I’m absolutely delighted that I had the opportunity to interview Chef Tara Lee for this week’s broadviews article. Anyone who has met Tara knows that she is dedicated, passionate and an overall super awesome human. 

Tara has been cooking for 17 years and has been the chef at Eastbound Brewing (eastboundbeer.com) since it opened in 2017. This month, Eastbound is turning 4! For those who don’t already know, Eastbound is located in Riverside, 700 Queen Street East, and has a great selection of amazing food and tasty brews. 

To provide a little background, Tara’s Instagram handle @picklegirl, reveals one of her true passions for pickling ALL the things – dill pickles, carrots, onions, peppers… the list goes on. Honestly, I never really liked pickles before I tried Tara’s pickles and now I’m kind of obsessed with them. 

Chef Tara’s famous pickles! (@picklegirl)

I met Tara several years ago when I worked as a server in a restaurant where she was running the kitchen.  It was the first time I witnessed how a kitchen is actually supposed to run. As a leader, Tara showed compassion, patience and respect for the staff.  On the busiest nights, she would calmly call out food orders and delegate tasks, while cooking and correcting more than a few server errors (sorry Tara!). No one was yelling or breaking plates, and the staff actually worked together as a team.  

So, without further ado, meet Chef Tara Lee!

How did you get started in the restaurant industry? 

I definitely took the long way to get into this industry. After graduating university, I moved to St. Catharines to live with my best friend, really having no plan for a future career at that point. It was moving to the Niagara region that made me fall in love with ingredients and an interest in the wine region and how those fit together. I spent the first part of my career working at On the Twenty (Cave Spring Winery) and Peller Estates. 

What’s your favourite part of the job? 

My favourite part of my job is that I constantly get to learn. Being a chef has so many avenues that it can lead you down. I get to learn about the people that I hire in the kitchen, their backgrounds, how they learn, what gets them excited to cook. I get to learn about business, something especially in this last year, has been particularly challenging. And I get to learn about our guests, they ask great questions, give great feedback, and we get to learn about the community we are in.

Has kitchen culture changed/evolved since you’ve worked in the industry?

The hospitality industry has changed immensely since I started cooking. We are finally getting to a place where mental health, fair wages, sexism, and racism, are being called out. There are groups advocating for the voices that have been underrepresented in this industry. More conversations are being had about inclusion. More women chefs are being showcased. We were always here, but people are actually learning about us. There are also a lot of chefs showing that for as many bad examples that there are out there are lots of great working environments. We need these people to help change the conversation and keep new cooks entering this industry.

Chef Tara Lee & Brewmaster Dave (@cleverdave). Partners in food, beer and life.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your job over the past year?

This last year has had no shortage of challenges, that’s for sure. I’ve really struggled with the disconnect between the food and the guests. We have such an open kitchen at Eastbound and I could have conversations, see reactions, see people talking and enjoying themselves. It feels very empty. As well as not being able to have the kitchen crew around. Before we had to close last year I was really starting to feel everything click. We have a solid crew, they had all been there for at least a year (another big challenge I had before Covid hit) and we were humming along. I can’t wait to have us all back in the kitchen again.

What’s your favourite dish to make with beer?

Cooking and pairing with beer is always so fun. We use to do a great special on Tuesday where we cooked 3 different mussel bowls using different beers to compliment the sauces. It’s such a great way to showcase our beer list and it was fun to get the cooks into learning the different flavours in all our beers.

Eastbound Beer! Definitely try some of these tasty brews.

Do you have any tips to share re basic food & beer pairing?

When you are pairing food and beer try to pick out 1 or 2 prominent ingredients in what you’re using. if there are things like blue cheese or your dish is particularly spicy, focus on those. It’s impossible to hit all the parts of one dish. 

What’s the most outrageous food request you’ve received?

When I first starting cooking I was working at a restaurant in St. Catharines and a guest said they were allergic to foods that end in “O”. I haven’t had too many strange requests…but now that you asked I’m sure I’ll get something. hahahah (I’ll keep you posted!)