Have you ever wondered what exactly goes on behind the scenes at the Shaw Conference Centre?
Executive Chef Serge Belair leads the Shaw Conference Centre’s (SCC) renowned culinary team that serves over 250,000 meals each year. He has been a part of the convention centre’s culinary team since 2005 and is a beloved personality here. Named Top 40 Under 40 by Avenue Edmonton in 2015 and National Chef of the Year in 2012, he is one of Canada’s top culinary experts. Meet Executive Chef, Serge Belair:
What inspired or motivated you to pursue a culinary career?
I grew up in Gatineau, Quebec. My parents divorced when I was 16 years old and I ended up living with my dad. He couldn’t cook (laughing) so I thought I’d learn to cook for the both of us. My first job was a line cook at a golf course. It was just a simple potato shack, nothing fancy, but we all have to start somewhere! I cooked a lot of eggs and bacon.
From there I moved on to a small hotel where I really learned a lot. The hotel had a small conference centre so I compare it to a scaled down version of SCC. It was here that I got to experience the creative side of cooking which allowed me to grow. I started as a young kid and after three years they promoted me to Sous Chef. I came up with menus and learned the ins and outs of running a kitchen. I moved on from that to a restaurant featuring French & Belgian cuisine. It was then that I attended a conference here, at the Shaw Conference Centre, where I met Chef Smotkowicz. A little star struck, I just asked him for a job and he said “send me your resume”. Two months after, Chef Smotkowicz called and told me to pack my bags. What originally started out as a shot in the dark turned into the career opportunity of a lifetime.
What have been some of your most memorable career accomplishments?
Well, before being named the Executive Chef of the Shaw Conference Centre and being a part of Edmonton’s Top 40 Under 40 in 2015, being named 2012 Chef of the Year by the Canadian Culinary Federation was a great accomplishment (I couldn’t have done it without my assistant and now Junior Sous Chef Myles Fedun. And even before all of this, I’ve always trained and tried to inspire the younger chefs at SCC. I really enjoy mentoring and guiding them. Their success has given me great pride, with many winning Junior Chef competitions.
Top 40 Under 40 was a whirlwind. Basically, the entire Edmonton Economic Development (EEDC) family offered me a ton of guidance and support of which I’m very thankful for. The most difficult part was keeping everything a secret for so long, as that was what was required of each of the winners. The event was so nice. I don’t usually get to dress up as I’m always in my Chef uniform, so I enjoyed having a night out with other really successful, diverse young Edmontonians.
Advice for an upcoming Top 40 nominee: Enjoy it. The time flies by. Soak it all in!
Walk us through a busy day at SCC: How do you prepare? What is unique to your department?
Numbers. You have to know your math. Everything is measured to scale and it’s imperative to be organized. Quality is key, so we try our best to always make sure everything tastes the same from one plate to another and that all comes down to measurement.
What do you like most about working with a team of 30 amazing chefs?
The fact that there are 30 extremely talented, passionate chefs in one kitchen is amazing in itself. This is the reason we’re able to consistently offer a world-class culinary experience to a diverse array of events, no matter what the size.
It’s a true team experience. We notice when we’re missing someone. It can get intense in our kitchen but it’s one of my priorities to make sure everyone on my team is comfortable. I’m not like Gordon Ramsay (laughing).
How do you and the kitchen team come up with some of the amazing recipes we’ve seen featured on the centre’s menus over the years?
Well, I will usually come up with a menu in collaboration with my team. We consider what flavours to emphasize and do a lot of brainstorming. We like to experiment with flavour and try to always give our guests something to talk about.
I’ve noticed a shift in expectations though, especially amongst the local events we host. When I first started here, Edmontonians were meat and potato people. The culinary landscape has changed so much. People expect us to be bold now. We have more freedom to experiment and provide that shock value for the ultimate culinary experience.
Olive oil emolution, lemon custard, meringue chip, lemon sorbet and candied olive
What are your personal top 3 favourite Edmonton restaurants?
What advice would you give to those considering a culinary career?
Don’t do it for the money or the fame. You have to love it, have a passion for it. If you’re in school and not liking it, get out now.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Will you be in Edmonton – if so, why?
My mom’s not happy but I’ll be here. I love this city!
How do you answer the question: Why Edmonton?
This city has so much to offer. I’ve never seen a city embrace multiculturalism like Edmonton does. Before I moved here, I had never tried perogies or butter chicken. The food scene is amazing, diverse, and only getting better. There’s something for everyone in this city!
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