Shawn Greenwood plays with his food at the Beltliner Diner
How the Vancouver-born chef traded the crazy life on the rigs for the crazy life in the kitchen
These days, chef Shawn Greenwood spends the vast majority of his waking hours in the kitchen of his new diner, the Beltliner, which opened just before Easter by Central Memorial Park.
Their menu covers all the familiar diner fare, including a menagerie of meat dishes ranging from rabbit pot pie to braised and fried pork hock and beans to a game meatloaf made with bison and elk.
"My mom was German, and a vegetarian," Shawn told me one morning as customers started lining up — many for the pickle-brined chicken and waffles. "There was lots of potatoes and cabbage. I moved out at a young age, and you can't eat out every day, it's expensive, so I started cooking and making stuff."
Born and raised in Vancouver, Shawn came to Alberta for the same reason so many young men do.
"I came out here with this ambition to make mad money on the oil rigs," he says. "I did that for a year before I realized what a crazy lifestyle it was. But really, is it any different from working in a restaurant kitchen?"
"One spring break I had a bit of time. I always like to keep busy, so I found myself washing dishes in the Keg, which led to a spot on the line, and I worked my way up."
'You have to be different'
Shawn went on to open Ric's Grill with his first executive chef job at 23, then stepped back and worked alongside other chefs at Tribune and Parkerhouse before opening the small, hip, 26-seat Taste restaurant with business partner Brendan Bankowski. The two also started the Perogy Boyz food truck, one of Calgary's first (the truck now has different owners).
The food at the Beltliner is fun — think Kool-Aid crème brûlée and chocolate milk French toast — and creative, but more conventional than Taste, which a few yeas ago offered controversial horse tartare on its menu.
"A lot of people really dug it," Shawn says. "When you think about it, Alberta is one of the largest exporters of horsemeat. You go to Montreal and it's in the supermarket beside the lamb and the beef."
Now when they come up with new dishes, Shawn literally draws each concept out, envisioning how the food will look on the plate.
"I liked to draw a lot as a kid," he says. "I liked colour, I always had a vision of stuff, and I translated that into cooking."
"Like this Bloody Mary," he says, gesturing to a green tomatillo cocktail made with Serrano chilies, a contrast to the usual tomato red variety. "Everyone does a Caesar, so why don't we do a bloody Mary and do a weird twist on it?"
"These days, there's a lot going on. Other chefs are watching. You have to be different."