Interview: Wandering Bison’s Luke Legault

By the time I got around to doing a review of Wandering Bison, I realized I’d had Luke Legault’s catering a handful of times, I tried frozen meals, mustard, barbecue sauce…

Needless to say I was a fan.

Rather than telling you how much I liked everything, I thought I’d approach this one from a different angle. (Plus I didn’t have any good photos of his food – update: thankfully he provided a few more for this post!)

If you haven’t noticed, I’m running out of new restaurants to try (don’t worry, I’ll have reviews of the 2(!!) new sushi restaurants soon) but would love to talk more about Yukon dining.

So I turned to Luke.

Here’s what he had to say about food in the Yukon…

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Green peppercorn and single malt scotch marinated steak with grilled vegetables and blue cheese mac & cheese. 

 

What is Wandering Bison? And why the name?

The Wandering Bison is my foray into being able to craft and create exactly the style and quality of food I’ve always wanted to. I’ve been cooking for about a dozen years and while I’ve always enjoyed the hotels and places I’ve work or doing private meals and functions for family and friends, this is the first time I’ve truly been in charge of all aspects including just simply doing food that makes me happy.

The name came about because I was feeling very lost about what direction I was headed in my career. I had been cooking around the territory and northern BC but was not truly happy so many nights of sitting and talking lead to discussing my favourite parts of living in the north. I love just taking the pup through the random trails and one of my favourite memories is driving along the highway on one of my first visits north and seeing the steam rising from the herds of bison along the highway. Those creatures have always struck me as so majestic and so amazing but also so good at just doing what makes them happy. That’s exactly who I want to be (even if I can’t be as majestic) I want to be as lazily happy as they are.

How did you end up in Yukon?

About six years ago my wife took a temporary placement with Many Rivers in Watson Lake and loved the northern experience. She came back after her contract finished and we talked about where in the world we could get the quality of life that we desired and Whitehorse fit that wholly. So about a year later we moved out of the downtown Vancouver condo, started a life up here and haven’t looked back since.

What has surprised you about the food scene in Yukon?

I think it’s how resourceful people up here are. I mean that if people can’t find what they’re looking for, they’ll make it themselves vs spending time to source someone else to do it. If the grocery store sells out of cashew milk, they’ll make their own. If they really want a certain type of lettuce, they’re ordering seeds in January to get things planted inside. I love that aspect of being up in the north and how that exists for restaurants too. When Rob & I were at The Wheelhouse, we didn’t like the pasta options we could order from suppliers so we made sure to make our own and that’s something a lot of restaurants in town do as well.

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Locally-raised rabbit with foraged coral mushroom and Luke’s garden vegetables

If someone wanted a Yukon meal, what would you make?

I think I’d go for the pulled pork option made from a locally raised pig and then put together a couple sides from the garden. The main thing I find about people who are from outside the territory that want a true ‘Yukon’ meal is that people just don’t know how much we’re capable of up here so it’s fun to blow their minds with some local awesomeness every now and again.

What’s your favourite thing to cook?

I love making braised items or things that you can’t short cut. Nothing specific but with something like short ribs, if you make time cuts at the start, your finished product will fall lower than it could. But if you slow things down, take your time and make sure to not skip steps, the end will be worth the extra hour it took to do it right. I also really love making pizza on the barbecue and after many years, I finally feel good about the quality of my dough. Baking bread is a tough one since while you can follow a recipe, a lot of the end result is about the baker’s intuition. If it doesn’t feel/look right, a talented baker knows what needs to be done to get it back on track but for someone like myself being self-taught, that has involved a lot of trial and error. I have a Mennonite cook book that summarizes this nicely in that you read about what the finished result should be and it’s “knead until it looks like ____” so you look up that recipe and it says “knead until it looks right”. Yay learning!

What’s a memorable meal you’ve had in Yukon?

My wife and I had an amazing time at G&P last summer after finishing up with the Premier’s Conference which was pretty stellar. We did the whole deal and were there for four hours complete with mixed drinks, wine and multiple courses. Fantastically awesome for sure.

Do you have to get any items out of territory?

Some things I like to use just can’t be gotten here but mostly that’s personal preference. The truffle oil I like is something I can only find at Granville Island or some vinegars aren’t sold up here but the main one that is tricky is that while bison & other game animals epitomize what people think of the north, we have to import from Alberta due to government regulations. Gives me the sads but hopefully with everyone’s help we’re getting closer to being more self-sufficient and can show the rest of Canada what we already know.

What did you have for dinner last night?

Last night we actually had friends over and I made a four course, cheese themed dinner complete with beer tastings. First course was a charcuterie platter paired with Kilkenny Irish Cream ale, next was bacon & duck fat fries with spicy cheese curd poutine (pictured below) and a Saison. Third was a green peppercorn smoked steak with blue cheese mac & cheese, grill veg & Sinister Rouge and dessert was Meyer lemon cheesecake with vanilla strawberries & a Belgium ale. I swear it’s not like that all the time but having random nights of amazing food are what life’s all about.

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Bacon and duck fat fries with spicy cheese curd poutine.

What is your favourite item that you sell under your brand name?

I think for me it’s a tie between my bacon and my barbecue sauces but both are there for the same reasons. I love my bacon because when I think about other bacons that you can get, they’re a fast product that is more about the finished product vs the journey. General grocery store bacon is a five hour process where mine takes two weeks and if it’s not quite right, it doesn’t get packaged. I also enjoy that each package is slightly different since I’m quite proud of being able to use local pigs and it really should be embraced that all animals are different. As for the barbecue sauces, I like them so much because they’re not the same flavours that exist everywhere else. I’ve never seen another espresso sauce for sale or one that is made with single malt scotch. Yes in the end, they’re just sauces but I love that I can list every ingredient in them and feel proud that I didn’t cut any corners.


Thanks to Luke for taking the time to answer my questions!

To find out more about his food, check out http://www.thewanderingbison.ca/

You can find his frozen meals at Riverside Grocery and his products at Wykes’ Independent, or get them right from his website.