By Jenni Sheppard
Andrea Alridge’s lifelong passion for food and cooking may have had simple beginnings during her childhood in Jamaica, but these days she’s cooking up a storm at CinCin. Alongside Executive Chef Andrew Richardson, the Chef de Cuisine and her talented team serve up award winning modern Italian fare in downtown Vancouver every night.
The seasonal dishes on the menu are myriad, including fried zucchini blossoms with montasio, stinging nettle and ricotta tortelli, and whole branzino with lemon and cavolo nero.
To find out more about the heart behind the heat, we spoke to Alridge about her remarkable rise from irrepressible childhood foodie to inspirational chef extraordinaire.
How did you first get interested in cooking?
I became interested in cooking when I was eight years old. I was in Jamaica with my family and my dad and uncle had taught me about the art of butchery.
My grandmother had then prepared the most amazing Sunday meal using the whole animal, and from that day on, I knew this is what I truly wanted to do. I will never forget that meal, as all my senses were engaged. It was a magical moment.
What is the first dish you remember cooking?
The first dish I ever made was probably scrambled eggs. I loved eating eggs when I was young and become obsessed with trying to cook them in a variety of ways.
I’d wake up early most weekends and try to cook for my mom and dad and show them all the different ways you could cook an egg. When I look back, I must have cooked some interesting concoctions, but my parents were always so encouraging.
When did you decide to become a chef?
I decided to become a chef just after I graduated from high school.
I had chosen a promising career path in graphic design. There was a day in my IT class where I had been working on a project for days and it just dawned on me that I couldn’t sit in front of a computer screen for the rest of my life.
It was the moment that I realized I had too many ideas and my hands needed more than a mouse and keyboard. They needed to create in all forms.
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Your first job in the restaurant business was at Cactus Club Cafe. How did that go?
My first job at Cactus Club Cafe definitely opened my eyes to the industry. My sister really pushed me to work with her there, because of their programs.
It did teach me a lot about the fundamentals of basic cooking skills and how to work as a team. My fondest memories are about the crew that I worked with in my early days as a cook.
Next you moved to Raincity Grill and worked your way up to Sous Chef, while taking the Culinary Arts program at Vancouver Community College. What was that like?
Working at Raincity Grill had such a great charm to it. It was my first “real” small kitchen.
My Chef at the time, Jen Peters, was so knowledgeable and saw potential in me that I hadn’t realized. She threw me into pastry and garde manger, which I had zero experience in.
She worked very close with me and really made an effort to help me hone my skills. She promoted creativity and helped all of us thrive in that kitchen.
The most memorable moments were the fireworks in the summertime. The restaurant would be packed, the services were long and stressful, but at the end, we would all sit on the roof and just watch the show.
You joined CinCin as Chef de Partie, before being promoted to Chef de Cuisine. What’s your daily work like now?
Being the Chef de Cuisine at CinCin is rewarding, as it is all encompassing, from menu development and scheduling to working the line. Essentially, I’m responsible for the kitchen and to ensure that it moves forward in tandem with the front of house.
My mornings always start with lots of coffee, emails, reading reviews, and checking the sales from the previous night. On arrival at the restaurant, I usually will work the pass, so will help the entree section with their prep for the night.
I’ll help in putting deliveries away and making sure the team is ready for service with their mise en place. All of us are responsible for creating a staff meal for 3 pm. It’s our family time, so I’m very adamant that we all sit down and relax.
During this time, I’ll create the daily fresh sheet and go over it with the team. It will usually have anywhere from two to three features for the day.
By 4 pm, I begin setting up the line with the kitchen team and armed with our coffees, we’re ready to go for service. The doors open at 4:30 pm and the show begins.
After service, we all clean the kitchen together, so it’s ready to go for the next day. Once the cooks go home, I’ll go to the office, where I will approve hours, check more emails, work on schedules, and any other important needs for the kitchen.
What’s the best thing about being Chef de Cuisine at CinCin?
Being able to work with my team. We are close and most of all – a family. We respect and support each other. I really do love watching them grow as chefs every day.
What influence has your Jamaican heritage had on your career?
My Jamaican heritage has had a tremendous influence on my career. My roots go deep and food has always been a very important part for both sides of my family.
In Jamaica, fresh is always best, and the people are proud and intuitive with nature. Quite a bit of the population will grow their own produce and if they can’t, they will search far and wide for the best product they can find.
That is something my father has always stressed when I was growing up. Our bodies are all we have and we need to treat them with great respect, especially with how we fuel them.
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What has been your proudest achievement as a chef so far?
Well honestly, I’m fairly young and still learning. I’ll never want to stop learning, but becoming Chef de Cuisine at CinCin is probably my proudest achievement to date.
What advice would you give to aspiring chefs?
“Don’t rush yourselves.” Becoming a chef takes a lot of time, patience and sacrifice. At the end of the day, you should always have peace in your heart.
To all the chef’s out there, I say, “Just enjoy it.”
What are your hopes for your own future career?
I would really love to own a farm-to-table restaurant. To be able to grow, cultivate, and cook from my own land and be self-sustaining.
If you could cook for anyone, who would it be?
If I could cook for one special person, it would be my grandma Vie, who we recently lost. She taught me so much about food and didn’t even realize the effect it had on me.
I wish she could see the love for food that she sparked in me more than 20 years ago.
CinCin Ristorante + Bar is located at 1154 Robson Street (between Thurlow and Bute), Vancouver, BC, V6E 1B2. Dinner is served from 5 pm to 11 pm.
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