Al­ways up for a Road Trip

Chef Scotty stocks his Bistro Tour with in­gre­di­ents from lo­cal sup­pli­ers and he’s ready to roll

Grand Magazine - - FEATURE - BY ALEX BIELAK

Scott Yates’ culi­nary jour­ney be­gan with what he de­scribes as an epiphany and never looked back. He’s had stops at top-notch lo­cal food es­tab­lish­ments, and he’s pre­pared gourmet meals for ap­pre­cia­tive guests in parks, an air­port hangar and on Ni­a­gara win­ery tours. He has de­vel­oped recipes, and he has launched prod­ucts.

Through­out, Yates – or Chef Scotty as he is known – ap­pears the pic­ture of un­ruf­fled de­lib­er­a­tion, de­vel­op­ing a busi­ness and a brand de­spite the fran­tic pace.

Yates says it all be­gan when he watched – mes­mer­ized – as a per­sonal chef pro­duced a fan­tas­tic meal for a friend’s wed­ding re­cep­tion at their home.

In­spired, he en­rolled in the culi­nary arts pro­gram at Li­ai­son Col­lege in Kitch­ener, grad­u­at­ing in 2003 at the age of 40. He worked at Dana Shortt Gourmet in Water­loo for about four years, sub­se­quently get­ting the ca­ter­ing op­er­a­tion go­ing at Wild­craft Grill Bar for the Char­coal Group. He be­came Red Seal cer­ti­fied in 2011.

Then, in 2013, hav­ing been in­volved in both ca­ter­ing and restau­rant op­er­a­tions in Guelph, he launched his big black food truck, “Bistro Tour.”

Yates ac­quired the Blue­bird-built truck from the Ni­a­gara Fire De­part­ment, where it served as an on-site sup­port truck for fire­fight­ers. His prior two decades in the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try have proven use­ful in tend­ing the truck, which has some­times bro­ken down at the worst pos­si­ble mo­ment. A less-than-glam­orous part of the busi­ness, he re­flects philo­soph­i­cally.

Jug­gling com­pet­ing pri­or­i­ties can also keep him hop­ping, es­pe­cially dur­ing the sum­mer when he is go­ing flat out. But through it all, his laid-back de­meanour and im­pres­sive re­sults make it easy to for­give him some­times be­ing in­com­mu­ni­cado.

Guelph-based Yates is clearly good at es­tab­lish­ing and main­tain­ing re­la­tion­ships with cus­tomers, sup­pli­ers and a crew of oc­ca­sional servers and oth­ers. His sons from two pre­vi­ous mar­riages, Alex and Jor­dan, of­ten help out at events.

He has also cap­i­tal­ized on con­tacts with lead­ing sup­pli­ers across the re­gion, such as Dixon’s Dis­tilled Spir­its in Guelph and Stemm­ler’s Meat and Cheese in Heidelberg. Since 2013, he’s be­come some­what of a prod­uct am­bas­sador for Stemm­ler’s and writes recipes fea­tured in the com­pany’s ad­ver­tis­ing.

“Chef Scotty’s cre­ativ­ity and de­li­cious recipes rep­re­sent our com­pany very well,” co-owner Kevin Stemm­ler says. “The recipes are bold, full of won­der­ful flavours and won­der­fully ar­ti­san, in ex­actly the same way as the prod­ucts we cre­ate in-house. Scotty takes the very best prod­ucts that Stemm­ler’s Meats has and cre­ates with won­der­ful in­ten­sity. His motto, ‘What Love Tastes Like,’ is very ap­pro­pri­ate for this fam­ily busi­ness.”

And, in what sounds like “Dragon’s Den” ter­ri­tory, Yates has de­vel­oped two bar­be­cue sauces. The first, Oat­shine BBQ Sauce, is based on a Dixon’s moon­shine dis­tilled from 100 per cent Cana­dian oats. A sec­ond, Kickin’ BBQ Sauce, re­cently hit the mar­ket based on Welling­ton Brew­ery’s Kickin’ Back Dry-Hopped Ses­sion Ale; it’s dosed with fresh horse­rad­ish and lo­cal maple syrup.

Po­ten­tial col­lab­o­ra­tions with other com­pa­nies could take the to­tal number of sauces to seven in the next while, and Yates al­lows he’d like to au­di­tion for the “Dragon’s Den” tele­vi­sion show in the fu­ture.

“Bistro Tour” is a case study in flex­i­bil­ity. It’s what peo­ple want it to be, de­liv­ered to where they are. An or­der of but­ter chicken na­chos with cilantro yo­gurt and gluten-free na­chos off a food truck at a mu­sic fes­ti­val? Check.

An ex­ten­sion of a kitchen for a wed­ding? Check.

An in­ti­mate chef’s table for six sis­ters on a win­ery tour? Check.

A base for serv­ing guests at a fam­ily gar­den party, par­tic­i­pat­ing in a charity event, or ca­ter­ing a fine-din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in a grand set­ting? Check, check and check.

Last sum­mer, at River­fest Elora, he was both selling food di­rect to the pub­lic from the truck, and ca­ter­ing to the mu­si­cians.

At a fine-din­ing event, Yates’ truck was dwarfed by the strik­ing set­ting at Hangar 51, a 12,000-square-foot fa­cil­ity at the Re­gion of Water­loo’s International Air­port. The hangar is home to the Water­loo War­birds and seems to swal­low up five vin­tage fighter jets, in­clud­ing a strik­ing blue Cana­dian T-Bird painted in snappy shark liv­ery, and a So­viet-era MIG un­der restora­tion.

The hangar’s gleam­ing white epoxy floor seems clean enough to eat off, a good thing as it was the venue for a semi al-fresco din­ner or­ga­nized by the Kitch­ener-Water­loo branch of the International Wine and Food So­ci­ety.

“I wanted to de-mys­tify food trucks by hav­ing Chef Scotty present gourmet food as part of a very cool menu in a very dif­fer­ent venue,” says Na­dine Mueller, the event’s host.

Ja­son Ernst took charge of the front-of­house setup, al­low­ing Yates to fo­cus on the food. As Ernst sets out a myr­iad of wine glasses, he talks about work­ing with Yates on a number of projects, in­clud­ing launch­ing Wild­craft’s ca­ter­ing di­vi­sion for the Char­coal Group 10 years ago.

“He’s a tal­ented chef with no pre­ten­sions who loves what he does and isn’t afraid to speak to his guests,” Ernst says of Yates. “He has pas­sion and in­tel­li­gence and is very an­a­lyt­i­cal in his approach to food. He moves very pur­pose­fully in both thought and deed.”

The $150-a-head event is a show­case of lo­cal food, be­gin­ning with the passed hors

d’oeu­vres. Truf­fled mush­room br­uschetta fea­tures two kinds of for­aged mush­rooms. A skewer of­fer­ing is a study in tex­tures and flavours – sous vide oc­to­pus sourced from Cau­dle’s Catch Seafood, with Guernsey Girl Grilling Cheese from the Up­per Canada Cheese Com­pany in Lin­coln, and wa­ter­melon. How­ever, Yates is not en­tirely pleased with the firm tex­ture of the oc­to­pus, feel­ing he should have prob­a­bly cooked it a tad longer.

As the servers pour wine, guests line up at the truck win­dow for a plate of colour­ful beet carpac­cio with sheep milk feta from Best Baa Dairy in Fer­gus. As the whoosh of a de­part­ing WestJet evening flight to Cal­gary fills the cav­ernous space, the chef and his team also roar into high gear, plat­ing the main course to ta­bles dec­o­rated with colour­ful dis­count-store toy jet planes.

The pièce de ré­sis­tance is bi­son ten­der­loin sourced from Oakridge Acres Coun­try Meat Store in Ayr. Yates uses the bi­son bones, ex­tract­ing their fatty essence to make rich mar­row but­ter, and cre­at­ing a jus with a hint of added maple syrup. It is served with shred­ded rab­bit from Top Mar­ket Meats, a fourth-gen­er­a­tion farm­ing op­er­a­tion in

“I wanted to de-mys­tify food trucks by hav­ing Chef Scotty present gourmet food as part of a very cool menu in a very dif­fer­ent venue.” NA­DINE MUELLER HOST OF INTERNATIONAL WINE AND FOOD SO­CI­ETY EVENT HELD AT HANGAR 51

Ariss, the 12-hour wine-braised rab­bit finished with Yates’ Oat­shine BBQ Sauce.

While an edamame suc­co­tash was on the menu, Yates found some great-look­ing sweet peas at Mos­bor­ough Coun­try Mar­ket in Guelph as he was pick­ing up the other veg­eta­bles for the din­ner, so a last-minute sub­sti­tu­tion was made.

The truck ap­pears large enough on the out­side, but it can seem cramped in­side with two chefs prep­ping food and a cou­ple of servers squar­ing things away. Yates notes it can also be a chal­lenge to run back to a home base to pick up food. On this night, his son, Alex, makes the care­fully timed trip to a fa­cil­ity Yates shared at that time in Kitch­ener to fin­ish the al­ready-seared bi­son ten­der­loins in the oven, be­fore run­ning them to the hangar in in­su­lated boxes ready for slic­ing.

There’s a pal­pa­ble look of re­lief on Yates’ face when he slices into one of the ex­pen­sive ten­der­loins and finds it per­fectly medium-rare. But he’s less than pleased with the way his jus has turned out, the ad­di­tion of mar­row but­ter break­ing the al­ready rich sauce. He adapts the plat­ing on the fly.

The dish looks fine and, more im­por­tantly, tastes great. The guests are ap­pre­cia­tive, their laugh­ter echo­ing through­out the hangar as they again pro­ceed to the truck for dessert, fea­tur­ing a goat cheese from Blyth.

Af­ter the event, Minto Sch­nei­der, pres­i­dent of the club and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the Water­loo Re­gional Tourism Mar­ket­ing Cor­po­ra­tion, was asked for her im­pres­sion. “It was a lovely event and nice to do some­thing dif­fer­ent,” Sch­nei­der says. “It was the first time I’ve en­joyed Chef Scotty’s cre­ations and he did an amaz­ing job. I re­ally liked the as­sort­ment of tastes, and the por­tions were per­fect. I also liked the op­por­tu­nity to en­joy the food-truck ex­pe­ri­ence for the first and last course.”

Yates says he took on the event because he wanted to re­fresh peo­ple’s mem­o­ries about him as a chef, and for them to re­al­ize a food truck can do fine din­ing. He’s been find­ing such spe­cial events are be­com­ing more prof­itable, the gen­er­ally higher-end bud­get al­low­ing him room to breathe in what can be a very chal­leng­ing busi­ness.

In his lat­est en­deav­our, Yates has trans­formed “Bistro Tour” into a lum­ber­ing yet com­fort­able limo, tak­ing groups of up to six guests to Ni­a­gara winer­ies for tast­ings. The twist is the kitchen comes at­tached, and at the end of the day Yates cooks and serves din­ner for his clients be­fore tak­ing them home. “It’s like a Chef’s Table right there on the truck,” ob­serves Yates.

The idea came about when he won­dered how to use the truck in a dif­fer­ent way while keep­ing the six seats rather than rip­ping them out. He’s even hop­ing to add two more seats.

“One day I just drove the fam­ily down to Ni­a­gara and we had a won­der­ful time: We thought it would be cool to do as a busi­ness idea.

“The winer­ies have been very re­cep­tive. I’ve mainly fo­cused on the smaller or lesser­known op­er­a­tions. The big­ger ones are so busy, I wanted to en­sure the wine­mak­ers could spend time with the guests and talk to them.”

He rat­tles off the winer­ies he’s taken groups to, both on the Beamsville Bench and lake­side, not­ing he some­times adds a dis­tillery like Dil­lon’s or a brew­ery like Sil­ver­smith for va­ri­ety. The win­ery vis­its done, Yates usu­ally stops at the scenic Ni­a­gara Glen Na­ture Re­serve to pre­pare din­ner while his guests walk around, see the sights and use the fa­cil­i­ties.

Ni­co­lette No­vak owns the Good Earth Food & Wine Com­pany, a Beamsville win­ery that is now a reg­u­lar first stop for the tours. Asked how she met Yates, she says, “Chef just drove in one day in his won­der­ful ‘Bistro on Wheels,’ as I call it. We don’t do a lot of groups, but there was some­thing about him that felt right, off the bat, and I said an im­me­di­ate ‘yes’ when this charm­ing, en­thu­si­as­tic young man out­lined his plans.”

She ob­serves that Yates brings ex­actly the peo­ple Good Earth wants to at­tract – fun peo­ple look­ing for a unique, qual­ity ex­pe­ri­ence, folk who tend to know one another, and are of­ten cel­e­brat­ing some­thing. “We give them a per­son­al­ized ex­pe­ri­ence and a very spe­cial­ized tast­ing. And oh my God, yes, they buy our wines, un­so­licited.”

Not sur­pris­ingly, there’s more: Yates, ever­build­ing an evolv­ing brand and lov­ing to teach, read­ily agreed to do a Coun­try Roads cook­ing class at Good Earth’s cook­ing school last fall. And he’s now mus­ing about adding Water­loo County out­ings aboard the “Bistro Tour.”

De­pend­ing on the des­ti­na­tion, the tours cost be­tween $200 and $250 per person.

Ul­ti­mately, there’s no master plan: he’s go­ing with the flow, jug­gling new op­por­tu­ni­ties as they present them­selves, all while keep­ing true to his now-trade­marked slo­gan, #what­love­tastes­like.

ABOVE: Chef Scott Yates slices into one of the ex­pen­sive bi­son ten­der­loins and finds it per­fectly medium-rare. RIGHT: The finished dish – bi­son ten­der­loin with shred­ded rab­bit and veg­eta­bles. Event and food pho­tog­ra­phy by Alex Bielak

Truf­fled mush­room br­uschetta fea­tur­ing two kinds of for­aged mush­rooms.

Beet carpac­cio with sheep milk feta was also on the menu at the Hangar 51 event.

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