Despite heavy fires impeding visitors to Yellowknife over the summer, local chef Robin Wasicuna said he had one of the most successful seasons of his career.
Now that the smoke has cleared, don’t expect Wasicuna to slow down. The creative chef, known for his Wiseguy Food truck and a stint on the Food Network’s culinary TV competition Chopped Canada, is preparing a series of food-based events to keep his customers filled with anticipation over the winter at his weekend pop-up supper restaurant known as Numbers at Bayside, located at the Dancing Moose Cafe.
On Halloween weekend, Wasicuna, commonly known as Chef Robin, will be sharing the Dancing Moose’s kitchen with fellow cook of small screen fame Rich Francis, a Gwich’in chef who recently placed third in season four of Top Chef Canada.
“Rich and I have been talking for I’d say probably the last five months or so,” Wasicuna said. “He’s originally from Fort McPherson, he is Gwich’in…(and) he’s been dying to come back up here. We just started on social media when Top Chef aired for the first time; we hooked up and became friends right away…We just started talking and we made plans to cook one day together. It just kind of happened.”
The event is the first in a new dinner series Wasicuna hopes to fire up at Numbers, where every three or four months he intends to invite one of his famous chef friends from around the country to cook with him.
Wasicuna said he will be serving up some of his signature dishes at the event, like ling cod fritters and beet home fries – plates that are hearty and filled with as many local elements as possible.
“I’m big on the comfort foods,” Wasicuna said. “I’m really big on local ingredients as well – as local as we can get for Yellowknife – that being a lot of foraged ingredients, lots of berries and lots of mushrooms, lots of birch syrup, spruce tips, things like that.”
Francis, famous for his traditional, from-the-land style meals, will be supplying the amuse bouche and main entrée.
“We’re paying for plane tickets, buying all the ingredients; these are hard things to be just self-funding when you’re running a small business and you don’t have a lot of money to begin with,” Wasicuna said.
Ultimately though, he believes the effort will be worth it.
“We’ve always said that we really wanted to just create a culinary scene in this town and to just kind of kickstart it and get it thriving,” Wasicuna said. “We really feel that…it’s not the restaurants and the chefs that are to blame 100 per cent for it; I mean, a lot of the customers are just accepting.”
Supplying service over the winter
Customers won’t have to wait months between samples of Wasicuna’s cuisine. On top of running his food truck, Chef Robin’s Numbers at Bayside has been serving up fine, sit-down dining since September. During the evenings from Thursday to Saturday, he and his staff of five take over the Dancing Moose’s small kitchen to bring flavours of the North to life.
Eventually Wasicuna envisions opening his own restaurant, but the plan needs time to marinate and cook slowly to bring out the flavours, like the most succulent of dishes.
“We’ve got a few local partners lined up and investors and we’re just kind of taking our time with it right now. We want to make the right choice,” he said. “There’s a lot of locations around that are available, but making the smart choice is the only way to go instead of rushing into something. We’re testing the market and everything’s going really well right now, we’re just really kind of content with where we are.
“So far, it’s been a success,” he said.
The chef dinner series featuring Rich Francis will take place Oct. 31 and Nov 1, with seatings at 6:00 and 8:00 p.m. Tickets are selling for $85 a piece, not including alcohol. To book a reservation, or to make an inquiry, call 867-444-9040.