Working with food was, and continues to be, a major passion in her life, but the demanding schedule that comes with cooking in restaurants was not exactly what one local cook had in mind for herself.
“I’ve been involved with food my whole life,” said Carly Minish, Owner and Red Seal Chef of Smak Dab Foods Ltd. “My grandma was a dietitian, my mom was a really good cook and I’ve always been very involved with food. So when I had to make the decision where to go for school, culinary school was a natural fit.”
Carly attended the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology’s culinary school in Edmonton. Carly had considered staying in Winnipeg, but a volleyball scholarship tipped the scales in Alberta’s favour.
“After culinary school, I moved back to Manitoba and started apprenticing here.”
“I was really impressed by how food-centred this city is, and I really like that.”
Carly mentioned popular events like Raw Almond and Grazing in the Field as some examples of how Winnipeggers love their food.
When Carly returned to Winnipeg after graduating from culinary school, working in a restaurant kitchen wasn’t quite cutting the mustard.
“I liked working in restaurants, but I knew it wasn’t something I was going to be going for the rest of my life. I knew I was going to keep working in food, but not necessarily in restaurants.”
After taking cooking classes in high school, as well as taking part in cooking competitions, Carly realized that food was far more appealing than sitting in a university lecture hall.
“I was always a very active, hands on person. So a trade was something that naturally worked for me.”
After a gruelling first year, Carly left her volleyball team to focus fully on cooking.
After graduation, Carly worked at Fusion Grill on Academy. Their use of local ingredients played a lot into how Carly uses local ingredients now.
A Nice Spread
“In culinary school, you learn that mustard is one of those ingredients that is used so widely in cooking, like in dressings, marinades and vinaigrettes. It’s that one thing that makes you go ‘aha, that’s what makes it so much more delicious’.”
“One year, I was so poor at Christmas that I decided to make gifts for my family. I thought ‘well mustard’s different,’” said Carly. “I looked up some recipes, made some mustard and gave it to my family, and everyone really loved it.”
“I’ve always loved mustard and I started playing around with different flavour combinations you can do with mustard. I didn’t want to do jam, because that was already done locally, but mustard was something that nobody was doing in Manitoba.”
Becoming Smak Dab
“I left Fusion Grill in May or June of 2014. I wanted some time off, and wanted to attend my brother’s wedding. I did that, and then was trying to figure out what I wanted to do when my mother, Jill, suggested I try going to a farmers market. It took a little bit of courage, and took a while to convince myself to do it, but I was so happy I did and it went from there.”
Home Town Cooking
While Smak Dab distributes from the city of Winnipeg, production occurs in Swan River. Why? It’s Carly’s home town, and it’s where her “employees” live.
“It’s my home town,” said Carly about Swan River. “My parents live there, so they’re like my employees. And we have a really beautiful commercial kitchen there. Even though it’s five hours away from the city, it’s really nice. I don’t have to hire my parents on a consistent basis, just whenever I need them. It’s a little bit of a vacation to go out there once a month. My parents are very important to Smak Dab, and I don’t think it would succeed if it weren’t for them.”
“People say ‘you should hire people to do the production for you’ but I don’t want to give that up,” said Carly. “ I would rather hand over the sales and the distribution, as I still want to make the product.”
Carly is talking to a distributor in Oakville, Ontario as she looks to get Smak Dab into the Toronto and Ontario market.
Smak Dab mustard is available in more than 35 retail locations around the province, and is used by almost 20 restaurants. For more information about the products, and where to find them, visit the website at SmakDab.ca