FREQ HI-FIVE – Connie DeSousa

Despite her best efforts, Connie DeSousa, co-executive chef and co-owner of Charcut Roast House, didn’t ever become a prima ballerina. Not because of her lack of skill or devotion, but because her love for Portuguese sausage and blood pudding trumped the permanent diet of watery lettuce and rice cakes demanded by the profession.

Quickly after taking the cooking program at her high school, DeSousa fell in love with cooking and enrolled in the culinary program at SAIT. Since then, she’s competed in numerous cooking competitions — more prominent being Top Chef Canada — and co-started her own high-class restaurant attracting salivating Calgarians all over the city, making her one of Calgary’s most well known and most decorated chefs.

Freq: One aspect of your start-up into cooking that I found interesting was how you compared your classical ballet to cooking in the kitchen. How did you bridge the two?

CD: I often say that the perfect service on the line is quite similar to the ballet. It’s very graceful and when everyone is in sync they’re moving quite like we do onstage. It’s quite an art if you have the opportunity to come to the restaurant and watch the way we work. We need to be flowing very precisely to make sure that nobody gets burned or cut because we’re very busy in the kitchen. But I think my many years of dancing gave me not only endurance in the kitchen, but also the gracefulness that is necessary.

Freq: Your restaurant is quite a family affair. You, your husband, your partner and his wife run it. That seems kind of risky, but it seems to be working out so far.

CD: We’ve been warned many times about getting into business with our spouses and with close friends, but I think more than anything, it’s driven us closer together. My husband and I have been married for five years and I’ve worked with my co-chef for over 10 years, so we really know each other very well and each of us plays a really important role in our business so we’re not stepping on people’s toes. We embrace each other and know where are strengths are. It’s going really well and I see our relationship getting stronger as the years move on.

Freq: What was it like being on Top Chef Canada? It must have been stressful compared to all the other competitions you’ve been in.

CD: Definitely! Most of that comes from is the fact that it’s broadcast on national TV, but it was more stressful for me because we had just opened Charcut only six months prior. And then just being on the show is stressful unto itself. They keep you sequestered from the rest of the world. We often said it was like being in prison. We had to have chaperones everywhere we went, they kept us in the dark and you’re really running on adrenaline. I know I didn’t win, but I don’t feel like I lost. I was the only woman in the finals, and I made it to the finals, which was great unto itself.

Freq: You’re a world-class chef, you’ve studied and competed all over the world, so… why Calgary? It’s not really the culinary epicenter of this country, let alone the world.

CD: That’s a great question. I think we kind of got the travellers’ bug out of us really early on. I think in the hospitality industry it’s really easy to travel. It’s a great way to learn new things and see new cultures. Calgary is quickly becoming very metropolitan and very cutting-edge. Calgarians have travelled all over the world [and] want to eat food like they’ve eaten in Paris, Berlin, or San Francisco and it’s great that we can produce that kind of food in Calgary so they don’t have to leave.

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