Chef Keith Sarasin: Savouring A Meal To Savour A Memory

Original article published on Behind the Plate with Kenzie Osborne

Photo by Doug Levy Photography

“Cooks cook to nurture people”. Thomas Keller said it best, and Chef Keith Sarasin is putting it into action… A chef’s purpose is quite simple — to nurture their community, show their love, and create something that will build an everlasting memory. Food is a form of connection — it’s a medium by which someone can express their love without having to speak, gesture, or physically be there. When we need comfort, we turn to the foods our parents used to make for us. If we’re celebrating an occasion, we reach for the biggest, best, most indulgent treat we can find. And, if we’re mourning over a loss, we fill our bellies with something that is sure to bring a smile back to our face. We all have an emotional connection with food — and, for some, these emotions fuel the fire to become a chef.

Chef Keith Sarasin never intended on going into the culinary industry — nevermind becoming a chef and writing cookbooks. Growing up, cooking wasn’t exactly a fun activity or a hobby — it was just a way for him to nurture himself and his mother. If Chef Keith didn’t cook, it would put more pressure on his mother to support the family. So, he decided to take on the task of preparing meals and ensuring there was food on the table each and every night.

“My mom was a single mother, and she was working as much as she possibly could. Cooking felt like a necessity — I had to help her out. If I didn’t, there would be more pressure on my mom to provide for us. So, when I was 8 years old, I jumped up onto the fridge to pull down a cookbook. I’m pretty sure that was the first book I ever read…”

Lack Of Food Revealed Too Much…

As a child, Chef Keith didn’t necessarily have a great relationship with food. Rather than food being a source of comfort, it was a source of stress. Having little accessibility to food revealed his family’s financial situation to the community…

“My first memory of food was standing in line at a food bank. For me, food wasn’t comfort — it was something that showed whether or not I had money.”

At the age of 14, Chef Keith decided he wanted a job so he could afford a few items he’d been eyeing — in particular, his dream mountain bike! Like many kids his age, Chef Keith picked up a job as a dishwasher at a local sub shop. He didn’t like the job — but, he liked the fact that he at least had a job…

“Man, when I got that first mountain bike, I was so proud. The feeling of satisfaction and the reward of actually buying something that I’d worked for was so incredible. It allowed me to realize that working in the industry could help me afford the things I really wanted.”

The food industry wasn’t a passion — but, it was a way for Chef Keith to make some “dough” and afford the things he loved outside of the kitchen. Working as a chef allowed him the opportunity to earn a degree in Marriage and Family Therapy and Psychology. Throughout his schooling, he was able to hop around from restaurant to restaurant with his friend Steve, working together and making money to finish off his degree.

An Unstoppable Duo

Chef Keith’s friend, Steve, was an avid chef. Cooking was his passion — he loved being in the fast-paced atmosphere, and dreamt of owning his own restaurant. So, Chef Keith figured if he followed Steve through the food industry chain, he’d likely always have a job to fall back on.

As Keith continued to follow Steve and work his way up the ladder in the kitchen, his love for cooking began to blossom.

“Working in the kitchen gave me a sense of family that I never really had — for better and for worse. As a team, we’d fight together, but we’d also work through our problems and help each other push through tough times.”

Chef Keith began to fall in love with the comradery and family-feel of the culinary world. Eventually, he decided to forgo continuing education in psychology, and instead work full time in the food industry.

Day in and day out, Keith and Steve continued to tackle the kitchens, whip out incredible meals, and serve up the tastiest food they could. But soon enough, the dynamic duo was forced to split apart, as Steve moved to Carolina. The split was difficult as-is, but that was just the beginning of a devastating road ahead…

Savouring A Meal To Savour A Memory

“I got a call one night that Steve was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. It was one of the hardest days of my life. I immediately flew to Carolina to be with him through his treatment — he was like a brother to me, and I wanted to be with him through every step. During his treatment, there would be times when he would ask me to make a chicken dish we used to eat together… Of course, whenever someone undergoes treatment, you’re going to make whatever they want — so I’d run down and make him the meal. But it wasn’t just a meal — for Steve, it was a memory — it was a way to remember the past and forget about his treatment. That’s when I realized the power of food — it has the ability to hurt and to heal, both emotionally and physically. Food was such a huge connection for us — it was a way for us to share our love for one another and build our relationship.”

This devastating event completely changed Chef Keith’s view of food. Food was no longer just sustenance to feed himself and his mother — it was a way to heal, to connect, and to recreate memories. Before his mother passed, he would prepare the meals she used to make him. It wasn’t always the best food or the fanciest recipes — but it was a connection, a memory, and something that brought a smile to her face during her last few moments of time.

Discovering The Power Of Food And Flavour

And so the journey began… Food became something Chef Keith leaned on for comfort — it was a way for him to grow as an individual and reminisce about the good ol’ days with mom and Steve. He wasn’t necessarily the most adventurous eater — but he had found peace with food, and had begun to appreciate the benefits it had on his mind, spirit, and body.

For Chef Keith, trying new foods was a challenge… He was a bit of a picky eater, and wasn’t the biggest fan of spices… With that being said, there were alot of cuisines that were simply “out of question”…

“I had a friend whose parents owned an Indian restaurant. We’d play games together all the time and his family would encourage me to taste the stuff they were making. To be honest, the Indian food looked weird and was too spicy — I was NOT a fan… But, one day, my friend and I bet on a video game… If I lost, I had to taste the Indian food. I lost…”

In Chef Keith’s mind, he’d lost — in my mind, he’d won! Free Indian food? Count me in! After the bet was over, Chef Keith was “forced’ to go to an Indian restaurant close to town. Everything was foreign — the aromas, the words on the menu, the atmosphere — it was all different.

“At this point I’d worked in kitchens for so long, but to be honest, I had no clue what I was ordering. I couldn’t pronounce the words on the menu — let alone know what I was ordering… I ended up picking chicken vindaloo — not really knowing what it was or what to expect. When it came out, it was like a magical brown sauce. Imagine going on a rollercoaster for the first time — you don’t know what to expect, then when you go on it, it’s amazing! I had no idea that a meal could be so loud and forward — I loved every bite.”

Falling In Love With A New Cuisine

From that day forward, Chef Keith was hooked on Indian cuisine. The way the flavours represented Indian culture was impressive. Just like Indian culture, each dish boasted bold, powerful, forward flavours that were incredibly satisfying. With every new bite, he became more curious about the cuisine. So, soon enough, Chef Keith was off to the market to pick up some ingredients and learn how to recreate the dishes in his kitchen.

The day after his first bite of Indian food, Chef Keith and his friend went to the local market for some Indian ingredients. As they walked by one of the vendors, a small, robust woman (named Indira) asked them to try a bite of her food. They agreed (as to not be rude), and bit into some sort of unknown vegetable… Chef Keith had no clue what it was — all he knew was that he wanted to learn more.

Day in and day out Chef Keith walked by the market, asking the woman to teach him how to cook Indian food. For quite a while, she kindly said no — until one day when she finally agreed to be Chef Keith’s mentor…

“I learned from Indira for 8 years. She’s taught me everything I know about Indian cuisine. She almost became like a second mother — someone I admired, bonded with, and looked up to. Indira sparked my passion for Indian cuisine — and I wouldn’t be where I am today without having had the opportunity to work with her.”

And, yet another relationship was formed with food… Such a deep connection was built through simply learning about Indian cuisine, cooking with Indira, and breaking bread with someone from another culture.

Sharing Food For An Instant Connection

From the moment he broke bread with his friend Steve, Chef Keith was hooked on the idea of sharing food with others. It wasn’t about the fancy gold leaf, the sprinkle of pixie dust or the $250 4oz steak… Instead, a meal was about building a connection, making a memory, and forming a relationship with the person across the table.

“Sharing food forces a connection. It allows you the opportunity to learn life lessons and gain wisdom that you may have otherwise missed out on. Not every lesson can be learned by reading an inspirational quote online or watching a video… Wisdom comes from actually DOING something yourself. When Indira and I broke bread together, we were forced to interact. I learned so much about her cuisine, culture, and history. She became like a second mother — and without sharing that first bite of food together, I probably wouldn’t have become so close with her. Sharing food is so important — especially in our society today. There’s division everywhere, but the moment you break bread, you realize that we’re not all that different.”

YES! THIS is what food is about. It’s not about the extra fluff, the show-stopping smoke, or the impressive gold leaf… It’s about building connections, learning, making memories, and discovering new parts of the world that you have yet to experience. Chef Keith holds the power of food so dear to his heart — and being able to inspire others to cook, eat, and dine together is at the top of his list of priorities.

“I want to inspire others to get into the kitchen and learn how to cook. So many of us are afraid to cook because we think we’ll fail. Will you fail? Yes. But failure is such an important lesson in life — that’s what teaches perseverance. It’s how you learn, grow, and eventually you will create something incredible.”

Inspiring Others Through Memories And Recipes

Chef Keith Sarasin has been writing cookbook after cookbook to share his own expertise (and delicious flavours). With two already released, and another in-the-making, he’s eager to inspire the next generation of cooks.

Chef Keith’s first cookbook, the Perfect Turkey was inspired by (you guessed it) a turkey dinner! For Keith, his family would celebrate Christmas with a giant turkey dinner and all of the classic heart-warming, indulgent side-dishes. The book was an homage to his family memories, as well as a way to break the stigma of the dreaded “dry turkey”. (Hint: it’s not rocket science to make a juicy, delicious turkey — you just need to learn a few tips and tricks to do it right!).

Next up is Chef Keith’s second cookbook: The Farmers Dinner. Keith started the Farmers Dinner company in 2012, helping farms by hosting dinners that feature their locally-grown produce. This cookbook is a thank you to each and every farmer and supporter of the Farmers Dinner. Chef Keith walks you through the beauty of the seasons by featuring ingredients at their “peak”.

Finally, next year, Chef Keith will be releasing a brand new cookbook to pay his respects to his friend Steve. Steve had always dreamt of opening a BBQ joint, so Keith prepared an 800 page cookbook dedicated to sharing his favourite meat recipes. The book is all about nose-to-tail cooking, and creating flavours that POP by using simple, wholesome ingredients.

Thank You Chef Keith Sarasin!

Whatever Chef Keith does, you know it will be with passion, heart, soul, and care. His story speaks volumes — and I’m more than certain his food expresses so much more. I am so incredibly inspired by his ability to transform his personal memories into recipes, then to use his recipes to create memories for his guests. It’s all about the experience. Food is far more than sustenance — it’s a way to connect, to express yourself, and to open your eyes to appreciate someone else’s world.

Thank you SO MUCH to Chef Keith for sharing your story. I am so incredibly honoured to have had the chance to speak with you and learn about your inspiration behind the plate.

If you’re interested in following Chef Keith’s journey, follow him on instagram HERE.

Looking for more from Chef Keith?? Grab more of his tasty tips by…

Founder of kenzieosborne.com, sharing stories “behind the plate” from chefs and home cooks across the world. Instagram @chefkenzieosborne. Twitter @Chef_Kenzie