BEHIND THE COUNTER WITH EXECUTIVE CHEF AARON SURMAN OF 49TH PARALLEL COFFEE ROASTERS/LUCKY’S DOUGHNUTS
Feeling lucky? This holiday season, we wanted to get festive with some good ol’ fashioned dunkers from one of the biggest names in town: Lucky’s Doughnuts (out of 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters). As you may know, we at TEAMCHOMP are not shy about being some of the nosiest Joe’s around, and we wanted to find out the WHAT, HOW and WHY behind the new menu at 49th Parallel, including a holiday selection that dropped this season from Lucky’s Doughnuts. What better way to see what’s up than to hit up the Executive Chef, Aaron Surman? We were LUCKY enough (it’s starting already) to have a chance to chat with Aaron at 49th Parallel’s newest location at 689 Thurlow St. Vancouver in the heart of the Downtown Vancouver business district.
In his home country of Australia, Aaron began building his professional career at the age of 15 (side note: when I was 15, I probably just learned how to cook rice with a rice cooker). During his time there, he worked at the country’s top patisserie, Le petit gateau and the country’s top restaurant, Vue de monde. After leaving the land down under for Canada, Chef Aaron headed a pastry team at L’Abattoir for about 2 years where he became a visionary for the local pastry scene. With such an impressive resume, it’s no surprise why he is now the innovator behind Lucky’s Doughnuts – with signatures such as the now trending Sourdoughnut.
TEAMCHOMP: What are some of the things you did to prepare for this new locations?
Aaron: You’ve really got to do your research. Before we opened this location, I walked around the block at 6am just checking out what other coffee shops were open in the area. While we were building, I was walking the block everyday and getting lunch just to see what was going on. I remember, I was shown the drawings and I redesigned a lot of the line and how the whole section would work… I looked at the original drafts and said ‘this is not going to be functional’, so I provided my input.
T: How hands on are you when you’re running such a large operation?
A: Full design of the line, recipe development and teaching. I was actually running the line this morning. You’ve got to really know what’s going on in the place – don’t just walk in and have quick a look around. If you make yourself functional one day a week, you feel it straight away. You go in there to do something and one of the chefs might be like, ‘oh we don’t have that at the moment.’ I went in to help them with the floor the other day and the squeegee wasn’t pulling the water properly because it was worn down to a plastic nub. I said to my staff ‘tell me and we will get another one, it’s only 8 dollars haha.’ Now they’re loving it, they’ve got this new one. You’ve got to get in there. I try to do a day in each cafe and really get in there.
T: Your new menu includes savoury items such as your Eggburgers, tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind these new additions? Do you plan to add these to all your locations?
A: The brunch scene in Vancouver is outrageous. I’ve seen places like Eggslut who do their take on egg sandwiches and it made me want to develop a recipe, one with avocado, and add it to the menu. I was actually looking down at the Kits area. I’m not quite sure if the the heavy Eggburgers will work down there. I know avocado, eggs and toast – those things will sell. I don’t know about pumping out fatty bacon there. It would work at Main Street though.
T: Is there much pressure for you to create something that looks beautiful to post on Instagram?
A: There is and there isn’t. Sometimes you get a doughnut in the cabinet that looks perfect. Then when we take it out, it can get destroyed – especially like the glazed ring on the sourdough. Once it’s set, you take it out with the tongs it can get shattered. Somebody might bring it home and take a photo of it… It ends up on Instagram and people go, ‘okay this doughnut has bad glaze.’ Then I get emails about it. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to balance it all. I’m not going to take it to heart, some people are going to be happy and some aren’t. I do try to make some things that look good on Instagram but at the end of the day, it definitely has to taste good too. I mean, you can’t eat that many flowers. I used to work at a restaurant Vue de monde which was the number one restaurant in Australia. The place was run by old school chefs. When I was learning how to cook there they told me that if it doesn’t have to be on the plate it shouldn’t be there. If it doesn’t help the dish, don’t put it on the dish. I went to other kitchens where you’d learn different cooking and plating styles and dishes may look really good, but you’re eating half this stuff on the plate that’s destroying textures. I said to the guys in the kitchen, we’re not putting shaved radishes on any dishes. I might only get 100 likes on a doughnut, but sell 3000 of them.
T: Do you feel the need to constantly come up with new and creative products to put on the menu?
A: Yeah I do. I have sticky notes all along the back screen on my computer, I just swipe and it’s all there. There’s an idea folder that I created years ago in word. I can have all the flavour combinations I’ve got and ideas that I want. Broken it all down and there’s doughnuts in years in there. I like to go through a process like that to have a lot of things ready to go and know that it’s gonna work – tried, tested and true. When I used to work at restaurants. I’d have wine dinners all the time when the winemaker would come into town and I’d have to do a 10 to 12 course degustation with them. And then the chef would come up and be like, ‘okay, we’ve got the wine dinner… what dessert do you want to do?’ I never wanted to go, ‘oh we’ll just do this, we’ll just do that.’ I like to know if it’s going to work and it has to work otherwise I’ll just end up throwing something together. If I thought of an idea and threw it together, the next day I would have already made a refinement. Day 3, refinement again and the process would continue until I had no more time for refinement.
T: Instagram is such a large platform full of ideas, visual stories and content. Is it one of the ways you find inspiration?
A: Actually, not really. I had to ban myself from looking on Instagram ages ago because it was just clouding vision. Too much content. I was cooking before Instagram. Now I see a lot of techniques being posted by guys that I used to know and still know as friends. When they post it on there it’s like the world blows up, ‘oh my god, it’s the first person to do that!” But really it’s an old technique. It’s good for them, and it’s good that everybody knows it – people that don’t cook know about it now as well. But I don’t try to look on the internet for inspiration.There’s this company, Sosa, that makes modified food starches and flavoured oils. I used to go along and smell the different essences, write down flavours that I liked, write down colour, write down a lot of textures and then just start drawing lines to refine it. Then once I came up with four or five items, I’d make sure that there was no crosslaps in colour, flavour, texture and then refine the process again. Then I would start to figure out the shapes. That’s how I used to make my dessert menus. Just a massive refining process. I’ve always done that.
T: What’s on the horizon for you? Plans for expansion?
A: I’m looking at designing a facility to do all of our baking in. Maybe come up with all of our dry mixes for doughnuts and bake all of our croissants to ship out to our locations. I’d want to have a test kitchen and maybe add a small store front. Maybe when this place is stable, I want to do a pop-up with our Sourdoughnut in New York. That would be nice. Vancouver is very small, it isn’t world stage. You can create something that’s a very quality product, but it’s hard for it to break out.
Written by: Christopher-Ryan Yu
Photography: Rich Won