For chef Scott Bagshaw, the recipe for beautiful food begins with a vision and thousands of hours of hard work.
By Joelle Kidd
Seated in front of the counter that breaks the space between Enoteca’s dining room and open kitchen, Scott Bagshaw has a camera pointed at his face, and is being urged to smile. “I’ve been photoshopped before,” he tells us, declaring this is the worst part of his job.
Bagshaw is no stranger to photographers and accolades, but the mercurial chef continues to voice his discomfort with the spotlight while still recognizing its benefit, even necessity, in the restaurant business. Bagshaw belongs to the chef-driven nouvelle vague of dining out, a shift personified in characters like Anthony Bourdain and David Chang, who revolutionized the dining landscape with uncensored, no-holds-barred commentary on the industry and revelatory cooking which refused to pander to any but the chef’s own palate. As the old vanguard comes down, the focus on chefs’ distinct voices is a double-edged sword, creating a market for celebrity.
Today’s chefs are no longer sequestered in hot, grimy kitchens, cooking to survive. They have an audience, whether it’s the patron trying to banter into the open kitchen or media looking for an erudite quote. The shining beacon of the ideal chef is equal parts showman, ambassador, and environmentalist, boasts stellar cooking chops, and to top it all off, performs consistently with charisma and poise.
In this minefield of new expectations, Bagshaw is a study in opposites. He hates the fame game, but he is so in love with what he is doing that he has learned to step into the spotlight with gratitude. He is brash, candid, opinionated, and unwavering in his convictions about everything from the industry at large to plating for each dish. While this rebellious nature has made him a controversial figure at times, it always assures a standard of excellence in his restaurants that is unquestionable.
Bagshaw’s influence on the city’s dining scene began in earnest when he opened Deseo Bistro in 2011. The restaurant’s first iteration, in a wee, window-lined space inside the Royal Albert Arms, was small but powerful enough to get tongues wagging over simple ingredients like fingerling potatoes and Brussels sprouts, reimagined with forceful flavours. When a water main break forced the space’s closure, Deseo was back within the year, ensconced in its current home at South Osborne.
The idea of opening a second restaurant was just beginning to percolate when a realtor called to offer a space in River Heights. Scott jumped in with both feet, setting up shop (as with all of his restaurants) with no investors, doing much of the work himself. The restaurant became a culmination of his identity as a chef, every detail recreating his dream dining experience. “This space is an extension of me,” Bagshaw says. There is no high priced décor or custom servingware. “I don’t need to spend money on it if is doesn’t affect the food,” he asserts, tapping the Ikea plate in front of him.
“This space is an extension of me.”
Instead, taste is law. The menu offers diners lists of clues which come to life as an array of share-able plates that mix imaginative flavour with timeless technique. Chef Bagshaw harbours a deep love of classic French preparations, proven techniques for building layers of complex flavour into a dish. Every item at Enoteca makes use of at least one such technique, and despite hip ingredients like black garlic or quail eggs, the first bite clinches the deal on taste.
While Bagshaw likes to cook whatever inspires him at the moment, he adds, “you can’t just follow your heart.” Staying familiar with customer preferences and keeping a shrewd eye on unfilled niches in the market are essential to keeping the kitchen grounded, balancing a passion for creating with day to day logistics.
It is this balance that ignites Bagshaw’s fire for the chef life: the marriage of artistry and blue collar work ethic. While completing a post graduate degree in Australia, he was seduced by the rewarding practicality of his job in a restaurant kitchen. The long hours, budget constraints, and pressure to constantly perform pushed him to master the work fast. “There’s no time, you have to learn as you go, and you have to nail it every time.”
Now, years later, Enoteca and Deseo make regular appearances on “Best in Canada” lists, impressing diners with flavour born out of an unwavering quest for a memorable food experience. In addition to these two restaurants, Bagshaw’s next venture is set to open by the time this issue is delivered. Chinese influenced Maque will bring his penchant for French techniques together with the Eastern ingredients and flavour profiles that inspire him.
Splitting his time between shaping menu direction at Deseo and cooking at Enoteca, Bagshaw’s hands-on approach allows him to mentor Winnipeg’s next generation of bright young chefs. Bagshaw’s hope for the city’s restaurant scene is that the chef-driven trend gains momentum, with greater numbers of visionary young chefs – what he calls “little guys making waves” – opening their own spaces. It is clear as he banters with his sous chefs at Enoteca that in his restaurants, he runs a tight but jovial ship.
Chef Bagshaw is adamant that there is no secret to success. “You’ve got to work,” he says. “Everyone is responsible for their own happiness.” It’s a bold, fierce philosophy; but then again, it’s a philosophy that has turned out some of the best food in the city.