Chef David Robertson on the Making of a Cooking School
There’s a buzz around the Dirty Apron Cooking School that isn’t going away anytime soon. A culinary hub in the heart of Vancouver’s Gastown, The Dirty Apron has become a special haven for many in this neighborhood. It’s got a certain je ne sais quoi that perhaps has something to do with its down-to-earth accessibility. It certainly has a broad appeal with it's children’s cooking camps running all summer long, to a wide range of evening classes for adults that are said to end in a bit of a party every night. This year, we’re very happy to say that the Founder of The Dirty Apron, Chef David Robertson, has joined our panel of judges for the Hands-On Cook-Off (along with Michael Eckford and Kia Robertson). Here we reach David by phone for an inside look at the makings of a cooking school. Enjoy!
BT: Tell us about the path that led you to become a chef and to start up the Dirty Apron Cooking School. Have you always had a passion for cooking?
DR: Yes, I have. My mother was an amazing cook, and my father a butcher. At home, my mom put all the meats to work. Growing up, she was always doing different theme nights. Italian night: Italian food; Chinese night: Chinese food. She was a natural in the kitchen and it was contagious. I have several distinct memories of cooking with my mom, like making perogies together, which I thought was very cool.
As for my career, like many I started off as a dishwasher in a restaurant. I decided cooking was for me, did a program at VCC, followed by an apprenticeship here in Vancouver, followed by a lot of travelling. I worked as a chef in the Caribbean, in Australia, New Zealand, and New York. Then back to Vancouver, where I began working with the owners of Chambar. The restaurant became very popular and the owner Nico asked me to start doing interviews on his behalf [he didn’t like being in the public eye].
Part of these public appearances involved teaching and demonstrations. Suddenly a light bulb went on and I decided I loved teaching. So I took a year out of cooking to research cooking schools. I investigated many cooking schools and amalgamated all of the good ideas I saw into my own school—The Dirty Apron. Today, we’ve seen about 15,000 students come through our doors.
BT: The Dirty Apron has become almost a household name in Vancouver. Why do you think this is?
DR: I think it’s because people like really good food without the pretentiousness. Here, we offer a bit of a culinary playground. It feels a bit like Dean and Deluca in New York when people come in to our store-front delicatessen. Also, it doesn’t hurt that I do a show every Sunday on Global TV (West Coast Chef). We’ve had a lot of students find out about the school from watching the show.
All of the teachers here are themselves chefs and what we’re teaching is restaurant style food, which people seem to want to learn! The staff is excited to be here and that’s also contagious. At the end of the day, doing a class is just a really fun night out. People walk away with a wow factor.
BT: What’s your take on children learning to cook? (Can you also talk about any kids cooking classes offered and the benefits you’ve seen?)
DR: Yes, we’re doing kids camp all summer long. Kids come in from Monday to Friday, and learn to make everything from pasta from scratch, to sorbet and ice cream making, to searing halibut.
When kids learn to cook from a young age it creates in them the ability to think on their feet, and essentially to become better decision makers. I believe cooking from a young age empowers kids and builds confidence. Plus, it’s a mutual enjoyment—a mother or father making pasta together with their child is a lovely shared experience and a very important part of life.
BT: At home, what role does cooking and eating with your family play in your own life? What are your favourite things to cook with your own children?
DR: Well I have a two year old who happens to have the coolest kids kitchen ever. Last year we took her to Italy, to the vineyards, and we enjoy sharing our experiences with her but she’s not quite at the cooking stage herself yet. Right now, her best dish is soup with plastic fish and plastic tomatoes.
Breakfast is probably our favourite meal as a family. My wife’s from Germany where breakfast is the big meal of the day and, as I frequently work in the evenings, this works well for us. I love to make pancakes and do crèpe making, and French toast.
BT: And finally, would you please share a recipe?
DR: Sure! Here is my recipe for Lemon Crepes with the warm berry compote. This makes a delicious breakfast or dessert. Enjoy!
Thanks David! We really enjoyed talking with David. His passion for food is definitely contagious. If any of you decides to try this recipe at home, let us know how it goes. And if you haven’t heard, the Hands-On Cook-Off Contest is on now! You can find out more and enter here.