Web Bonus! Cooking With Karl!

Enjoying a meal from the cookbook that’s got everybody talking!

It’s not a bad day at the office when Karl Wells invites you into his beautiful St. John’s home with the offer to cook lunch. The former CBC weather man and well known ‘foodie’ is busy promoting his Cooking with One Chef, One Critic cookbook, based on the popular Rogers Television show he hosts along with Central Dairies Executive Chef, Steve Watson.

Now six years in, One Chef, One Critic has become a beloved staple of local television, both for its inspiring meals and compelling guests. For Wells, it’s another successful chapter of an already accomplished career, and the best it seems, is yet to come.

Preparing a meal straight out of the cookbook, Pan-?Roasted Chicken in Cream Sauce (pg. 98), as delicious smells fill his kitchen, Wells talks candidly about his love of food and why he absolutely isn’t retired.


When asked about the root of his love of cooking, the story goes back to his childhood. “It’s a family thing, ”he says. “My Dad was a cook, an actual chef, who worked on the railway. He ran a hotel in Buchans which belonged to the mining company and he cooked there as well. He also cooked on the base in Gander during the Second World War, then he got into the grocery business and he was a butcher as well. I watched my Dad cook when I was growing up, it was brilliant. He did everything with a lot of ease.”

Growing up with an appreciation of food and the art of preparing it, Wells has been judging cooking competitions for years, contributes to the Telegram with local restaurant reviews, and of course helps steer the One Chef, One Critic ship with Steve Watson on Rogers. The show, admittedly run on the meagre budget that comes with community programming, has enjoyed immense success. And, a huge part of that success comes down to the entertaining chemistry between Wells and?Watson.

The two originally met during a Christmas weather segment about stuffing a turkey in the early 1990s. “That was the first time Steve had ever appeared on TV. I thought ‘God, what have I created?’ It was obvious to me he was a big ham. I had a ham stuffing a turkey,” he says with a laugh.

Wells says that Watson’s first television spot turned into many more. “It was after that, he really embraced the idea of being on TV, and I?had him on after that. NTV?had him on tons of times. When we decided to do the show, I thought, Steve; great choice and there was already a relationship between him and Rogers. That’s how it all started.”

Now with six years of One Chef, One Critic under their belts, the unlikely duo of a chef and a critic has blossomed into a great friendship, Wells adds.
Part of the design of the show, is weekly guests, from local celebrities and politicians to artists and even high profile members of the corporate community. These guests help prepare and eat the meal at hand, as well as discuss topics and issues they’re interested in. Looking back, even Wells admires the wonderful list of guests the show has had. Even a certain Republic of Doyle star, when the hit show was still just a pipe dream.

“We’ve had practically every star of Republic of Doyle, starting with Allan Hawco, who actually wasn’t doing ROD when he was on the show,” says Wells. “He was just somebody I thought was an interesting guy. I’d seen him act and he was really unknown. I?just thought he was a cool actor. When he was on the show, he said he was trying to get a TV show going; a Rockford Files type show set in St. John’s. I think the next year, they were actually shooting Republic of Doyle. The first mention of ROD?was on this show,” he adds with a smile.
While he does admit the show has been a little light on politicians, Wells says Liberal MP Yvonne Jones was once a guest, at the height of her public battle with breast cancer.
“We had one politician on the show, that was Yvonne Jones, it was after she had been treated for breast cancer. I really wanted to highlight that and talk to her about that experience because I thought it would be helpful to people,” says Wells.

One Chef, One Critic success

One Chef, One Critic is actually filmed at Wells’ beautifully styled home, but he says keeping things running beautifully can take a lot of work. “Most of the time and energy is spent on planning, because when you’re shooting a show over two weeks, to get it all to run like clockwork, perfect, you have to put a lot of planning into it. You have to make sure you pick the right guests. The guests you want are the ones who are going to show. Over the years we’ve had a couple of no shows.”
And of course it isn’t just Wells and Watson that get the show off the ground. “We use a combination of volunteers and a few people who are employed by Rogers, like the people who operate the video switcher, the hightly technical jobs that someone has to do fairly proficiently,” he says. “We shoot 14 episodes within a couple of weeks, so you have to have people that know what they’re doing. We have volunteer camera men, makeup people and guest relations people and dishwashers,” he adds with a laugh. “When you’re doing two shows a day, you’ve got a lot dishes!”
As for the show’s future, anything goes for now. “The future of the show always depends on whether myself and Steve want to continue doing it. It also depends on Rogers and their resources. If anything, it’s become another flagship show. But obviously with television, anything can happen.”


The idea for a cookbook based on One Chef, One Critic, was always in the back of his mind, Wells says, and now looking at the finished product, he’s happy with the wide range of recipes included.
“It was when we reached the point where we had done 110 episodes of One Chef, One Critic that I realized we had enough to do a cookbook,” says Wells. “I wanted a cookbook that had variety; smaller dishes, some h’orderves, soups, salads, deserts and a good range in terms of main courses. And it does, it’s got the poultry, pork, beef, lamb, game and even some vegetarian dishes.”
An added bonus? The cookbook is comfortable and approachable, in that the recipes are simple and clearly explained. “I wanted people to use the book. The last thing I wanted was for this book to end up on a shelf,” he says.
So far, it certainly isn’t staying on store shelves. At the time of our meeting, Cooking With?One Chef, One Critic was the third biggest selling Canadian cookbook in Canada. “I’m convinced that has to do with the viewership of the show. It’s really been embraced by the community. It’s stunning, the number of people who watch. People have watched the show, this is the show in a book,” Wells says.
There’s a lot of flexibility too, for cooks who want to try their hand at the book’s recipes, it’s only the baked goods you have to be very precise with. “You kind of have to freestyle with the recipes, if you don’t like this much onion and this much shallot, don’t put it in. The only recipes that you really have to be careful with are the deserts and that’s because a lot of them involve baking and baking involves chemical reactions, so you have to have the exact amounts,” Wells explains.
Much like the way Wells described his father in the kitchen, there is an ease and admirable level of comfort watching him prepare our lunch. Since leaving CBC it seems he has found a new niche, that again has proved very successful. But was it planned that way?

“Again, I think it was probably one of those things that was laying there in the back of my head. It kind of happened in a serendipitous way I suppose,” he reflects. “I had let it be known that I didn’t like the word retirement. I didn’t retire from CBC, I left CBC. I?had done my career there, I could leave without any worry financial considerations, so I left. But I still had tons of life and energy left! So I let it be known if the right opportunity came along, I would be very open to doing something. I didn’t know what it would be, but I?was more inclined to do things which were in my skill set, either radio or television would certainly be in my skill set,” he adds.
As the Cooking with One Chef, One Critic cookbook continues to sell of the shelves, is Wells getting requests for dinner parties? That’s a bit tricky sometimes, he says.

“People are always joking, ‘I’ll buy this cookbook if you come over to my house and cook something’. What I get more than anything, is people saying they’d love to have me over for dinner but ‘I’m terrified to cook for you.’ It’s because of the critic handle. I always say, it’s not about the food, it’s about the company. It’s great if the food isn’t burnt, but I’m not looking for five star food. I tell people not to worry about it, cook for me like you’d cook for yourself. Whatever you make for yourself is good enough for me.”

Pan-Roasted Chicken with Cream Sauce

chickenI turn to this easy recipe when I’m in a hurry and in the mood for something comforting. Together, chicken, tarragon, and cream are sensational.

Serves 4

2 tbsp (30 mL) canola oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 boneless chicken breast halves
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2 mL) pepper
1/2 cup (125 mL) 18{6917a57f939011b90ad75988f079dde73e8045115680a65b8bddfaa9c5fba940} cream
1/2 tsp (2 mL) tarragon, chopped

Heat oil in frying pan on medium high. Add onion and cook until golden. Add shallots and garlic. Cook 2 to 3 minutes. Move onion, shallots, and garlic to side of pan and add chicken. Season with salt and pepper. Brown both sides of chicken. Sprinkle chicken with tarragon. Cover pan and reduce heat to low. Simmer 20 minutes.

Remove chicken from pan and keep warm. Quickly add cream to pan. Stir to incorporate the onions, shallots, and garlic. Cook until sauce begins to thicken. Serve sauce over chicken.

Tip: To reduce fat content, remove chicken skin and use 10{6917a57f939011b90ad75988f079dde73e8045115680a65b8bddfaa9c5fba940} cream.

Paired Wine: Concha y Toro Reserva Privada Sauvignon Blanc, Chile

Excerpt from Cooking with One Chef One Critic by Karl Wells with Steve Watson
Published by Flanker Press, 2013

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