Chef Lauren Cartmel returns to Vancouver Island to open Ma Maison and provides a favourite cheesecake recipe.

Where were you born and where did you grow up?

I was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba and I grew up on Vancouver Island in Ladysmith.

How long have you been at Ma Maison and where were you before that?

I opened Ma Maison in March this year, and before that I was in LA for many years. I ran Messhall in Los Feliz, Comme Ça in West Hollywood, and the Polo Lounge in the Beverly Hills Hotel. Before LA I was in London at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea.

Why did you decide to become a chef?

Mrs. Helmkay, my high school home ec teacher, really inspired and encouraged me, so I decided to enrol at the culinary program at VIU (which was still Malaspina College at that time).

What’s the one ingredient you can’t live without?

That’s a tough one! I’d have to say olive oil, then butter, then lemon.

What is your go-to meal when you’re low on time?

At home it’s tacos. It’s something my kids will actually eat.

What would your last meal be?

Dinner with friends at Osteria Mozza’s mozzarella bar.

What is the best recent food trend?

Eating more local, but I think that’s an old trend that happily has come back to us.

What is the most overrated recent food trend?

Sous vide red meat. I’ll take a charcoal grill any day.

What is a good simple piece of advice for pairing wine and food?

Pair like with like if you’re unsure. Big bold flavours can take a big wine; delicate food flavours will need a softer wine. When in doubt ask an expert. I always ask for recommendations when looking for something new. We have such great vineyards and wine stores to choose from on the island.

What is your favourite cuisine to cook?

French.

What is your favourite cuisine to eat?

Italian.

When are you happiest at work?

When a farmer or forager walks through my door holding a box to surprise me.

When are you happiest outside of work?

River days, farmers’ market shopping and hiking.

Can you share an easy, seasonal recipe for a quick bite this winter? See below.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

2 lbs cream cheese

1 3/4 cups sugar

2 cups sour cream

1 3/4 cups pumpkin purée

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/8 tsp ground clove

1/4 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp grated nutmeg

5 eggs

In a food processor, thoroughly purée cream cheese, sugar, sour cream, pumpkin and spices. Then add eggs and purée until incorporated, about 1 minute.

Pour into prepared cake pan with crust. Bake 1 hour at 300º F, then remove from oven and cool. Refrigerate 3 hours before serving.

Crust

1 1/2 cups graham crumbs

2 Tbsp sugar

5 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

1/2 tsp salt

Mix ingredients in a bowl, then press into a non-stick springform cake pan. Bake at 350º F for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and cool. Set aside until ready to fill with cheesecake mix.

Find out more about Chef Lauren Cartmel and her restauarnt Ma Maison (in Saltair near Ladysmith) at her site here.

– Story by Angela Cowan Photography by Don Denton

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