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Fire it up February: Maisy Pratt

Hi! I'm Maisy and I'm the founder of the Montreal Makers Market and Kitschsy. I consider myself to be an artist/chef and like to weave both through most of my projects. I make my own spice mixes and have started my own pickling company, Pratt’s Pickles, because I clearly needed to take on more projects. I am also studying to be an herbalist and have an extensive home garden of medicinal plants and herbs that I use to make self-care items. I can papier mache anything and have recently made a 6’ Cthulu tentacle, a retro TV turned into a bar cart, and various shrines and altars.

Tell us about your first culinary memory My grandma was a chef and she used to let me play in the fridge and pantry to create "potions" (that night's salad dressing.) I learned a lot about balancing flavors from her. Not all my creations were winners but she'd still eat it regardless.

How did you get into the culinary world? I've always been drawn to the culinary arts so, after years of putting it off, I decided to really go for it and I graduated from culinary school in 2017. It was one of the world experiences of my life and truly prepared me for the grizzly world of kitchens. If you ever catch yourself wanting to attend culinary school in Montreal, steer clear of one that rhymes with Faint Thymus.

What is your signature dish? Any kind of soup or pickles. They're both their own category on the food pyramid for me.

What is your favorite type of cuisine? Indian and Mexican. Bold flavors, the perfect amount of spice, absolute perfection. There have been two times that I've ever cried over how good the food was: 1) A little hole in the wall Indian restaurant in the garment district of Bangkok 2) A little hole in the wall Taco shop on the gay beach of Puerto Vallarta

How would you describe your cooking style? Homestyle. I'm all about comfort and "stick to your ribs" kind of foods. "Hearty" is a word often used to describe what I serve at home.

How do you describe your cooking philosophy? I believe that as long as you like what you're making, you can't be wrong when it comes to food. I was trained in the traditional French method and there's a specific way of doing everything but meh. Your kitchen, your rules. I also believe that cooking for others is one of the purest forms of love so I try to put a piece of my heart into everything I make.

What was your biggest kitchen fail? Other than occasionally scalding a pot, I can think of some of the funniest fails I've had. Most of my kitchen fails actually happened while teaching at the C.A.R.E. Centre which is a day center for adults with physical disabilities. I did a lot of cooking programs there and made many mistakes like setting a cake on fire (marshmallow topping), setting an oven mitt on fire and my best mistake, letting 10+ liters of kimchi explode all over a classroom over winter break when it was supposed to be fermenting. I wasn't allowed to ferment after that. At my most recent kitchen job, I was lifting a slippery 10L jug of oil when I lost my grip and sent it flying but tried to catch it so I coated myself and the entire kitchen in oil while the Chef watched and laughed at me.

Who are your culinary inspirations? I know I'm supposed to say some fancy chefs but honestly, it's people who make food accessible. I really enjoy creators like Budget Bytes. Great food can be cheap and easy. Not everything needs to have burrata or in-house rendered duck fat.

What is your favorite cooking technique? Braising. It's really difficult to mess up and after you do your mise, it's a set it and forget it kind of meal. I don't buy meat often but when I do, every bowl of roasted veg, mashed potatoes, and falling apart tender meat drowned in gravy makes me do my happy food dance.

What vegetable doesn't get enough love? Celeriac. The unsung hero of a stew, roast, or puree.

What are your "can't live without them" spices? My spice cabinet is unparalleled. The last time I did inventory, I had 116 spices. All of them with their own merits but I definitely have a top 10 for daily use. Garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, dill, black pepper, mustard powder, thyme, rosemary, chili powder, and chili flakes. I have a secret spice blend of 10 herbs and spices (not all the same ones as above) that I call "Maisy Mix." Maisy Mix has become a staple in my family and everyone gets a large bag around the Holidays. The family burns through my mixes at lightning speed so I usually have to send backups. If you want to try the Maisy Mix, send me a message!

What tool is essential for you in the kitchen? I have three true loves in the kitchen: the microplane, rubber spatula, and silicone baking sheets. (And I mean a real microplane, no parm graters in here.)

What advice would you give to someone looking to pursue a culinary career? 1) Find a reputable school – or just jump right in! Hands-on kitchen experience is priceless. 2) Don't let teachers bite you 3) Crying in the walk-in is self-care

What advice would you give to an aspiring home cook? Read cookbooks and make Pinterest boards. It's fun to explore different types of cuisine and discover your palate. You can add a bunch of cookbooks to your request list with your library card and they'll be delivered to your closest branch. Cookbooks are very expensive so I only buy them if I've read them and loved them.

What is the most overrated culinary trend? Foie gras. You'd think that to justify the amount of cruelty going into it, it would taste good.

What's your favorite way to prepare an egg? For service: Do I sound like a snob if I say a 63 degree sous vide egg? At home: Sunnyside up eggs and I only eat the yolks.

You're hosting a dinner party, what's on the menu? Depends on who I'm cooking for but I always like to make at minimum three courses. For dinner parties at home, it's usually all vegetarian and 5+ courses. (Think a salad, soup, bread & dipping sauce, something deep fried, a main and a dessert.) For dinner parties where I'm cooking elsewhere, I go all out. 10 courses, let's go.

What are your long-term culinary goals? I would like to open up my own café/catering company that has a dedicated market space to have pop-ups and have a permanent stock of locally made goods.

What recipe would you like to share?

Personally, I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. Instead, I chose to write love letters in the form of homemade meals to my loved ones all year long.

Meals don’t need to be fancy or expensive for them to be good. Simple meals crafted with care and intention are enough to capture my heart. For my “Valentine’s” meal, I present you one of the least sexy meals, my “Clean Out Your Fridge” soup. No matter who you’re celebrating, or not celebrating with, it’s the effort and thoughtfulness of the meal you make that’ll warm their hearts. Friends, family, and partners will love you for your culinary creations, even through your shared garlic breath.

This is less of a recipe and more of a guide. I keep my produce fairly well stocked during the week so I may have more ingredients than most. Use what you have on hand and supplement if needed.

Step 1: Assess your fridge, freezer, pantry, and spice cabinet.

In my fridge, I have carrots, celery, bell pepper, and cherry tomatoes.

In my freezer, I have the vegetable trimmings that I use to make stock.

In my pantry, I have white beans, barley, potatoes, garlic, and onions.

My spice cabinet is stuffed so we’re ready to go.

Sounds like a bean, barley, and veggie soup to me. Let’s proceed. Have a different kind of bean? Use them! Don’t have barley? That’s a-ok. Use what you have or make a quick trip to the store. You’ve got time. This is a two-day recipe.

Step 2: Soak your beans!

I have a large collection of dried beans because they’re cheap, filling, and easy. Use canned if you’ve got them or use an instant pot/pressure cooker if you’re so inclined. It’s your kitchen so do whatever pleases you. If I want my beans to cook quickly from dry, I pour boiling water on them & cover for an hour then repeat the process by heating the pot on the stove until it boils then covering and letting it cool again. Repeat as needed and top up the water level as it boils off.

Step 3: Add all vegetable trimmings to a pot and cover with water. Add any extra flavor you’d like. I’m adding some wilted herbs along with extra garlic, onions, and celery leaves. Simmer for about 20 minutes and let cool. Strain.

Step 4: Cut and sautee all your heartier veg: carrots, celery, etc in a generous amount of your preferred neutral oil.

Step 4: Bloom spices in your veg/oil mix. For this soup, I’ve decided to go for a slight Minestrone vibe (with barley instead of pasta) so I’ll be adding:

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp onion powder

1 tsp pepper

1 tsp paprika

2 tsp Italian seasoning (or sub for rosemary, thyme, sage, marjoram, oregano, parsley, whatever tickles your fancy)

½ tsp MSG

3 tbsp vegetable bouillon

This is just a starting point for my spices. Taste and readjust your soup as needed.

Step 5: Add in the rest of your produce that will need less cooking time. For me, this is my bell pepper, potatoes and cherry tomatoes. I like to add my garlic last because I want an intense garlic flavor.

Step 6: Once you’ve got that going, add in your dried barley. Cooking the barley in the soup will help thicken it a little to give it a velvety feel.

Step 7: Once everything is cooked, I like to leave my soup to cool for a couple of hours then taste and adjust the seasoning and the acid. If your soup tastes flat, before adding more salt, try acid: vinegar, lemon juice, etc. A little bit goes a long way. One of my favorite ways to “beef” up a vegetarian soup is with Maggi seasoning and MSG. I could write an entire love letter to MSG. Pick some up the next time you’re at the store, it’s a game-changer. You can add in your cooked beans at this point.

Step 8: Let your ADHD consume you and forget you were working on this project. My husband put the soup in the fridge for me last night so today I will bring it back up to a boil, taste and adjust.

Step 9: I added more lemon juice, grated garlic, garlic powder, pepper, rosemary, thyme, and salt. Served with a handful of grated parm on top, this dish is now ready to go.

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