One on One: Charcut’s Connie DeSousa on Classical Music and Rock ‘n’ Roll Tattoos

Although Connie DeSousa doesn’t like the term “rock star chef,” she’s one of the closest thing that Rolling Spoon’s hometown of Calgary has to a culinary superstar. If all of the other chefs are the boys in the band, Connie is our Debbie Harry — as the co-chef/owner at Charcut Roast House, one of the coolest restaurants in town, and a former contestant on the inaugural season of Top Chef Canada, Connie takes on the attention with the same ease she does when facing a pig’s head that needs to be deboned (which, by the way, she did in record time during the 2013 Terroir Symposium. How’s that for rock star?). That said, she’s not exactly used to being a household name.

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“Myself and [her co-chef at Charcut] John regularly talk about how baffled we are by chefs’ status in society,” she says. “I am coming to enjoy it, at the beginning it was really daunting to be in front of the camera and to be on all the time.”

Connie is taking another go at the rock star chef thing this week as she competes on the Next Cooking Expert competition on the Marilyn Dennis Show (which is a daytime lifestyles show here in Canada). All week long, Connie will duke it out with five other chefs from across the country.

Despite the whole rock star chef thing (whether she likes the term or not), when it comes to music, Connie is actually a classical kind of gal. The poise and grace that she attacks a pig’s head with come naturally — throughout her youth she trained as a ballerina, and the music that she spent countless hours dancing to is now what gives her inspiration as she cooks. While she doesn’t play music in the kitchens at Charcut (too distracting), while she’s whipping up something at home it’s classical music coming out of her iPod, not the latest cool rock tracks. Maybe the Tchaikovsky left over from her ballet days or the classical harp tracks that she’s really been into lately aren’t the first thing you’d expect from a chef who’s known for her butchery skills, but Connie actually sees a lot of parallels between working in the kitchen and dancing in a ballet.

“I always say that when we’re on the line and in the heat of a busy service and everyone is focused and in sync, it feels much like a ballet because everyone is flowing smoothly together,” she says. As for actual music that she likes to listen to, Connie recommends the album the Milk-Eyed Mender by Joanna Newsom, Daughters of the Celtic Moon by Lisa Lynne, and “Dream Spiral” by Hilary Stagg.

Connie-DeSousa-tattoo
One thing about Connie that does fall squarely into the rock ‘n’ roll category, though, is a beautiful tattoo on her forearm of a pin-up style model in front of the Charcut logo. We’ve encountered a lot of chefs who have gotten tattoos that somehow represent their lives in the kitchen and Connie’s ink is obviously a loving nod to her restaurant.

“I have always loved Vargas Girls and Pin-up art,” Connie says of the tattoo, which she got at Immaculate Concept in Calgary from the artist Steve Peace. “I waited a year to see this artist because of his reputation for this style of art. I brought him a few images of ideas I wanted incorporated into the piece like our CHARCUT logo, sausages and our dinner napkin (that she is covering herself with). I wanted a strong figure to symbolize women’s strength in the kitchen. They say that tattoos are addicting and I don’t deny it. I do have another one that I got 10 years ago when I turned 18 with my mum (she got one too) but because of the pain, I wait every 10 years to get a new one.”

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Connie DeSousa will be competing to be the Next Cooking Expert on the Marilyn Dennis Show on March 24-28 on CTV stations in Canada. In the meantime, here’s a little something in honour of Connie’s tattoo: