The new regional executive chef for the Grand Villa Casino, Shelley Robinson — and first-season Chopped Canada winner — admits the heavy influence of her grandmother led her to a passionate career in cooking. “My grandparents had a farm in the Okanagan,” she retells, “so I grew up around that: the food, cooking, and sharing around a big table and people laughing. I really got to know, love, and understand that as a young person.” This philosophy has guided her in her career, and now brings her from Vancouver to Edmonton for the new Atlas Steak + Fish and Match restaurants.
In creating her dishes, Robinson’s inspired by the quality of the ingredients. “[It’s] the driving force in any menu,” she says, “I always want to ensure that I know where the product comes from.” In the brand new space, Robinson’s also been inspired by Atlas’s Josper oven, which is a combined grill and oven. “The larger cuts of meat — the cowboy steaks and our Tomahawk — really benefit from that long, slow cooking over the mesquite charcoal,” she explains. And though Atlas may appear to be an upscale restaurant, Robinson stresses it’s still very approachable. “It’s a beautiful, lush room to sit in,” she says, “but we have people come here before the hockey game in their Oilers jerseys, and that’s perfectly okay.” She’s excited about being connected to Rogers Place and the captive and continuous audience she has to create dishes for. “It’s very fast-paced, very high energy,” she explains. “I’ve never worked in a casino, so it’s a whole new feeling. I feel like I’m on vacation in Las Vegas every day when I come into work.”
As to her reason for moving to the city, Robinson offers, “I see Edmonton as a very emerging food scene… I think there’s been a little bit of a lack of profile for Edmonton, so hopefully I can help bring a bit of awareness for the destination traveller that we have some great restaurants here.” Robinson is also motivated to continue to collaborate with other Edmonton chefs and educate and provide opportunities for young cooks. And when she’s not working hard and testing new tools in the kitchen? “I’m really interested in learning more about the trails,” she says. “I know there’s going to be a lot of great cross-country skiing here in the winter.”