Even though it involves hard work and long hours, there is an upside to working with two restaurants. As the Executive Chef of both the Red Ox Inn and Canteen, Sean O’Connor explains, “I work on the menus at each place independently, but sometimes I’ll be working on a dish for one restaurant and it turns out to work better for the concept of the other.”
The Red Ox Inn is older, smaller, and more refined than its casual sister restaurant, Canteen, and both allow for more opportunities to experiment. O’Connor reads cookbooks from chefs from all over the world and experiments with different concepts and ingredients. “You have to challenge yourself and do things that make you feel uncomfortable,” he says. “I love how a new dish can start from a single ingredient or idea and, through trial and error, it eventually becomes something we can be proud to serve.”
Both restaurants will roll out new menu items when the season changes, as the change of weather usually means an influx of local crops. “The hardest part is being patient,” says O’Connor. “I’ll always choose the best quality products, and when it’s in season that’s usually the local product.” This spring also brings their annual fundraiser dinner for the Edmonton Humane Society, where guests get to enjoy a set menu with several courses and wine pairings, with all the proceeds going towards the non-profit organization.
While he enjoys the work and projects, it’s essential to try to maintain a work-life balance, which is not easy in this industry. O’Connor credits American chef Jeremy Fox as an inspiration. “Fox is making great food while his staff work a regular 40-hour week,” he explains. “Too many restaurants require you to spend every waking moment at work, which just isn’t healthy.” The Edmonton chef thus tries to get outdoors when he can, whether it’s walking his dog, canoeing down the North Saskatchewan, or travelling to try new things.