Culinary journey TV's Wall of Chefs seems a universe away from humble beginnings in Jamaica for Winnipeg's Christine Pattison
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/02/2020 (1190 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Cooking has always been an act of survival for Christine Pattison, but recently her homemade food landed her a spot on a national cooking show and a chance to win $10,000.
She is one of 40 Canadian home cooks selected to compete on Food Network Canada’s Wall of Chefs. The show features a “wall” of 12 celebrity chef judges who decide the winning competitor over three rounds of culinary challenges.
“That’s intimidating,” Pattison says. “You’re cooking for these amazing people and I’m thinking to myself, ‘I’m from the ghetto in Jamaica, I was begging for money and food and now look at me.’ ”
Her episode airs Monday at 9 p.m. on Food Network Canada.
Back home in Winnipeg, the walls of Pattison’s small restaurant in the Chalet Hotel at 611 Archibald St. carry an entirely different vibe. She opened Miss Christine’s Kitchen last September and hired an artist to fill the walls with murals of her life’s story. In the colourful street scenes, Pattison is depicted as a small girl in a pink dress picking flowers outside her childhood home in Kingston, Jamaica’s capital city, and begging for ackee fruit at the local market.
“It wouldn’t be me without my story on the wall,” she says.
Pattison, 48, comes from a family of 21. Her father died when she was five and her mother made ends meet by doing domestic work for $20 a day. At age seven, her mother asked her to prepare dinner for the first time. The menu was curried chicken backs with dumplings and banana.
“My mom came home about six o’clock and I thought the dumpling was cooked; she took one bite and I guess it was still raw inside and she gave me a beating I’ll never forget,” Pattison says.
She tried again the next night and made the dish without error. “After that I was the one doing the cooking.”
The responsibility taught her an important lesson about food — one that was underlined when she started begging at the market in order to share her cooking with hungry neighbours.
“The more I feed people, nobody want to hurt me,” she says. “Food protected me, food made people like me… food is a powerful tool and when the food is good people will come from miles.”
Pattison came to Manitoba with two young children and her now ex-husband when she was 18. It was the middle of December when she landed in Winnipeg and learned that her new home was a six-hour drive northwest in Kenville, near Swan River.
“Talk about culture shock. I never knew anything about depression until I came to this country,” she says.
Kenville had about 30 residents, most of whom were white and religious.
“I didn’t go to church, so they were kind of standoffish and I was the only black person in that town.”
Pattison lived there for 10 years before getting a divorce and moving to Winnipeg. She found a job with Child and Family Services and made extra money selling homemade Jamaican food to neighbours in her Manitoba Housing complex.
She has since remarried and is now feeding people full time at Miss Christine’s Kitchen, where she works at least six days a week, cooking, taking orders and chatting with customers. Her best-selling dishes are jerk chicken, oxtail, curried goat and escovitch snapper with Lizzy rolls (deep-fried dumplings named after her mother, who died in January).
Eva Wasney: Did you expand your menu when you got your own space?
Christine Pattison: No, I kept it the same because I’m small and that’s what people ask for. Sometimes if I cook soup and don’t sell it I have to give it away. I know jerk chicken is gonna be gone, when I do oxtail I know that’s gonna be gone.
Eva Wasney: Did you have any reservations about moving into the Chalet Hotel?
Christine Pattison: Not even one. I needed a space and we needed money. Our bills were piling up so I just didn’t care. I came in and I fell in love with it.
This hotel has a reputation, right? But people don’t even look at that, they just come here for my food.
Eva Wasney: Where do you get your ingredients from?
Christine Pattison: I get my ingredients from Dino’s (Grocery Mart on Isabel Street) but my pimento leaves come straight from Jamaica, a friend of mine goes there sometimes twice a month and that’s what I use to jerk my chicken.
Eva Wasney: What is a favourite dish you like to cook at home for your family?
Christine Pattison: Coconut curry shrimp. That’s our favourite and it’s always a quick go-to thing.
Eva Wasney: Is there anything you can’t or won’t eat?
Christine Pattison: I won’t eat frog, I won’t eat snake and I won’t eat rabbit or horse.
Eva Wasney: Do you have a favourite cookbook?
Christine Pattison: I have a cookbook that I have three published recipes in. I did it when I was pregnant with my daughter and that was like 30 years ago. It’s a little cookbook from the town of Kenville, Manitoba where I was living. I have Russian chicken in it, which is my all-time favourite, and I have my Jamaican liver and my low-fat chicken stir fry.
Eva Wasney: How did you end up on the Wall of Chefs?
Christine Pattison: I think it was two days before the cutoff date. It was like two in the morning and I’m filling out the application and it’s asking me a bunch of questions and then I get done and it says send us a video.
I said to my husband let’s make a video, and I’m not gonna tell you what I cooked because I can’t share any of that before it airs. At the end of the video I took off my wig and I said the F-bomb.
I didn’t think they would ever consider it.
Eva Wasney: What was filming like?
Christine Pattison: It was very nerve-wracking with all those cameras, there’s probably like 100 cameras in the ceiling and the camera guys are running behind you.
It’s like what you see on the TV but 50 times worse because there’s… a wall with all these master chefs; chef Lynn Crawford, chef Susur Lee, chef Suzanne Barr.
Eva Wasney: How did you keep your nerves down while you were competing?
Christine Pattison: I sing in my head or I talk to myself. I just tried to tune them out and not pay attention to the chefs.
Eva Wasney: What’s something you learned from the experience?
Christine Pattison: That everyone’s a winner. Only one person will take home the $10,000, but the moment you step on the Food Network you’re considered a winner.
This is going to bring it to a new level and that’s exactly what I’m hoping for, that it gets so busy that I can go on Skip the Dishes and all of that. I can’t afford them right now, I barely make anything off a plate of food.
Eva Wasney: What is your proudest moment as a chef?
Christine Pattison: Honestly, it’s not even the Wall of Chefs. My proudest moment is when I see the smile on peoples faces every time they eat my food. I’m getting goosebumps talking about it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.