The racetrack where he works isn’t home to the Queen’s Plate, but when he’s at the post, Executive Chef Michael Keeler makes sure the experience is fit for a king.
Although live racing is the main attraction at Assiniboia Downs, those who attend the Winnipeg oval – whether they win or lose at the windows – will certainly have some food for thought after the final race has been run.
That’s just what you’d expect when you have an award-winning chef on-track.
For the past five years, Keeler has led a team that consistently gets rave reviews for their culinary creations, crowd-pleasing dishes that keep patrons coming back for seconds.
“I forwarded my résumé, survived two rounds of interviews and a third meeting,” recalled Keeler, of how he landed the role. “Every day is different and has different challenges. That’s what keeps the job from becoming stagnant and boring. The most challenging aspect of the job is assembling a good team, one that cares and gives their best daily, ensuring the guests have a fun and enjoyable experience.”
Keeler brings plenty of expertise (and accolades) to the table.
He’s been a member of the Canadian Culinary Federation (CCFCC) since 2000, was vice-president of the Culinary Guild of Windsor (Windsor chapter of the CCFCC) from 2000–2005, was honoured with the Chef of the Year award from the Culinary Guild of Windsor in 2004, and received his Red Seal certification (a universally recognized and highly prestigious certification of apprenticeship in Canada) in 1996.
Keeler, who rode horses as a kid, is also a member of the Winnipeg branch of the CCFCC and sits on the Board of Directors.
“I’ve had few proud moments during my career,” he said. “From doing a dinner with Chef Michael Smith, to cooking with Culinary Team Canada for a fundraising dinner, which included the Chef from Parliament Hill. I’ve also done a couple of TV spots in Windsor for the local Breakfast Television affiliate in support of the Heart & Stroke Foundation and a charity event called The Great Soup Kitchen.”
On racing days at Assiniboia, despite the demands of his job, Keeler always makes time to speak with people in the dining room.
“I really enjoy talking with the guests and hearing their stories,” he said. “Also, when the races have a full field of horses and are running a close race, the excitement across the grandstand and in the clubhouse is enough to draw anyone in. You can’t help but get caught up in the excitement.”
What’s on the menu when he’s not at Assiniboia?
“I try to spend as much time as possible outside, especially during the summer. I love taking the family hiking, canoeing or out to my dad’s cabin on Rainy Lake. I also enjoy taking out my kayak or going for a ride on my motorcycle.”
It’s the perfect recipe, Keeler noted, for a little rest and relaxation away from the races.
Executive Chef Keeler’s signature dish
If I had to pick one dish, I would have to say my ribs. I’m a little touchy when they are not made to my specifications. They’re done in a 3-step process that includes my own spice rub that’s not only great on the ribs, but also pork, chicken, turkey and potatoes. And let’s not forget my homemade BBQ sauce that finishes the ribs off.