Mediaplanet caught up with Barrie local, Food Network Canada host, and chef Dylan Benoit to find out his favourite summer dishes and his tips on sourcing locally when shopping for food.
Tell us a bit about your career history and your experience with food.
I grew up in a household where food was a very big priority. We always ate together as a family. My mother was a fantastic cook. I grew up eating really, really well. I was always very creative and always liked to work with my hands, so I naturally gravitated toward cooking and expressing myself through food. I also always wanted to travel a lot, and cooking is a perfect career path to do that. The skills are very transferable. If you can cook in one place, then you can pick up on the differences elsewhere and cook anywhere.
What are some key ingredients that you think everyone should always have handy at home?
Garlic confit is something that I use a lot of. It’s made by slowly poaching garlic in a little bit of oil. I keep a container of that in my fridge all the time, because you can either use the oil, like a garlic oil, or you can use the cloves of garlic, which are really soft and start to get a bit sweet. So you get this kind of soft and not so harsh garlic flavour, depending on what it is that you want to make. I also use a lot of different kinds of salts, depending on the application, and cook with a lot of bacon fat.
When you’re shopping or getting your key products, do you often look locally?
Yes, as much as possible. I live in the Cayman Islands now. I definitely try and highlight as much local food here as I can, starting with lots of fresh fish. Right now it’s mango season, which is easily my favourite time of year. All the trees are bursting with mangoes. We have access to a lot of typical tropical fruits and vegetables, like plantain, yucca root, sweet potato, and things like that. The farming community here has really grown a lot in the last 10 years since I’ve been here. So every year, they’re kind of pushing the boundaries and expanding the quantity and quality of the ingredients that we have. I definitely try to source locally as often as possible.
What’s one dish that you can make on a grill that you think a lot of people wouldn’t assume they could cook on their grill?
One thing I’ve really tried to play with recently is smoking cauliflower and then making either a puree or turning it into a soup. It’s really great in a soup. I just add onion and garlic and a little bit of cream and some stock. You don’t need to add a lot to it, because the cauliflower really brings a lot to the table. So that’s kind of a fun one that I’ve been playing with recently that’s turned out really well. It’s not so much grilled as in high-heat grill marks, but just throw the cauliflower on a smoker with some wood chips and it’ll turn out really nice.
Where can Canadians go to learn more and to get some resources for cooking?
I don’t think there’s any replacement for good old-fashioned cookbooks. Obviously the internet has a wealth of knowledge. There are plenty of online blogs and recipes. You can type anything into Google and you’ll have more recipes that you could ever hope to cook in your entire lifetime. But I’m always referencing cookbooks. I’m always buying cookbooks and collecting cookbooks, because there’s something tangible about them. You find a recipe that you like and you can earmark the page. You can always go back to it. And a lot of the cookbooks these days are just beautiful.