cooking bug came back. I think I kind of had a midlife crisis. I was doing well, everything was fine, but I just wasn’t feeling fulfilled with what I was doing. Then, Margee Hope from Blam!Wich approached me. She was just conceptualizing the truck in her head and asked if I would come on board as the chef. This was right around the time that the [City of Calgary food truck] pilot program was starting and we were one of the original eight that launched. I came up with the concept for Blam!Wich, you know funky sandwiches, soups and salads….It was a lot of fun, but I kind of wanted to push the envelope a little bit more, do a bit more creative cuisine and wanted to be on my own, honestly. I love Margee to pieces, it was just time to go out on my own [with Braizen Food Truck]. So, I raised some venture capital, found an old truck in a buddy’s backyard and built ‘er up.
People think owning their own food truck would a lot of fun. Is it?
It is really fun. As far as it being easy? Well, some days are definitely easier than others. You definitely have to have a passion for it. Running a food truck, you have to be a mechanic, a plumber, a social media maven, a chef—everything all in one. I work at a minimum 12 hours a day. Now that my staff is really up and running, they’ve given me the freedom to have a little more time off. It’s getting better. It’s definitely a labour of love, I love my concept of food and what makes me different from the other trucks.
There seems to be a new truck popping onto the scene every few weeks in Calgary. , do you ever look at one and think, ‘Oh man, that’s a bad concept!’?
I’ve never seen one in Calgary that I thought was a terrible idea. There definitely are some holes in the mosaic though, some trucks that we should have that we don’t. Instead of having, say, four fry trucks, how about a fish ‘n’ chips truck or a mac ‘n’ cheese truck…There’s a lot of funky stuff that goes on in the United States that people [here] aren’t tapping into. So, we’ll see…there’s going to be easily another 25 trucks by next year…I’ve heard rumours there are already 20 trucks just waiting for street use permits for next year. I think Calgary is going to be a great place to buy a food truck in about two years. There’s going to be a lot of people that will jumping in that have no clue how demanding and how stressful it can be.
Having said that, what do you think is going to happen to our food-truck scene in the coming years?
I think it’s going to boom and bust to an extent. This city loves their food trucks and will always embrace their food trucks. We’ll probably boom up to maybe double our numbers now (which would be around 90), then contract back down to around where we are now. I think 50 is a good workable number for this city. For the amount of parking infrastructure that we have and the length of the season, I think 50 is a safe number.
Can you ever catch Mayor Naheed Nenshi eating at your truck?
Nenshi’s been there a few times, he really likes our jerk chicken. He’s really such a great guy. He’s so approachable, sincere and genuine, and it really comes across. You can tell he’s really proud of this little [food truck] project and the many people behind the scenes involved with it. People who have made this industry what it is.
Summer Corn and Crab Salad
Summer’s not officially over yet, so enjoy this ridiculously easy and delicious crab salad recipe from Steve Braizen, Chef Steve Glavicich. Just grab some butter lettuce, fill up the leaves and enjoy!