Story and Video by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
TORONTO, ONTARIO — Connie DeSousa has won much acclaim in Canada in the past three years. Where does setting what may very well be a national speed record for deboning a pig’s head rank?
Watching her elated reaction after accomplishing the feat in 49 seconds and you would think the achievement is right up there with accolades such as best chef in the country (presented to her at the annual Terroir Symposium in April), runner-up on Top Chef Canada (in 2011) and top female chef in the nation (as voted by Vacay.ca judges last month).
DeSousa has been on a tear lately and the butchery feat may hold special meaning because it is something entirely in her control, unlike awards from the industry or media.
The co-chef and co-owner of CHARCUT in Calgary has emerged as one of the most recognizable faces in Canada’s culinary scene, along with the likes of Chuck Hughes and Mark McEwan. The trajectory of DeSousa’s rise in prominence has coincided with her city’s emergence as a culinary centre.
“The restaurant scene in Calgary is just getting better and better,” said DeSousa, who worked in San Francisco and elsewhere prior to setting up CHARCUT in 2010 with business partner John Jackson and their spouses. “There’s enough people and enough interest in dining to support a culinary movement in the city. It’s terrific to see what’s happening, especially with so many outstanding chefs who can now stay in the city and do what they love, rather than leaving to find work somewhere else.”
Connie DeSousa Shows She’s Sharp
CHARCUT placed first among the eight Calgary restaurants that ranked in the 2013 Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada Guide. It placed fifth overall in a list determined by 34 judges from across the country and more than 8,000 votes from the public.
At the Terroir conference, DeSousa showcased her skills in a fun, friendly competition against Jason Inniss, a culinary instructor at George Brown College who volunteered to go head-to-head with the Calgarian. “It was awesome to watch,” Inniss said of DeSousa’s speed.
DeSousa’s preferred use of the pig’s head is to stuff it with a mixture of pork, pistachios and truffles, cooking it for seven hours and presenting diners with a marbled mortadella.
“It is just really flavourful, with a lot of texture and a beautiful way to present this kind of a dish,” she said.
While she will still be preparing the mortadella at her restaurant, don’t be on the lookout for DeSousa to be attempting any more deboning records.
After shaving 27 seconds off her previous best time, she hopped with delight in the kitchen at the Arcadian Court in Toronto. Minutes later, she declared she was ready to hang up the competitive carving knife.
“I don’t think I will do it faster than that again. So that’s my record. I won’t try to beat that,” she said with a grin.
That’s just as well. Something tells me — and many other observers of Canada’s culinary scene — that DeSousa has much greater achievements still ahead of her.
More About CHARCUT
Address: 101, 899 Centre Street SW, Calgary, AB (see map below)
Telephone: 403-984-2180. Twitter: @CHARCUT
Hours of Operation: Monday-Tuesday, 11 am-11 pm; Wednesday-Friday, 11 am-1 am; Saturday, 5 pm-1 am; Sunday, 5 pm-10 pm
Menu Prices: The CHARCUT Board that features a variety of meats costs $36. Dinner entrees include Roasted Pork Belly ($27) and Alberta Steak ($24), as well as spit-roasted prime rib available to order by the ounce ($4.50 per ounce, minimum 8 ounces, or $36).
Vacay.ca Judge Julie Van Rosendaal says: “CHARCUT has become a destination restaurant in Calgary — a place people bring out-of-town visitors for a unique and memorable experience. From creative cocktails to house-cured charcuterie and preserves, the cuisine is innovative, with a focus on locally sourced ingredients.”