Chris Velden shares his respect for local, sustainable food.
Chris Velden describes himself as a cook who loves to teach. The 50- year-old, Frankfurt, Germany-born
executive chef of Ryan Duffy’s Steakhouse in the Radisson Suite Hotel Halifax is a selfproclaimed “gypsy.” He insists the best cooks welcome diversity and educate customers and employees alike.
Although Velden has worked around the world, including in his native Frankfurt, he’s always espoused the same philosophy. “Moving is part of your education,” he insists. “You need different experiences, and if you don’t have them, there’s a lot you won’t know.”
The chef began working in kitchens in his mid-teens and graduated with a Master’s degree in Culinary Arts from IHK Frankfurt in 1991. He learned the rigorous, tradition oriented art of European cooking in Germany and Switzerland but was forced to adjust to the laid-back North American approach, which he initially found disconcerting. “At first, I just wanted to go home,” but Canadians had just started to welcome more sophisticated cooking, says Velden.
The toque’s passion for food extends beyond the kitchen to the classroom. In 2004, he began teaching at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts in Vancouver, where he became a steadfast supporter of sustainable culinary practices and developed an Ocean Wise approved curriculum. “If we continue to treat our oceans like we do now, in 10 years, we’ll
just be eating jellyfish,” warns Velden, pointing to the dwindling salmon and sea bass stocks. In fact, much to the chagrin of some diners, he once removed Chilean sea bass from his menu because of the fish’s shrinking numbers.
So, it’s no surprise that his desire to educate and spread the word about sustainability drew him to Nova Scotia. “Halifax needed the attention and the focus on sustainability,” Velden explains. “Chris Duffy’s is the only Ocean-Wise restaurant in the city.
” When Velden moved to Halifax in 2007, he manned the kitchen at Bish World Cuisine briefly until Ryan Duffy’s Steakhouse opened, presenting him with the opportunity to develop relationships with local suppliers and educate others about his passion. “There’s alot of tradition in [Nova Scotia] seafood,” says Velden. “At first I got in trouble for not serving enough local seafood, but I didn’t want to cook anything unsustainable. Eventually, I said, ‘you know what? I’m just going to run with it, and the majority of people were supportive.”
Since Velden doesn’t rely entirely on seafood to sustain the restaurant, owned by Damian Byrne, he chooses meat and produce with the environment in mind. He sources Canadian beef and, in the summer, picks his herbs and spices from the rooftop garden he planted atop the hotel. Inside, diners treat themselves to coastal cuisine, which includes seared Nova Scotia halibut ($30) as well as classic land-lover fare such as Alberta AAA classic-cut New York striploin (8-oz $30, 12-oz $45, 6-oz $60) and free-run chicken breast ($28), all of which meet the chef ’s high sustainability standards. “You have to have respect for the food,” says Velden. “And, you can’t have it if you don’t know where it comes from.”