Chefs You’ve Worked For: An Interview with Beaver Sheppard

Although he’s known more in Montreal as the resident chef/funny man of one of the many culinary institutions he’s helped establish, or as a member of one of a multitude of bands, we are excited to showcase Beaver Sheppard’s first solo exhibition as a painter.

In “Chefs I’ve Worked For”, Sheppard seeks to: “paint chefs who have struck a chord in my life. Whether they were upsettingly hands-off or actively suffocating me under their wings, they all tried their hardest to teach me that ‘Chef’ is simply French for ‘Master’. Some are well-known and some are not, but each proved uniquely gifted at fucking with me. The paintings allow me to reflect on the madness they made me endure without having to endure their actual presence. They are some of the most insightful and brilliant people I have ever met, and now their essences are forever trapped in cages of my creation. These paintings are more for me than for you, but all would probably look amazing in your law firm’s office.”

First of all, I don’t think many people know you as a painter— I doubt many know you even paint, period. How does it make you feel to do your first exhibition showing your paintings ?

I just started painting because a bunch of paint started falling on my lap… Friends started giving me old tubes of paint in bags, is what i’m trying to say. It happened so many times that I decided to start painting. I drew for years… I got really good at that. Now I’ll give this painting a try. My dad was a really good painter. When he would look at my drawings he would always say, “You’re Wild My Son… You’re Wild!”. Above all else I think I would love to be a known painter over cook or musician. It’s the sweetest, chillest, low stress art.

“Chefs I’ve Worked For” is an unashamedly direct and self-explanatory title for your show, perhaps you could go into a bit of detail regarding the chefs you’ve chosen to paint— what they represent to you not only in your career as a chef but in your own growth and trajectory as a person. It’s obvious this show goes well beyond just the “chefs you’ve worked for”, so perhaps extrapolate a bit on how your life as a chef has effected you. Maybe also talk a bit about your relationship to food as it pertains to your upbringing as well, how it’s embedded in your roots, your background coming up as a chef, etc.

I painted almost every chef I’ve worked for…. There are a few more paintings. The one’s I’ve exhibited here are all Montreal chefs except for one: Chef Jorge… he was one of the chefs from cooking school. He was a hard ass…. But he told me I was creative and that I could go far if I focused. And then he would go back to telling me I’m shit, like any good old school Swiss chef would. 

The first painting I did had no chef in mind. I just painted a painting and stood back and was like, “Who’s that?”…… Then I went on to paint another… I stood back and said, ‘These two paintings are Dave McMillan and Fred Morin” [of Joe Beef/Liverpool House fame]. I thought it was hilarious. I just starting painting other random things and throwing them to the side. But I always liked the Dave and Fred paintings. And then I said,”I should paint another chef”. Then I kinda thought about it a bit more and painted Jeff Strugnle… The chef that probably influenced me the most as person. He had a tight two-man kitchen. There was no room for error….  And if you fucked up…. He would really let you know. 

That’s when it all started coming together in my mind. I just started banging them out…… No filter….. Only I really know the true meanings. In some pieces rips started happening…. I thought about fixing them….. But then I thought the rips are like the scars I still have to this day from kitchens. The visible ones leave after a couple of years…. But the mental ones will always make me punch walls if I think about them too hard. 

My father and mother were excellent cooks! They were kinda like me though…. They never wanted to eat anything for the sake of eating something. It had to be delish!  They would have dinner parties pretty often…. I was really young. I remember being so excited eating whatever they had concocted. I was so young I could barely remember what they made. I do remember my dad making full chicken curry in a crock pot with canned peaches. He would always rock it over night. The whole house would obviously stink. My friends would be like, “what the fuck is that smell?” (once again reminder I was from Newfoundland). When you looked at peoples’ spice cabinets all the spices were full except for the black pepper which was empty. My mom one time made chicken cordon bleu. I remember she made like twenty thighs worth. I then proceeded to consume almost all of them. I had no limit….. I rarely reached it as a child. My parents would usually cut me off. This one time my mom was so proud of her accomplishment she never cut me off. My babysitter would do most of my cooking… It was always fish sticks or KD. I wasn’t into eating that shit. What I would eat were hotdogs, done by me in the microwave… I was like six years old cooking hotdogs in the microwave making them as gourmet as I could… I couldn’t even reach the stove. I would take out the hotdogs and the buns and cheese and bacon. Put it all together on a plate and zap the shit out of it. Then I would put chopped tomato, onion, lettuce, BBQ sauce and other condiments (I was a condiment whore). That was my main diet. I also was addicted to Worchestershire sauce. For some reason my parents would buy the shit in bulk. I would always take a bottle while watching cartoons every morning at 5am and start dabbing a little on the back of my hand. Yes I had a LICK… I would go through a bottle a week on average. To this day I still think it’s the greatest condiment ever invented. My grandma showed me how to make mash potatoes…. She was a hospital cook. When I told her I wanted to be a chef she said, “Don’t be at that… you gotta weigh all the amounts out and oh be jesus you don’t want to be at dat”. Her mashed potatoes were clouds!

There’s an apparent theme running throughout: many of the chefs are portrayed as demonic, abstracted caricatures. Give us a little bit of background on that— would you generally describe your life as a chef as a positive experience ?

Cooking is the closest thing to Hell…. I kid you not. I’m sure in the 80s and 90s it was even harder. I don’t even know what’s going on now. I’m sure it’s still pretty brutal. I never really was challenged in my life until I stepped inside a kitchen. Cooking school gave me no real window to what it was really gonna be like. I still think about suing my cooking school all the time… Fair enough, nothing can prepare you for what lies ahead. I was a young fawn being thrown into the ocean with a diaper made of toilet paper soiled with chum.

Can you talk a little bit about your palette and technique— the colours are all quite vivid, what was your reasoning for using these to illustrate otherwise dark figures ?

The paintings are bright….. I tried to keep it all pretty light hearted. Some feelings are hard to keep buried. I could have painted them figuratively…. But where’s the fun in that. There was little to no technique used….. mainly because I don’t know any. I’ve had no training.

I can tell you that I attacked them very aggressively. Like most of the shit I do…. It’s gotta be visceral and frenetic. These are my first paintings and I’m very excited to move on to my next works. 

What else have you got planned for the future as a painter ? As a chef ? As a musician ? As a human ?

I’m gonna finally throw in the bucket and do a cooking show. It will be called POP K BANG BELLY…. That’s all I can say for now. CO/NTRY will be releasing our sophomore album ‘CELL PHONE ONE’ in April. Secret Secret Girl will be releasing with Parages Music. I’m gonna debut JOHN SHAPEMusic for Commercial’. And Ricardo Villalobos contacted me the other day to say he’s gonna release the track I did the day I hung out with him and ate caviar, vodka, yay, and big bong hits. That’s a much bigger story…. And I’m too tired to explain. And I’m always down to try what food you all cook…. Because the best meals are usually the ones that you’ve cooked a hundred times.  

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