The last two months have been a rare opportunity for Steve and Jenny Tyrrell to slow down and get back to what's important.
The husband-and-wife team behind Miss Browns have been toiling away in the local food scene since opening their first sandwich shop on William Avenue in 2015.
"There were times in the last five years that we couldn’t even take a day off together," Jenny said. "Even though it’s been quite difficult from a business sense, from a family sense it’s been really good."
The couple met in a hostel in Bath, England, where Steve was "working for beer and food and accommodation." They struck up a year-long email relationship and reunited in Vancouver before moving to Australia, Steve's birth country.
They bonded over a shared passion for food and spent their downtime watching cooking shows about famous chefs, such as Anthony Bourdain and Matty Matheson. Neither is classically trained, but Steve helped Jenny develop her cooking skills by sharing knowledge he developed working in kitchens around Australia, including at the Sydney Opera House.
Their love affair with sandwiches and smoked meats started at Steve's family-owned vineyard, where they would cater lunches for club members and weekend visitors.
While the couples' return to Winnipeg — where Jenny was born — was prompted by the sudden death of a family member, the move created an opportunity to fulfil a longtime dream and open their own lunch spot.
"As lovely as Australia is, it’s very competitive," Jenny said. "We just really quickly realized that if we were going to open a place, we needed the support."
"There were times in the last five years that we couldn’t even take a day off together. Even though it’s been quite difficult from a business sense, from a family sense it’s been really good" – Jenny Tyrrell
Support of family and customers has allowed them to expand their vision to include a catering operation and a second location in the Hargrave St. Market, which opened last December.
The coronavirus pandemic ground the business to a halt in March, but the unexpected pause has created more opportunity for home cooking and quality time with their young daughters and two dogs.
Free Press: What has this time off been like for you?
Jenny Tyrrell: I think I was initially shell-shocked. We didn’t have to set alarms and we felt almost lazy or we didn’t know what to do with ourselves, because we had made that tough decision to actually close, so I think there was a bit of guilt at first.
We have a six-year-old and a one-year-old, so we also had to get into the routine of homeschooling.
FP: How has food played a role in your time at home?
JT: I’ve found myself getting back to the place where I was in Australia where I would flip through my Delicious magazines to draw inspiration and make a five-day meal plan of things that take more time.
Having the emails turned off and the catering calls placed on hold and not having staff constantly coming to you with problems, it’s easier to sit back and get back to the roots of things... and have that time to let the creativity flow again.
FP: Have you been getting your kids involved in the kitchen?
JT: We’ve always had them involved, but I think just taking the time to do better and more thought-out meals makes them excited to see what’s on the dinner menu.
Even the little one, who’s almost two, gets up on her little stool. They want to be involved and they want to know what you’re doing.
FP: What are some dishes you’ve really enjoyed making?
JT: We managed to get my parents to take the kids and we went and got some lamb chops and did a beet salad, like a slaw, and some potatoes; it was really good.
FP: What are some pantry or fridge staples you’ve been turning to these days?
JT: We had a bunch of eggs left over from the restaurant, so I learned how to see if eggs are still fresh by putting them in a cup of water — if they float to the surface they’re done, but if they stay at the bottom they’re still fresh.
My husband loves doing frittatas with, say, leftover steak or veggies that are going off or any herbs that we need to use up.
We did a big DeLuca’s order before we closed. We love their Divella plum tomatoes and when this all started, it was still quite cold, so we were doing quite a bit of spaghetti sauces, ragus and heartier sauces.
FP: Anything you’ve tried to make that hasn’t worked out?
JT: The other day I made a fish pie with prawns and halibut and salmon and it had like a potato, pea topping and I think the ratios were a bit off. I wouldn’t say it was a fail-fail, but all the potatoes soaked up all the liquid so it became quite a mess. But it tasted great.
FP: What have you been doing outside of the kitchen to keep busy?
JT: We bought a house in Selkirk five years ago and it’s a 100-year-old beautiful house, but it needs a lot of work, so I think we’re both sitting here thinking about what to do.
We need to paint our house, our steps need to be redone, we want to do an extension on the back, trying to make the home as comfortable as possible.
We have two dogs and now that the weather’s getting nice we’re making sure we're getting out there and walking them for an hour or so.
FP: When you’re able to again, where would you like to go on a trip?
JT: For our family, we’d probably like to go off to Mexico and do a bit of beach and food exploration, but we would also like to do a road trip down south in the States and do some food exploration around smoked meats — my husband’s big into Franklin barbecue.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Eva Wasney reports on arts, culture and life for the Winnipeg Free Press.