When death came calling in Carole Bird's hometown of Wasaga Beach, Ontario she wasn't ready yet. The story is a gruesome one but she tells it with a smile on her face.
The grizzly tale involves a horrific car crash and the heroic efforts of her friends on the Wasaga Beach fire department. Her designated driver was going too fast and the car they were in crashed. Bird was left with multiple broken bones. She says the firefighters, who used the Jaws of Life to extract her from the car, predicted her time was up.
"I couldn't walk, couldn't talk, I didn't know what English was, I had to learn recipes again but I got all of it back — well, most of it, I think," she jokes as she sips coffee on a Sunday afternoon in her Squamish Business Park shop, Two Birds Eatery, next to Home Depot.
Obviously, she lived through the crash to cook and laugh again. Cooking and laughing are two common themes in her life. Almost every sentence she delivers ends with laughter.
The crash came after a return from working and learning at a number of prestigious European kitchens.
"I like the structure, I like the sturdiness, all the yelling and the throwing of the pots and pans...you get used to it," she says of her European experience.
She recalls her time in Switzerland where it was common to have 20 pans on the go at the same time.
"A pan would get slid at your fingers — it means you're going too slow. I went over there thinking I was good and walked into a Michelin-star restaurant — cried for the first three months.
"The kitchen was cleaned twice a day. Every bottle that I used, every wine bottle, every shelf was cleaned. I had to clean it twice a day... my whole station."
One of her European experiences had her working at a hotel run by the same family dating back to 1666.
"That was one of the best spots for training because we actually raised the cows up in the field," she says with her usual laugh to end the thought.
The hotel owners also raised ostriches and chickens, which meant fresh eggs of various sizes. The hotel also produced its own preserves and she made cheese.
Through her time in Europe she worked with a number of very experienced chefs and along the way became known as 'Crazy Canuck' to her new kitchen friends. At the end of her European experience she came back to Ontario and the crash that set her back.
Bird's story, however, really begins at the age of 14. She says she was inspired by her Hungarian grandmother to go into the food and beverage business. Once she got into it she apprenticed in Lake Louise and attended the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. She also had two stints of six months each cooking in Japan as well as in Bermuda.
She came to Whistler to help open Moguls and at some point after that she found herself working in the Art Institute of Vancouver's culinary department. Her days off were mainly spent in Squamish and Whistler. When a friend asked why she wasn't living in the Sea to Sky corridor it caused her to ponder the notion. In 2011, she started planning the creation of her catering company.
She says she takes inspiration in running her full-service kitchen from celebrity chefs like Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay. White and Ramsay are both British restaurateurs and television personalities — both with feisty demeanours.
Her favourite story about White involves a cheese platter prepared by one of his employees in a way that didn't work for him.
"Marco Pierre takes away the cheese and he starts throwing it at the wall," she says, barely understandable through her laughter. "And he's explaining to the guy why and yelling at him at the same time. People keep eating because they're used to him."
Like White and Ramsay, Bird's standards are high. She says that in the last three years she has taken a total of only 28 days off and many of those were due to illness. One was to attend a funeral.
When she isn't crying, she's laughing and there's a good chance she's laughing with a kitchen implement in hand.
Yield: enough to serve four
450g Angus beef chuck flat, one inch dice
250g quartered mushrooms
115g raw bacon, one inch dice
125 - 175ml red wine – Merlot
Beef stock to cover
75g pearl onion
25g corn starch
50 – 100g tomato paste
salt and pepper
Sear beef on all sides until golden brown with medium to medium-high heat. Place in rondo. Sear bacon until dark brown in colour then place in rondo.
Add red wine and beef stock. Heat oven to 350 degrees Celsius. Bring to a simmer then place in the oven to cook for one hour with a lid. Add mushroom and cook for another hour.
Remove from oven if meat is tender and not falling apart. Add pearl onions. Add tomato paste and cook 10 minutes on the stovetop.
Make slurry with cornstarch (a little water with the cornstarch), add this then cook until thick.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Best served with Spaztle!