Mariana Brito is the Chef and Co-Owner of The Backyard, a farm to table pop-up restaurant in Regina, SK. As The Backyard looks for a new kitchen and dining room to work in, Mariana shares the philosophy of collaboration, good food and good fun with A Quarter Young.
- You have a global knowledge of food. From Mexico, you’ve also cooked in Spain, New York and South Carolina. Where did your passion for food begin?
My passion for food began at home. Growing up with my grandmother, we had a different meal every day. I have always loved to eat, in my country, tasty food is a given.
- What was the first recipe you loved?
Red rice is the first recipe I loved. My grandma taught me and my cousins how to cook rice properly since we were young.
- What’s your favourite type of food to eat?
I have a sweet tooth. Definitely ice cream and chocolate are on my top favourite foods.
- What’s so special about sharing the love of food with others?
There are so many feelings that can be related to a good meal. That feeling of a full belly is happiness, it also represents a big privilege. And yes, “food is food,” but good food takes us to a bigger and better level of contentment where sharing makes us human.
- Why is the farm-to-table concept so important for you?
Honesty is a big part of who I am. I believe that if we understand where food comes from, we can also respect the people who grow our food, etc. Approachability is a big thing for me. I believe in rustic, real, tasty food. Food that others can relate to and understand. Straight forward.
- Right now, The Backyard is a pop-up restaurant in Regina, SK. It brings modern Mexican cuisine to the prairies. What’s your favourite dish to serve?
I love the Prairie Grits. This dish is inspired on fried beans and southern cooking techniques. We serve it with our house cured ham and sauerkraut. It’s delicious.
- Where do you get most of your ingredients?
I work with around 12 different suppliers. All of them are organic and beyond; committed to sustainable agriculture. I have close relationships with the farmers that grow the food for our restaurant. They are my friends and collaborators. Together, along with other chefs and restaurateurs, there is a prairie food movement shaping up. I think it’s unstoppable now.
- Why is organic so important to you and your guests?
Flavour. As a chef, flavour drives my menu and fresh produce is the secret ingredient to our restaurant concept. Also, sustainability; the future of our food depends on supporting and eating local and sustainable, that which can only come from organic practices.
- Where did the concept of The Backyard come from?
The Backyard started as a research project to discover local ingredients in the prairies. Our first dinner was hosted in our home backyard and was at the beginning of spring 2014. Our friends were amazed to know that our four courses were entirely locally sourced. We learned here we could be up to something.
We launched The Backyard as a pop-up restaurant in May 2015, hosted at an orchard close to town. It was an incredible summer and the response was overwhelming.
Now, we want to open a full time location in the city of Regina. We believe that this will allow us to create a bigger impact as we want to be approachable and available to everyone.
- Who is your cooking inspiration?
Definitely my grandma. When I think of a dish, I always think of what she would say about it. She is 81 and still cooking every day. She raised me always saying, “If you can dream it, you can achieve it.”
- The Backyard is made up of seven people – what’s the best part about working in a group of people who all share the same passion?
Our team is still shaping. Last season there was seven of us between front and back of the house staff. We are a family. We share meals, dreams and tips equally. The best part is to feel the endless support. When times are tough, our team has always proven that we can serve a killer meal even in the smallest kitchen.
- What has been the hardest part of this journey so far?
Letting loose on “perfectionism.” Understanding that with running an organic and local restaurant in the prairies, we are not only “extreme pioneering” but we have the responsibility of educating our staff and our guests. This is the only way we can ever become relevant. I mean, we are talking prairies, even though we have the second most certified organic farmers in Saskatchewan (second only to Quebec), 95 per cent are growing export commodities, so trying to source organic local is a challenge!
- What has been the most rewarding part of this journey?
The friends I have made. When I visit a farm, it’s like visiting a long time relative; always welcoming, always food in the table for us.
- What advice do you have for other chefs, restaurant owners and foodies?
Stick to your guns, cherish your roots and always look for the highest quality ingredients to offer to your guests.
- What keeps you motivated during the highs and lows of operating a business?
My husband, Kieran. He is the incredibly good looking other half of this dream; he grounds me and reminds me that if this was an easy journey, anyone would do it.