It was gearing up to be a busy Saturday night at the Little Onion, a popular restaurant on Main Street in Smithers, when the sous chef walked out and left a gaping hole in its kitchen staff in early 1997.
Some time in the afternoon John Wimbush popped the door to the kitchen, as he often did, to share a coffee and talk jazz with restaurant owner and chef George Szasz.
When the chef told his friend about the gap in his team, Wimbush thought he might have a solution.
His 18-year-old daughter, Aimee, was free that evening and he thought she was ready for the challenge.
Now a popular food-blogger and the author of a new cookbook entitled Brown Eggs and Jam Jars, Aimee Wimbush-Bourque remembers how she felt after her first night in a professional kitchen.
“I worked a night and it was kind of an instant, like a light-bulb moment for me,” she said.
“I loved the adrenaline of a professional kitchen.
“At the end of the night George poured me a glass of wine and said ‘you’re a natural, do you want a job?’ and that launched a 10 year career in restaurants.”
Before she stepped into the kitchen that night, Wimbush-Bourque had been honing her skills at home.
She watched her mother’s handiwork in the kitchen and baked butter tarts for the farmers’ markets in Telkwa using a recipe that appears in her new book.
“I’ve been cooking ever since I was very, very young and it was more my mother that shaped that and instilled a passion for scratch cooking and using real ingredients,” she said.
The values she learned during her own childhood, and her teenage years in Smithers, form the basis of her food blog Simple Bites.
On it, Wimbush-Bourque pairs her recipes with tales of family life in greater Montreal, where she lives with her husband Danny, three children and six hens.
Her images show simple dishes, prepared using whole foods and home-grown vegetables, arranged in earthy settings of timber and other elements of the natural world.
“It’s really a website devoted to wholesome family food with a little urban homesteading in the mix,” she said.
“I hold a lot of weight for a healthy, family food culture which is just a fancy way of saying ‘knowing where your food comes from, cooking as much of it from scratch as possible, being conscious of how it was prepared and being conscious of food waste’.
“That’s a big, big part of how we are raising our kids.”
Family is the number one priority for the former chef, who left the restaurant world to focus on raising her children.
She and her husband married the contrasting worlds of their childhoods, hers in the country and his in metropolitan Montreal, by choosing to live on a bigger parcel of land in the city’s outskirts.
But leaving the restaurant industry didn’t stop Wimbush-Bourque experimenting with food at home.
She started blogging, just for fun, as an outlet for sharing her recipes.
“I was still creating a lot in the kitchen and I’ve always loved writing so someone suggested ‘hey, start a food blog’ and again, it was something I was just instantly addicted to.
“I loved the immediate response you could get from the reader.
“I loved the community and the connections that I’d made.
“It was a way I could challenge myself and still stay at home with my kids.”
In 2013, three years after Wimbush-Bourque started running the blog as a professional venture, she won the Saveur Best Food Blog Award for the best kids’ cooking blog.
Within weeks she held several book offers, something she was prepared for, albeit accidentally.
She said had never intended to write a cookbook but, driven by her desire to share the urban homesteading lifestyle she was passionate about, it had started “writing itself.”
“It really just was something burning inside me, stories I wanted to tell and just this whole lifestyle, this urban homesteading with the family at the centre was something that I really, really felt that I wanted to share,” she said.
“They asked ‘have you ever though of writing a book’ and I said ‘yes I have, here’s my agent and here’s my proposal’.”
The result is Brown Eggs and Jam Jars, which pairs the author’s recipes with her core values of family food culture, the importance of the shared meal and how that can be the foundation of family life.
To coincide with the book’s Feb. 10 launch, Wimbush-Bourque is currently on a book tour of major Canadian cities, and one other location that’s a little off the beaten path.
“I’m doing Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and then Smithers and everyone’s like ‘what, how did that get in there, why not Calgary’ and I’m like ‘because, I have to go back to my homeland’,” she said.
Wimbush-Bourque learned to snowboard on the Twinkle Toes ski run at Hudson Bay Mountain. She fell in love with her husband hiking at Silver King. She did swimming lessons at Round Lake.
After she moved to Montreal, it was five years before the author returned to Smithers, where her brother Josh lives with his own young family.
When she finally set foot on local soil again in November last year, she wondered why she hadn’t returned sooner.
“It was a really, really emotional trip and I was like ‘why have I stayed away for so long’?” she said.
“It’s so far to come and now that we have children, flying out there is so expensive but I vowed to, we are actually going to come back next summer and bring the kids and just discover it again.
“[What I love is] definitely the physical landscape and the beauty.
“The warmth of the people and also just the memories that are etched in my mind from my childhood.”
She said it would feel like a true homecoming when she returns for a book-signing event at Two Sisters cafe this Sunday.
“I feel kind of like coming home from the hospital with the baby or something,” she laughed.
The book also features photographs by her father, John.
Aimee Wimbush-Bourque will be at Two Sisters from 2 – 4 p.m. on Sunday for a Q&A and to share samples from the recipes in her book.