What Christie Peters loves most about cooking is using all of her senses.
Enjoying the aroma of butter and garlic hitting the pan and savouring the crackle of the stove are some of the ways the chef embraces every moment she spends in the kitchen.
Peters is the executive chef and owner of the nationally recognized Italian restaurant Primal and owner of POP Wine Bar, both located in Saskatoon. She said her culinary dreams started when she was 14, working as a hostess at Boston Pizza.
“I always loved watching the restaurant owner come through,” she said. “I thought he had the perfect job.”
But despite working in restaurants, she tried out a few other paths before returning to the industry. After university, Peters took off to Toronto to pursue a modelling career, but as she grew older and realized time was running out, she decided she wanted to learn a practical skill.
“I almost did welding,” she said with a laugh.
Peters ultimately decided to revisit her dream of becoming a restaurant owner, which brought her back into the culinary trade.
“The most important trade and skill you can learn is cooking,” she said. “The celebration of life is centred around food.”
After seeing celebrity chef Rob Feenie on the Food Network, Peters jetted off to Vancouver in the hope of landing an apprenticeship with him at one of his restaurants.
“I just showed up,” Peters said.
She ultimately landed a job at his bistro, Feenie’s, and was given a chance to get started by the female chef who interviewed her and told which knife to bring to her first shift. From then on, however, it was sink or swim.
Peters said her career took her around Vancouver, following different chefs and flavours, and that pursuit eventually led her to both Amsterdam and Spain. The chef later scored an internship at the Danish restaurant Noma, where she learned different ways to make miso and other preservation methods.
“For many, many years, Noma was the best restaurant in the world,” she said.
One of the highlights of Peters’ career, she said, was appearing on the Food Network show Wall of Chefs in 2020, when she sat right next to Feenie.
“It was a full-circle moment for both of us,” she said.
But, Peters added, her climb up the culinary ladder wasn’t always a cakewalk.
“There were moments when I had to fight to not be put on the pastry station,” she explained. “It is more difficult to be recognized as a woman when there’s a man standing next to you doing a similar job.”
Peters said she’d had always had her eye on butchery, but not everyone thought she could make it work.
“They were worried I wasn’t strong enough to lift the pieces of the animal onto the table and do things like that … but I proved them wrong,” she said.
Peters said the cut-throat culture in the restaurant industry has improved since she started.
The chef eventually brought new flavours and a lot of expertise back to her roots in Saskatoon where she opened her first restaurant, The Hollows, in 2011 along with her husband. That restaurant closed in 2020.
“When you have a restaurant, a lot of the power is in the kitchen, because if you lose your chef, you can lose all the consistency of the food,” she said.
In 2015, the pair opened the Italian restaurant Primal.
“I love pasta. It’s my favourite thing in the world,” Peters said, noting that handmade pasta gives her an opportunity to showcase Saskatchewan’s grains.
“Saskatchewan’s the breadbasket of the world,” she said.
Using entire animals is an important practice at Primal, Peters explained. The restaurant partners with local farmers and performs whole-animal butchery. Ingredients such as beef heart, prosciutto scraps and bone marrow can be found in some of Primal’s signature dishes.
Primal has been included on lists of Canada’s top 100 restaurants, and Peters said the national recognition means a lot.
Peters expanded her business and opened POP Wine Bar last year.
She said she’s also working to help newcomers succeed in the industry. The chef’s doors are open to hopeful chefs who are looking to step into the kitchen.
“No matter what we’ve heard or who they are, we give every single person a chance to do a trial shift,” she said.
Peters said she’s proud of the restaurants she’s built during her journey and of the team of employees she has mentored both in and out of the kitchen.