Chefs at Home: Keeping it Simple with Sean Brennan of Brasserie L’école

Working in food service is rarely a cakewalk, whether you’re a humble dishwasher or a well-regarded local chef and restaurateur. Coming home after a long shift of working with food it can be tough to overcome the temptation to simply get takeout, resort to leftovers, or (heaven forbid) frozen dinners — even for those of us who push paper for a living. But those excuses simply roll off Sean Brennan’s back. 

“We don’t tend to go out for dinner very much.” It’s a funny thing to hear from one of Victoria’s most admired local chefs. Brasserie L’école, Sean’s French bistro on Government Street, is a pitch-perfect example of the kind of high quality restaurant that drives Victoria’s food culture. He opened the Brasserie thirteen years ago, with partner Marc Morrison, after working at Spinnakers, the Met Bistro, the Harvest Moon Cafe under Executive Chef Karen Barnaby, and as a chef-owner at Café Brio. His restaurant is well known for its complex and rich French cuisine, seasoned with Mediterranean influences from Spain and Morocco. But outside the restaurant, things are different.

Sean plays with daughter Violet

“At home I really try not to cook any of that,” he says. “It could be Indian; it could be Mexican, basically just whatever we feel like eating.” The chef and co-owner spends so much time at the restaurant during the week that he enjoys keeping his home cooking separate. “I like to sit down, have a glass of wine, then make myself something to eat.” Sean is a self-proclaimed condiment freak, and many of those meals include a crowd favourite: sriracha. “That’s the late night, coming home from work, making something spicy and simple.”

Sean smiling at stoveHis days off from the restaurant are spent with family, and often feature excursions to local farms to pick up ingredients for the day’s dinner. With the bounty of vegetables and produce available all around, Sean thinks people should be getting out of the mindset of shopping at supermarkets and try foraging for their own ingredients. “You don’t need that many items; you can buy a bag of arugula, a couple of tomatoes, some beans, some lamb chops for the grill and that would be perfectly wonderful.”

In the winter, Sean’s table is full of stews and braises, while the summer promises salads and grilled vegetables. For the home cook, he recommends Alice Waters’ seminal cookbook for Chez Panisse, lauding its market and seasonally driven focus and the simplicity of its recipes. “Say you make a little bit of couscous, dress it with some nice little vegetables, toss it in a vinaigrette, and then just a simple grilled chicken breast, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s gonna be tasty, and then you can make enough of that to last the next day for lunch.”

Sean and his wife Stacey recently had their first child, a daughter, Violet. But even with the challenges of raising a kid, Sean doesn’t see his family’s eating habits changing. “The way I was brought up, my parents were really into table manners and “you’ll eat what’s in front of you and you’ll learn to like it, don’t be picky.” I grew up in a similar home, with an inventive and health-conscious nurse for a mother. But as I told Sean, the forbidden processed foods and sugary snacks of my friends’ pantries often had a powerful allure. “I do love a good grilled cheese sandwich, and that’s not on the fancy bread either — just some cheese and white bread, with ketchup and mayo on the side please. And that’s weird having a six-week-old daughter; it terrifies me having her go to other people’s houses and having them feed her. If she got dropped off with a McDonald’s bag in her hand I think I’d cry.”

Sean’s biggest advice for the home cook is to keep it simple. “A lot of times I think people do too much. If you have good olive oil, good vinegar, basically good ingredients, some good salt, then half the job is done right there. Especially if you’re going out and getting local products, then good ingredients are key, that makes life a lot easier.”

Written By:

Vancouver-born photographer, writer and designer Sol Kauffman has had his hands dirty in restaurant kitchens for years, washing dishes and slinging pizzas. In 2008 he moved to Victoria to pursue a BFA in Creative Writing at UVic ...

Comments are closed.