Too many cooks don’t spoil the broth, professional cooking grad Connie Desousa wins Distinguished Alumni Award

Connie Desousa, SAIT 2018 Distinguished Alumni, became a chef, honed her craft, and co-established a top Calgary restaurant: Charcut. She’s also the co-founder of Charbar, Alley Burger, and the Rooftop Bar at Simmons, and competed in Top Chef Canada. We asked her a few questions about developing her craft and her approach to food:

Connie DeSousa poses for portrait inside her restaurant Charbar in Calgary on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018. DeSousa is a graduate of Professional Cooking from the year 2000, and will be receiving a Distinguished Alumni Award for her achievements in her field.(Photo by Patrick Concepcion/SAIT)

What’s your style of food?

My philosophy on food has evolved over the years, but it’s been important to us to support local farmers and producers. We’re very passionate about ingredients. We would never give up things like amazing French cheese or olive oil or citrus because they don’t grow in our region, but we like to say we’re going back to basics. We try not to over-manipulate different ingredients. We try to make them shine.

What has influenced you as a chef?

Every place that I’ve worked for and every opportunity I’ve had to work with other chefs, not only as an apprentice. It’s important to never stop learning and looking for opportunities to grow. I’m always looking for new flavours, new ingredients, and different forms of inspiration. 

Do you have any advice for people who want to cook at home?

I think people find cooking at home daunting because of the preparation and clean-up. I think planning is the most important thing before you go shopping. Making prep lists at home and doing meal prep so you’re not doing it all in one night. I think it’s fun to cook with friends so you don’t have to do it all by yourself. You can each make a dish in whatever theme you’re cooking.

What do think was the most beneficial about the professional cooking program?

The base curriculum itself was great and prepared me for working in the real world. I think the networking with the culinary instructors was more beneficial in terms of hiring employees for my business. I’ve always kept a repertoire of all the great chefs that taught me at SAIT and the ones that I’ve met in the industry. That’s always been beneficial in my work as an entrepreneur. 

How did SAIT help prepare you for your career as a chef?

I attended SAIT in 2000, right out of high school. I hadn’t always wanted to be a chef. I studied ballet for years prior before the thought of becoming a chef came into my mind. 

It was my passion for food, and especially sausages, that took me in the direction of want to be a chef. I enrolled at SAIT in the professional cook program. 

The instructors were great, and they prepared you for the real world, in terms of working in a restaurant. The culinary program in SAIT is ranked one of the best in Calgary, if not the world. 

They’re leaders when it comes to teaching and the courses they have. I assisted on the board in terms of development of curriculum. They’re always looking at ways to freshen it up and make it more current.

(Photo by Patrick Concepcion/SAIT)

How have you developed your craft since graduating SAIT?

I’ve travelled to South Africa, Germany, San Francisco, Norway, Italy, U.S., and throughout Canada since I attended SAIT. I had the opportunity to go to a technical school and a school as good as SAIT, but I learned a lot through my experience. 

What advice would you give to students?

I think what really helped me when I was in school was having a clear path of what I wanted to achieve. Some people don’t have an idea of what they want to do after school. Graduation kind of creeps up, so once I decided what I wanted, I wrote everything down on paper and tried to follow that agenda. 

Out of school, I think it’s important to latch onto a mentor who can really help you with growth in the industry. As much as SAIT tries to prepare you for the technical world, it comes as a bit of a shock. They want you to do well in school but once you get out into the industry, it’s always a little more tense.

(Photo by Patrick Concepcion/SAIT)

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