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YXE Chefs at Home: Jason Strohan and Cher Diller


As we walked through the darkened dining room of St. Tropez Bistro on a recent midday Monday, owners Jason Strohan and Cher Diller said they were very excited to open to the public again on June 12.

They’d read and re-read the guidelines put in place by the Saskatchewan Health Authority; thus the tables are separated by at least six feet, multiple hand sanitizer dispensers are placed on the walls and later that evening they would go through the new protocols with their staff.

Like so many restaurants everywhere, St. Tropez had to switch up its business this spring, after the global pandemic pretty much threw everyone for a loop.

Strohan and Diller wanted to continue to feed their loyal patrons the made-from-scratch, fresh and inspired locally sourced fare for which they’ve been known for more than 40 years, so they offered a variety of Bistro Pantry meals for takeout. The planned to continue that after the restaurant reopened.

Cher and Jason led us through the large, charming space, to the small but mighty kitchen at the back of the building.

Jason’s parents opened the Bistro in 1979, originally on Third Avenue. In 1998 the family purchased a landmark brick building on Second Avenue South with the eye-catching light blue facade.

Jason grew up in the family business, first as a dishwasher, then a bus boy, eventually serving tables. He watched and learned to cook from his professionally-trained stepfather, who was at the helm of the kitchen for the first 20 years; then Jason took over.

Now, Jason largely works the front of house alongside his wife, and doesn’t do too much of the line cooking at the restaurant anymore — they’ve hired a couple of cooks — but he does do prep work, some of the desserts, and makes bread fresh every day (he had some loaves of sourdough in the oven as we spoke). Jason will fill in as needed, and loves planning the menu, puttering about on the Bistro’s rooftop garden and foraging for goodies on the couple’s land southwest of the city.

Jason and Cher spend a great deal of time at the Bistro and Parlour — the swanky cocktail lounge they opened on the second floor of their building. When they have some time off, meals are quick and simple, just like the spaghetti and tomato sauce Jason made for us the day we visited.

The tomato sauce was made in the fall, from the bounty of fresh heirloom tomatoes and herbs grown on the rooftop garden. Big batches of the sauce are frozen in 1L containers and pulled out for future use, like today.

Jason garnished the plates of pasta with fresh garden greens and herbs, a good drizzle of olive oil and grated Parmesan cheese. The finishing touch was a smattering of yellow petals from a calendula flower. While he cooked, we chatted.

Q: If you only have 15 minutes to eat, what do you cook for yourselves?

A: We’ll often be here really late and get home without having supper, so I’ll make a quick omelette or scrambled eggs on toast. Or one of my favourites, Kraft peanut butter. I’ve been hooked on peanut butter my whole life and that’s something I can’t get enough of. How I eat it quite often is straight out of the jar, with a fork instead of a spoon because less of it sticks to the surface.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure grocery store item?

A: Kraft peanut butter. I always think I should switch to natural peanut butter, but just can’t. And chocolate. Both Cher and I love chocolate and we buy the Lindt 70 per cent cocoa chocolate bars. When they put it on sale I’ll carry as much as I possibly can up to the counter. I’ll spend $60 or $70 on chocolate and we’ll store it in our chocolate cupboard.

Q: What are your favourite Saskatchewan ingredients to cook with?

A: We’ve really gotten into foraging on our land we bought a few years ago and we love picking berries — haskaps, Saskatoon berries, raspberries, chokecherries, and recently buffalo berries. I always thought they were inedible, but after doing some research on foraging we discovered you can eat them. They are tart and astringent, almost like cranberries, but we’ve made some sauces with them, and we want to introduce the berries to customers in a new way.

Q: If you could cook for anyone famous, who would it be?

A:  If he was still alive, Anthony Bourdain. I would just love to sit down and share a meal with him, and talk. He seemed like someone I would love to visit with, and to make food for.

Q: Did anyone inspire you to become a professional chef?

A: I really admired Anthony Bourdain. He seemed very real, and he was just so articulate and interesting. When he started his No Reservations series, I watched it regularly and was just so inspired to see the dishes he ate from different countries.

Q: What is the secret to St. Tropez’s long-standing success?

A: I think it’s partially due to the fact that there has always been an owner/operator at the restaurant when it’s open. Someone has always been here to ensure that quality stays very high, and we just really care about what we do.

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Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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