Certified c.c.c. (Chef de Cuisine) Canada

To define him as a chef would not quite do justice, as would a ‘culinary activist’. Among Canada’s premier ones, at that. Stefan Czapalay is enthusiastic and passionate with a constant hunger for innovation and learning. Hence, you find him at the helm of sustainable harvesting and wild-caught seafood movements, and working as Corporate Chef for Clearwater – Atlantic Canada’s prime seafood suppliers – for 12 years now.

Going back to where it all began, Stefan has a warm smile on his face when he states his first job was as a dishwasher at the age of 15, when he decided to leave home. In 1984, the ambitious, albeit naïve boy was privileged to gain mentorship of the late Chef Alex Clavel of Taste of Nova Scotia, which provided him the impetus to move on to big names such as the Ritz-Carlton, Sheraton and The Loyalist Country Inn, moving up to sous chef.

Gradually his ‘active’ journey took form, more a result of frustration than desire, that stemmed from the total disregard for fresh local produce and use of low quality ingredients in Canada. With dreams to venture out and start his own restaurant, Stefan crossed miles to Europe, where the need to bring about awareness of local fresh produce was furthered by his experience with chefs in Europe; Chef Serge Knapp of Julien, in particular. He then returned to Canada and opened his first restaurant in 1992, Seasons in Thyme (SIT) in Tyne Valley, a rural town of Prince Edward Island (PEI) with only 350 people! And the team cooked with daily inspiration and ingredients grown by them. A few years later, and SIT was shifted to Summerside of PEI, to remain open all-year round. Today, it no longer exists, once owning position as No. 1 in Canada, by Pinnacle Awards.

Through his many journeys across the world (29 countries in the past two years, to give you an idea), Stefan learnt of various techniques and nuances of seafood, which led to a gourmet company called Chef Stefan, whose claim to fame was its sea salt packets appearing on Oprah’s Christmas list. That sold over to Jazz Fine Foods – of which he serves as Director of Culinary Innovation and Research and Development – and also led to the set up of Over and Above to showcase some of the world’s best ingredients; scallops being Chef Stefan’s speciality. Not one to sit patient, he has been offering his expertise in various capacities till date, including Corporate Chef for McCain Foods, culinary instructor, consultant for food science, and is a renowned authority, serving as a member of the Research Chefs Association, the Canadian Culinary Federation, La Chaîne de Rôtisseurs, the Opimian Society and a charter member of Cuisine Canada. From a passion to spread his knowledge through culinary teaching, his Culinary Design Solutions was launched in 2007 to cater to large scale food establishments.    

In Bombay at the Taj Mahal Palace to create innovative seafood recipes that mix high quality Canadian produce with interesting Indian spices, Chef Stefan was as excited as ever; and equally so, over the good ole’ Chicken Tikka Masala! Working in the kitchen, doing weights, training rigorously for marathons… at 45+, Chef Stefan is a fitness freak, no doubt, but his biggest dose of adrenaline, comes from travelling the world, spreading his knowledge (and assimilating too) to true epicureans at heart.


Casino Style Crab Gratin

• 1.8 kg crab meat • 3 cups cream • 2 small onions, peeled and finely minced • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced • 1 bunch parsley, chopped
• 3/4 cup butter • 1 cup flour, 2 cups breadcrumbs • 1 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese • 1 tsp salt, pepper

Open and drain crab, reserving juice. Mix together breadcrumbs and cheese and reserve. In a sauce pan over medium heat, add butter, garlic and onions and sauté gently until aromatic and translucent. Add flour and cook, stirring for 30 seconds. Add 1 cup of reserved crab juice and/or water or fish stock and then add cream and bring back to a boil. Adjust seasoning of sauce with salt and pepper. Mix reserved crab and chopped parsley back into the sauce and cool. Spoon portions of crab mixture into a serving vessel, top with crumb-cheese mixture. Broil until bubbling hot when required. Add additional cheese to breading if desired. 

Angry Lobster Bites

• 1.5 kg raw lobster meat (claw and knuckle) • 6 cups self rising flour • 1 cup beer or Perrier • 2 cups mayonnaise • 1/2 cup Thai sweet chilli sauce • 3 tbsp sambal oelek spicy chilli sauce • juice and zest of 1 lemon • 1 bunch parsley • pinch of sea salt • pinch of fresh cracked pepper • oil, for deep frying

Remove raw lobster meat from packages and cut into approximately 2 cm cubes of even sizes. Mix together mayonnaise, chilli sauces, lemon juice and zest and let stand (can be made 1 week in advance). Mix self rising flour with beer until desired consistency is reached. Place 1/4 of the lobster meat at a time into the batter and quickly start dropping in small batches, a piece at a time, into the hot deep-frying oil. Remove when golden brown and floating (approx 1.5 minutes). Toss hot lobster bites in a quantity of the spicy mayonnaise just enough to coat and then season with salt and pepper and parsley. Serve with remaining spicy mayonnaise for dipping.

Note: Any sparkling liquid can be used in place of beer. If self rising flour isn’t available, then regular all purpose flour mixed with 1% baking soda and 2% baking powder will work.

Steamed Mussels with Curry Risotto

• 500 g fresh PEI mussels • 1 cup Arborio rice • 125 ml (1/2 cup) dry white wine • 375 ml water • 125 ml heavy cream (35%) • 100 g green peas • 2 tbsp olive oil • 1 tbsp garlic, minced • 1 tbsp ginger, minced • 1 tbsp shallots, minced
• 2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped • 1 tsp Madras Curry Powder •  pinch of sea salt, pepper

Rinse mussels and reserve. In a large sauce pot, with 1 tbsp of oil, gently cook garlic, shallots and ginger until aromatic but not coloured. Add white wine, curry powder and water, and bring to a boil. Add mussels and cover. Gently shake the pot periodically until mussels open. (Approximately 4 minutes). Remove mussels and reserve cooking liquid.
In a sauce pot, stir rice into oil and slowly add mussels, cooking liquid in small quantities until absorbed by the rice. Once all liquid is used, add the cream and cook until absorbed. Place a small portion of the risotto on each plate and top with three mussels in the half shell. Garnish with a few peas and/or pea shoots, and serve.

Smoked Salmon Tiramisu

• 120 g NS (Nova Scotia) smoked salmon
• 250 g cream cheese • 125 g cream (35%)    
• juice and zest of 1 lemon • 2 yellow peppers, roasted, seeded and peeled • 4 gelatin leaves
• 2 tbsp water • sea salt and pepper to taste
• pinch of turmeric • 1/4 small red onion
• salmon roe, for garnish

Soften gelatin in water and melt on low heat. Puree together yellow pepper, gelatin, turmeric and salt and pepper, and place in a small dish to set. Whip cream to soft peaks. Puree cream cheese to soften and fold in whipped cream and pour over yellow pepper jelly. Top with neatly placed smoked salmon and freeze entire mixture for 1 hour. Cut the finished product into neat rectangles and plate. Garnish with finely sliced red onions and salmon roe and/or chives.

Pan Roasted Scallop with Cauliflower Puree

• 20-30 FAS (frozen at sea) sea scallops (1.1 kg) 
• 1 cauliflower head • 1 cup cream • 1/4 cup vegetable oil 
• 10 fennel seeds • sea salt, as required • pepper, as required • 1 bunch chives, snipped.

Cook cauliflower until very tender in salted water with fennel seeds. Drain water and add cream to the pot. Simmer for 2 minutes and then puree until smooth. Pre-heat a heavy-bottomed sauté pan on high heat. Dry scallops on a clean kitchen towel and season generously with salt and pepper. Sear scallops in hot oil, taking care not to crowd the pan, for about 1 minute per side. Place a spoon of cauliflower puree on each plate and top with 3 seared scallops and a pinch of snipped chives.

This feature was part of an international chefs series, all interviewed by me, in the Apr-Jun 2012 issue of UpperCrust. Republished here with permission from the publisher. Images: courtesy UpperCrust India