November 20, 2018

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Local chef crafting casual elegance

The sleeves of Wayne Martin’s white chef’s jacket are pushed up so the numerous scars and burns criss-crossing his forearms are visible.

“I have these scars because I love cooking,” Martin says, running his fingers along the back of his wrist.

Martin is explaining why he left a job as the executive chef of the Four Seasons Vancouver — a position that had been a longtime ambition of the Barrie, Ont.-born cook — to open his own restaurants, including the much lauded Crave and Fraiche in Vancouver. He wanted to be back in the kitchen instead of behind a desk.

His instincts proved correct; Fraiche was named to enRoute magazine’s list of the top 10 restaurants in Canada in 2007. After a few years, however, Martin was ready for a new challenge.

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The sleeves of Wayne Martin’s white chef’s jacket are pushed up so the numerous scars and burns criss-crossing his forearms are visible.

"I have these scars because I love cooking," Martin says, running his fingers along the back of his wrist.

Chef’s Table

Click to Expand

Wayne Martin
Capital Grill (Roblin Boulevard and Broadway locations)
Age: 53
Signature style: Casual elegance

Martin is explaining why he left a job as the executive chef of the Four Seasons Vancouver — a position that had been a longtime ambition of the Barrie, Ont.-born cook — to open his own restaurants, including the much lauded Crave and Fraiche in Vancouver. He wanted to be back in the kitchen instead of behind a desk.

His instincts proved correct; Fraiche was named to enRoute magazine’s list of the top 10 restaurants in Canada in 2007. After a few years, however, Martin was ready for a new challenge.

Canada's Great Kitchen Party

Capital Grill’s Wayne Martin is among the six chefs competing Thursday, Nov. 8, in the regional qualifier for the Canadian Culinary Championship. as part of Canada's Great Kitchen Party. The event, held at the RBC Convention Centre, is a rebranding of the event formerly known as Gold Medal Plates.

With three pillars — music, sport and culinary arts — the event raises money for: MusiCounts, a music education charity affiliated with the Junos that puts instruments in the hands of children; B2ten, an organization that supports elite amateur athletes and invests in coaching; and Community Food Centres Canada, a network of outlets that offers food programs that bring people together to grow, cook, share and advocate for good food for all.

Capital Grill’s Wayne Martin is among the six chefs competing Thursday, Nov. 8, in the regional qualifier for the Canadian Culinary Championship. as part of Canada's Great Kitchen Party. The event, held at the RBC Convention Centre, is a rebranding of the event formerly known as Gold Medal Plates.

With three pillars — music, sport and culinary arts — the event raises money for: MusiCounts, a music education charity affiliated with the Junos that puts instruments in the hands of children; B2ten, an organization that supports elite amateur athletes and invests in coaching; and Community Food Centres Canada, a network of outlets that offers food programs that bring people together to grow, cook, share and advocate for good food for all.

Though it’s Martin’s name on the marquee, he’s handed off the creative duties to his sous chef at Capital Roblin, Aaron Wiebe, to whom he gives full credit for the menu.

“Not to sound old and jaded, but I've done this stuff before and I wanted to give someone new the opportunity," he says.

Capital's offering will be sous vide of Zinn Farms pork loin and a pork sausage, served with caramelized carrots on a sous vide onion purée.

"It's classic and very approachable," says Martin of the dish, which will be paired with a Burrowing Owl Gewurtztraminer.

Other Winnipeg chefs competing for a spot at the Canadian Culinary Championship in Kelowna, B.C., next year include: Jacqueline Hildebrand, Hy’s Steakhouse; Tim Palmer, VG at the Fairmont; Heiko Duehrsen, Assiniboine Park Conservancy; Thomas Stuart, Thermea by Nordik-Spa Nature; and Jesse Friesen, the Merchant Kitchen.

Tickets for the Kitchen Party are $350 and include the chance to mingle with pro, amateur and para athletes. The event features a chef showcase as well as the regional chef showdown, a tasting of craft beers and paired wines at every competing chef station and raffles of culinary tours with celebrity athletes and musicians. For more info, see greatkitchenparty.com. Entertainment is provided by a lineup of Canadian stars selected by Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy.

Community Food Centres Canada and their affiliate food organizations offer high-impact food programs that bring people together to grow, cook, share, and advocate for good food for all.

In 2015, he returned to his roots — Martin started out cooking at Minaki Lodge (the luxury hotel in Kenora, Ont., which burned down in 2003) in 1989 — and, with his Crave and Fraiche partner Greg Gunnarson, opened Capital Grill and Bar at 3116 Roblin Blvd. in the underserved Charleswood area.

"I had good memories of Winnipeg, plus I could see it was starting to turn," he says of his decision. "For a while it was stagnant — I’d come to visit, go to Clear Lake — but the food scene was getting better, the vibrancy of the city was getting better. There was excitement with the Jets coming back. And I needed a change from Vancouver."

Martin was no stranger to fresh starts; the chef worked in a variety of locales during his early years with the high-end hotel chain.

"I did seasonal work," he recalls. "The Four Seasons moved me around in the winter as long as I came back (to Minaki) for the summer." That saw him doing stints on the Caribbean island of Nevis, in Austin and in Atlanta.

Martin still has that adventurous spirit, but rather than moving from city to city, he’s channelled it into expansion. "I do want to keep moving, keep growing," he says.

Last month, the restaurant’s second location, Capital Broadway, opened its doors. A bright, airy space with white subway tile, white chairs, a few red-cushioned booths and an open kitchen, it conveys the same kind of laid-back elegance Martin wants his food to capture.

Chef Wayne Martin opened his restaurant’s second location, Capital Broadway, last month. It offers casual but high quality eats. (Phil Hossack photos / Winnipeg Free Press)

Chef Wayne Martin opened his restaurant’s second location, Capital Broadway, last month. It offers casual but high quality eats. (Phil Hossack photos / Winnipeg Free Press)

"Casual, approachable, good quality for service," he says of his style, adding that the downtown location has a slightly different focus, with lots of sharing plates and pizzas, a busy lunch scene and a bigger push on catering. He’s also hopeful that it will attract the pregame crowd before Jets games.

"Four Seasons services the upper 0.5 per cent of the world, and prices are super high," he says. "You get what you pay for — it’s luxury, but it’s intimidating. Even my parents didn’t want to go there when I worked there because they didn’t feel comfortable. With Capital, I just wanted to have a good standard of service and food that you can come in and relax and have a burger one day, but then have our certified Angus steak the next day."

Martin, who has a brother and a sister, grew up cooking alongside his parents, helping his Japanese mother — who was born in Port Alberni, B.C, but grew up in Japan — make sushi and tempura and his British-born father braise meats and barbecue.

"I learned a lot from them," he says. "Not just the cooking, but the work ethic."

Jill Wilson

Did you go to culinary school?

Wayne Martin

No, the Four Seasons was my culinary school. I just had a knack for it. My chefs would keep pushing me, I would push myself, just keep trying to learn. I would read as much as I could and I moved around and learned under different chefs. It’s something I just kind of fell into, but I was a natural.

Jill

What do you consider your signature dish?

Wayne

I don’t think I have one... comfort food is my thing. But I love cooking fish and seafood.

Jill Wilson

Is that something you miss about working in Vancouver?

Wayne

Yes, I don’t understand why we don’t have the accessibility. Planes fly over us all the time! We can get lobster from the East Coast on the West Coast, so why not here? I miss fresh Dungeness crab, a selection of oysters, halibut. We get a whole halibut in (at Roblin) once a week and if we could get it more often, we would sell more.

Jill

What do you cook when you’re making a meal for yourself?

Wayne Martin

I do a lot of one-pot wonders. But I like a good rib-eye steak with grilled asparagus and mushrooms, try to do everything on the grill. Simple.

Jill

What ingredient do you always have in your fridge or pantry at home?

Wayne

Salt. A quality kosher salt and some good finishing salt. And sambal (Indonesian-style hot sauce). You know that old lady in the ad, "I put that sh— on everything"? I put sambal on everything. Some people like sriracha; I like sambal because it’s not overpowering — it’s got a little garlic, little spice.

Jill Wilson

What’s your favourite cocktail?

Wayne

Just a plain vodka martini with a twist.

Jill

Is there a guilty-pleasure food that you enjoy but you’re ashamed of?

Wayne Martin

Kraft sliced cheese (laughs). It’s one of those things from your childhood, things that are horrible. I don’t buy Wonder Bread for the house, but I remember that kind of white bread with mayonnaise, iceberg lettuce and the cheese, squished down.

Jill

What’s your go-to fast food?

Wayne

I like In-and-Out Burger, which we don’t have here, and Five Guys is good. But McDonald’s is another one of those childhood things — we weren’t allowed to have it, except when we went camping. I’ll get a Quarter-Pounder with Cheese meal... and if I’m hungry, with a cheeseburger.

Jill Wilson

Is there a food you have a strong aversion to?

Wayne

Mussels kind of repulse me. I can cook them well, but... if I’m at a really good restaurant like Per Se or French Laundry (American chef Thomas Keller’s restaurants in New York City and Napa Valley, Calif.) and it’s part of the experience, I’ll have them, but if I’m just out with friends, no. The smell and the look and the texture...

Jill

Is there something your parents cook that you can’t duplicate?

Wayne Martin

My mother made these fantastic teryaki chicken wings — well, chicken pieces, actually, she would quarter a chicken — and the balance of sugar and soy was really good. And her meatloaf was fantastic, too, but I can’t recreate it, so I have to do my own recipe… My dad made really good short ribs.

jill.wilson@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @dedaumier

Jill Wilson

Jill Wilson
Senior copy editor

Jill Wilson writes about culture and the culinary arts for the Arts & Life section.

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