Eric Mah is the executive chef & co-owner of Purlieu. Eric and his business partner Jason Armstrong are successfully running the restaurant. Jason Armstrong runs the front of house operations and was formerly the chef and owner of Bistro 2210, and is currently the owner of Langside Grocery restaurant in Winnipeg.
|Please tell us about yourself?
Eric: I was born and raised in Calgary and have been cooking for about 19 years. I’ve worked in Calgary running restaurants for large corporations and small independent restaurants, Victoria B.C., restaurants in Edmonton, and as an Executive Sous Chef at a resort in Turks and Caicos. I’ve also staged in Spain and Romania.
Why did you decide to become a chef?
Eric: My grandfather was a chef and I would recall most big family dinners at my grandparent’s house, where we would have a smorgasbord of different foods. I would also watch my grandmother cooking all the time and always wanted to learn. Growing up at home as well, we very rarely got take out food or pizza night, it was usually a soup, salad and entrée for dinner. These combined were probably my inspirations for wanting to become a chef.
Did you go to culinary school?
Eric: Yes I did.
Where and how were you trained?
Eric: I went to S.A.I.T here in Calgary for the professional cooking program. In that course, I had to find a job and apprentice under a chef, and that chef so happens to be my business partner today.
I’ve been saying for a couple years that I think Filipino cuisine will be the next big thing.
What is your favorite cuisine to cook?
Eric: I like to cook a bit of everything to be honest. A couple things I’ve gotten into much more lately have been California cuisine, South American and Filipino cuisine. I’ve been saying for a couple years that I think Filipino cuisine will be the next big thing. California cuisine is quite unique in that there is still a lot of fusion which I like (but that term died out about 15 years ago), and South American incorporates a lot of flavor from around the world, which makes it very unique.
What are your favorite kitchen equipment or gadgets?
Eric: Tongs! It’s not a good kitchen without proper tongs. I use them for everything, mixing, flipping, holding, picking up, pointing, you name it. Most people would say a sous-vide machine, or a mandoline, or something like that, but without tongs, you’re rendered almost useless as a chef, so those would be my favorite.
What was the idea behind opening Purlieu?
Eric: I was living in Turks and Caicos at the time, and we were about to get hit by Hurricane Irma. I was speaking to my fiancée and decided that after the hurricane, if the Island was decimated, it would be time to come home…but to what was the question. So I started drawing up plans for different ideas. I had chef apparel ideas, cocktail bars, kombucha manufacturing and a restaurant. I leaned towards the restaurant as that is what I knew best but didn’t even know where to start. That’s when I reached out to my old chef and mentor, Jason. He gave me some pointers and recommendations. When I came back to Calgary (obviously the island was decimated), I called Jason and asked for more help, then just kind of asked, “Would you be interested in opening something together?” He told me he’d have to check with his wife and called me back less than 24 hours later and said, “I’m in, let’s do it!”. We looked for almost a year for the perfect location and all the while talked about what we would do in terms of cuisine and decor, then finally found the right place and went from there.
We looked at a few other locations around the city, but finally settled on Oakridge as we felt it was a warm, friendly community.
Why did you select Oakridge to open your restaurant?
Eric: Jason lives in the area. We looked at a few other locations around the city, but finally settled on Oakridge as we felt it was a warm, friendly community. He talked me up on how they are great around the area, people support each other and get along well. We also thought that what we planned to bring, this community doesn’t already have so we had something to offer back to the community.
What is your favourite part of running a restaurant?
Eric: It’s always a learning journey. I’ve always said that improving yourself or learning is an important part of growing and becoming a better person, and owning a restaurant has a laundry list of lessons to learn. I also love that we brought something different to a community that hasn’t had anything like us for a while, and the “Thanks” we get for doing so is very rewarding.
And your least favourite part?
Eric: My least favorite part is having to be more cognisant of costs and sometimes compromising my artistic ambitions in order to do so. As a chef, it was one thing to create a dish, as an owner, now I’m costing out not just the food, but the plate that the food is going on, the server’s wage who is delivering it, the hot water, energy, rent, etc… it kind of restricts you a bit.
Being told by people that they were excited to have us makes me feel like we did something right, and all the hard work was for a reason and worth it.
What has been your most satisfying moment in the restaurant business?
Eric: Probably the very first “Thank you” we got for opening in Oakridge. Being told by people that they were excited to have us makes me feel like we did something right, and all the hard work was for a reason and worth it.
Published on 19 July 2019