An Interview With: Head Chef Kevin Echlin

Filled to the brim every night of the week, the Smokin’ Buddha has become famous within Niagara’s culinary community since its inaugural plate of noodles was served 10 years ago.

This unique culinary experience has the ability to guide you around the world – without the accompanied plane ticket. The restaurant features an eclectic Asian fusion menu, which overflows with international flavours from Korea, India, Thailand and Japan: including flavour rich curries, sweet Korean beef bulgogi bowls, Indian flatbreads and spicy/sweet pad Thai

“We like to constantly combine spices and herbs that I always have on hand – things that you would never find in any single common country,” says Kevin Echlin, owner and head chef at the Smokin Buddha. “There are all these different little components that we put together and then away we go.”

Echlin said when he and his family moved to Niagara, they couldn’t seem to satisfy their craving for Asian cuisine. Echlin said they continued to utilize their own kitchen to satisfy these cravings – inviting friends over to join with them in tasting and experimenting with the flavours they had come to love during their time spent living in Japan.

In 2005, over a bottle of wine, Echlin said his wife gave him the push to start his food venture: a business that would serve the exotic fresh flavours so popular amongst their friends and family. The first products were California rolls and curry pastes, which Echlin said were “sold out of a red Coleman cooler.”

“I was first inspired to start with the Port Colborne Farmer’s Market, because I wanted to get out in the community,” said Echlin. “My wife said to me, ‘Why not see if people buy this type of food’.”

Over time, the menu expanded and in 2006, Echlin’s business expanded as well to include the Fonthill and Welland markets. In 2007 the Smokin’ Buddha restaurant opened its doors for the first time in the old train station in Port Colborne. Today, the restaurant has evolved to include what Echlin describes as “feel-good foods from all over the world,” – all of which are made by hand and creatively born by Echlin and his team.

“I am not much of a book reader, but I am always reading a new cookbook,” said Echlin. “And not just the recipes, but the background of [the recipe], where the food came from, what the people do in that country, etc. Food always has a story. It doesn’t have to have a million and one ingredients to be incredible. Sometimes only a few ingredients are all you need.”

Echlin said he attests his success to a solid network of people – both in his family, his staff and those he has met over the years through his food.

“Sometimes you watch people eat, and it’s like they’re making love,” said Echlin. “You can tell when someone is really enjoying the food by the expressions on their face. [Food] makes people feel good, especially healthy food. It is inspiring.”

With this continued success comes further growth; Echlin said the Smokin’ Buddha will be expanding into a second building in Port Colborne which will give him and his team additional space for cooking and preparing food for both the restaurant as well as their catering and food market business.

“This will give us the space we need to make all of the food we make now and even more,” said Echlin. “It is the next stage of the inspiration.”

To learn more and to read the menu at Smokin’ Buddha, visit thesmokinbuddha.com.