Born in Brasil, Ede Rodrigues moved to Calgary at the beginning of this century, following his heart. In this case, as he says, “I ended up in Canada because of this lady here.” In what can only be described as a classically romantic story, he and Rosina met at a Valentine’s Day party. In China. While working at a hotel there in 2000, speaking Portuguese and Japanese, he couldn’t find anyone to teach him Chinese. The solution? Learn English first. His English teacher insisted he attend a party honouring four newly arrived Canadian teachers as it would be an excellent opportunity to meet new people and practice his English. He didn’t want to go, feeling nervous about his poor language skills. In the end it didn’t matter, since with Ede’s Northern Italian heritage and Rosina’s Southern Italian heritage it turned out they had more than mutual attraction in common – they both spoke Italian. In 2002 Rosina invited Ede back to Canada to ride her horses, and the stage was set.
Ede grew up on a farm with horses, chickens, dogs and so on. “Where I was born you are a gaucho. Just like being in Alberta, (where) you are technically a cowboy. But not everybody embraces that way, so when I was 16 years old I started in the restaurant industry. In Brasil I had 9 years experience, then I had an opportunity to go to Japan. At first I laughed, but then I asked how much I was going to make. In six months I was in Osaka.” Then, Kobe andeventuallyChina.
He had to take whatever jobs he could get when he first moved to Canada. “My first job was working in Tim Hortons. I had to learn to make donuts. Back then they did it by hand. My whole goal was to make more money, I was only making $7 an hour and we were living in her Dad’s basement. I worked there almost three years. After that I tried looking for work as a chef. Everything was brand new. I didn’t know how to make burgers, fries, chicken fingers, it was all new to me. They trained me but I only lasted 3 or 4 months. I was coming home stinking of fry oil. After that I tried selling caskets for a funeral home. I saw an ad looking for people that spoke other languages. I thought, ‘I know Japanese, I know Portuguese, I know Italian. I just don’t know much English.’ I passed my tests and got my license, but doing the job broke my heart. After that I went to construction, doing cement, digging holes until I got a hernia. I did catering during all these jobs. Rosina’s friend knew someone with a catering company, and he was invited to one of our events. I started working with him, doing high-end catering for oil and gas and Hollywood shoots. One day someone asked for Brasilian, and we did that. It was an inversion, I told him what to do and how to do it. That was a success, and I continued with that, (while) construction gave us the money to do catering.
“We were pioneers here. We started catering Brasilian cuisine in 2005. Nobody in Western Canada was doing that, just in Toronto. (I started) the barbecued pineapple and barbecued banana. Nobody was doing it then, but now when you go around the world Brasilian restaurants are doing it. They don’t do it in Brasil.” Who knew that along with the Caesar cocktail and Ginger Fried Beef, Brasilian Barbequed Pineapple started in Calgary?
“Gaucho’s old location was at 3605 Manchester Road. The idea in the beginning was to have an easy life. Start in the morning, do the prep, sell the lunch, close the door and go home by 3. I tried to do that, but the Brasilians, they kept looking at the huge Brasilian rotisserie grill and saying, ‘You’ve got to serve it the way they serve it in Brasil!’ I ended up going with the flow and following the customer request, changing my menu, and a month later instead of being only counter service, I started to be a Brasilian steakhouse with Rodízio* service.
“Back then in 2007 it was hard to find people to work. My wife is a teacher, and I was learning how to do business in a new country. Like Japan, everything is by the book. It’s a great place to be. I thought, ‘Just work hard and I’m going to make it.’
“We moved here two years later, in 2009. This location used to be Ciao Baby’s, and way back this was the first White Spot in Calgary. Before that this building must have been a bank, though, because we’ve got this vault where we keep our wines. When we started this, restaurants were closing down everywhere, but we were lined up around the block. We have such good value, with all the meats.
“We are ambitious, and if you have an opportunity you need to take it. We opened in Canmore in February 2012. It was tough for us to find another location in Calgary, and Canmore gives us better exposure nationally and internationally, with the tourism. We meet all kind of people there, and I get to practice my Japanese, in fact we now have a Japanese stock boy. The driving back and forth is a bit challenging, but I love the drive up. The air is so good… I lived in China. The air there is so bad they say don’t open your windows if you’re above the 10th floor.
“It’s been an interesting experience for me as a human being and as a chef. I have two children now, we have plans for the future. When something opens up we’ll be ready.”
— Fred Holliss
* servers come to the table with knives and a skewer, on which are speared various kinds of quality cuts of meat, at several times throughout the meal