Have you ever dreamt about moonlighting as a chef? If your waking hours are spent fantasizing about cooking, poring over Internet food sites looking for the latest and greatest recipes, and your friends jump at the chance to dine at your house, you may recognize your soulmate in Shaun Funk.
A major in the Canadian Forces by day, Shaun has carved out a second career as a successful caterer and creator of a delicious line of sauces, jams and jellies marketed under the catchy Redhead Pantry label. He was also part of a duo that placed second at the Canadian Open Barbecue Championship in 2005. His career in the military was a practical choice which has allowed him to travel the world and gain many new skills, but Shaun has never lost his urge to cook. The consummate foodie was only too eager to sit down and talk about his culinary adventures in a recent interview.1. Have you always been interested in cooking?
I grew up on a ranch in Alberta, eating my mom's fresh, wholesome cooking. I watched my dad at the grill and participated in mammoth pickling sessions each year. I've never had any formal training, but I started playing around in the kitchen as a kid, and I guess I've never stopped. I remember making a caramelized pear cheesecake at 16 that I was really proud of. I now view my time in the kitchen as a whole lot of fun, and I love that it truly represents a return to my roots.2. How did Redhead Pantry get started?
I was working 16-hour days, six days a week, and needed a distraction from the pressures of the job. I discovered I was very content in the kitchen, and began to perfect some of my recipes, like my Gourmet BBQ Sauce. It's still one of my favourites.3. Why did you expand from barbecue sauce into jams and jellies?
One of my all-time favourite foods as a kid was rhubarb relish. I started thinking about diversifying and remembered those canning sessions at home. That led developing new recipes that use a special pectin and allow me to control the sugar. We offer a number of varieties now; my favourite is the apricot jam as it's just bursting with fresh fruit flavour. I also find that jams and jellies taste a lot better at 7 a.m. than hot sauce.4. Why the commitment to keeping your recipes simple?
I find that many of the best tasting foods have no more than about five components. If you use really good quality ingredients, the taste of each really shines through; I much prefer this to fussy, complicated things where you can't really identify what you are tasting.5. What do you enjoy about the catering side of your business?
I like developing the menu collaboratively with each client. I always start with dessert and work backwards from there, because the last thing served at a meal has the potential to be the most memorable. I also enjoy working at these events with my wife, Josée. I enjoy the creative side of the business, but she excels at the practical details. We're a great team.6. Describe the best perk of your job.
I'd have to say meeting and experiencing food with inspired people. I also love the path you can take towards food perfection; once you've experienced that in your food or someone else's, you learn from it and then want to keep trying. Once I get comfortable with a great dish, I like to modify it or rework it from the basics and build an even better dish. The inventiveness of cooking and the goal to always make things better keeps the process constantly interesting.7. Was it hard to get retailers to carry the Redhead Pantry line?
I'm up to 50 outlets now, so perhaps not as hard as you might think. My favourite experience was in a gourmet food shop in Calgary. The buyer opened a bottle of my barbeque sauce, handed it to a customer walking by and told her to taste it. The woman picked up a huge serving spoon and filled it with sauce, slurped it back, and said it was fantastic, then helped herself to a second spoonful. I was stunned, and the buyer took two cases. My dad was with me at the time and he was pretty impressed.8. Do you ever think about working as a chef full time?
Absolutely. Catering gives me a chance to feel some of the pressures that chefs deal with every day. I think it would be a great challenge and quite exciting to run my own restaurant. I may even do it one day, but right now I'm trying to balance all my interests, including as an amateur gemologist and jewellery designer.9. Tell us about your worst food disaster.
I once tried to poach a lovely piece of fish in a maple syrup glaze. It was horrible. There was no saving that fish. I don't think my wife was too impressed.10. What about a culinary highlight?
Every time I go to food shows and talk to people while they are sampling my products, it's a real thrill. Their reactions are overwhelmingly positive and I love watching their faces as they experience the transition of flavours on the palate while they are tasting something that I have created.Retro redheads
Shaun decided he needed to find retro redheads to spice up his labels and the pin-up images he uses range in date from the 30s to the 70s. The BBQ Sauce image "Moonlight Beauty" by Art Frahm is from a 1952 calendar used to promote the consumption of celery, while the Honey Peach Jalapeno Dipping Sauce image is a 1930s pastel of Jean Harlow by female artist Zoe Mozart. Robert McGinnis painted the XX Hot Sauce image for a European paperback novel in the 1970s, and the image gracing the Hot and Honey Ginger Garlic Dipping Sauce bottles is called "Spring Beauty" and it was created by pin-up and glamour artist Al Buell in 1960. Shaun has also commissioned local artists for new pieces of art in the pin-up style to adorn new products, plus he has a few images already in reserve for specific concoctions that will be released over the next couple of years.The Redhead Pantry's Hot and Honey, Ginger Garlic Seafood Appetizer
Shaun's recipe for this must-try appetizer caused a frenzy in the Ottawa At Home test kitchen. Everyone raved about the combination of sweet and spicy flavours in his special sauce and how it worked so well with the seafood. This satisfying and easy to make recipe serves four. 16 medium raw shrimp, thawed and peeled (tails off) 16-20 fresh bay scallops 12 toasted baguette slices, rubbed with a peeled garlic clove or lightly spread with garlic butter 3 tbsp Redhead Pantry Hot and Honey Ginger Garlic Dipping Sauce (H2G2) Chopped parsley (for garnish) Directions: Lay toasted baguette slices on a serving platter. Place three tablespoons of Redhead Pantry Hot and Honey, Ginger Garlic (H2G2) in a wok or large frying pan. Place the wok over med-high heat and allow the H2G2 to come to a boil. Add the fresh seafood to the boiling sauce and watch them closely as they will cook very quickly. As soon as the shrimp and scallops change colour, remove them from the wok and distribute evenly over the toasted baguettes. Allow the H2G2 in the wok to return to a boil and reduce slightly in volume. Do not allow it to caramelize beyond initial stages or it will burn. Remove the wok from heat and with a spoon, drizzle the reduced sauce over the seafood and baguette slices. Garnish the plate with chopped parsley. Add water to the wok immediately after pouring out sauce for easier cleanup. As an alternative presentation, you can also serve the shrimp, scallops and sauce over cooked rice noodles. Written by Paula Roy