Education: Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, New York City
Career path: Fairmont Hotels, Restaurant Lutece, Sonora Resort, Cactus Club Café, Joseph Richard Group
Years of experience as a chef: 18 years
What are your earliest memories of cooking?
Growing up I cooked with my mother a lot; I started by helping her in the kitchen when I was five years old. She was an amazing cook and seeing the joy that her food brought to our family was a big reason why I became a chef.
Why do you think you were drawn to a culinary career?
I was lucky enough to go to a high school that had a chef training program. My instructor at the school was Guy Ethier. Guy was an amazing teacher and really pushed me all the time to grow and improve. As soon as I stepped foot in his kitchen and was able to experience professional equipment and the fast paced environment, I was hooked!
How would you describe your restaurants?
We are a diverse and innovative restaurant group that has multiple concepts. We have our Townhall Public House brands which really started the company on the path it is on now; S+L Kitchen & Bar, which is our version of a modern steakhouse; this year we are very excited to open two new concepts: An Asian concept called Sudo that will feature our take on various Asian concepts. As well, we will be opening an Italian concept. Later in the year or early 2018, I will also be opening a chef-driven, fine dining restaurant with our group.
If you knew you were eating your last meal, what would you have?
It would have to be roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and a foie gras terrine to start followed by my mother’s black forest cake for dessert.
What is your philosophy about food?
Cooking is about two things: Product and execution. Sourcing local product at the height of its season is very important. It is also crucial to use proper techniques and respect culinary tradition while utilizing modern equipment if it renders a better result, but only then. Never stop refining!
Where do you go to dine out?
When I go out to eat my wife and I tend to go to ethnic restaurants. We love Thai, Japanese, Chinese or Indian — essentially anything we wouldn’t normally make at home.
What is your favourite ingredient?
I don’t really have a favourite; any product that is local and at the height of the season is what I love. Living in B.C. is great because our growing seasons are quite short and there are always new ingredients coming in and out of season so it keeps it fresh and exciting. However, if I had to choose, I love wild mushrooms!
Who were your biggest influences for becoming a chef?
My biggest influence would definitely have been my mom. I also had the privilege of working with some amazing chefs when I was a young cook who molded me into the chef I am today. Guy Ethier, Robert Le Crom, David Feau, Mike Wurster — all were great mentors early on in my career.
If you knew you were going to be exiled to a desert island, what three ingredients or food items would take with you?
I knew that question was coming! Olive oil, chef’s knife, frying pan. All other food products can be found in nature!
What do you think is the most overrated food trend right now?
Summer truffles, they taste like nothing and produce in the summer can stand on its own. Gluten free, seems like it only exists here in North America. I understand some people are allergic to wheat but I think it’s strange how much it has taken off here compared to the rest of the world.
What do you think is the most underrated food trend?
It’s not really underrated but may not be on everyone’s radar: Chefs opening fast casual concepts is going to be a huge trend. It will be interesting how big it will get and if anyone will be able to challenge the likes of McDonald’s or Subway…only time will tell I suppose.
Is there any type of cuisine that you would like to experiment more with?
I spent some time in Korea a couple years ago and was fascinated by their food. I would like to work with some more of their products and combinations.
What are the essential ingredients for success in the foodservice industry today?
Consistency and value are the two most essential. It’s what everyone wants and looks for no matter what. There is a perceived value in everything whether it’s a $5 hamburger or a $310 tasting menu. Both can be seen as good value but it’s all about the product and the experience.
Which cooking technique or tool is a favourite of yours right now and why?
I have always been obsessed with spoons ever since I started cooking. I have a huge collection and it’s something I couldn’t live without in a kitchen.
What is your favorite food combination right now?
It has to be local heirloom tomatoes (very important that they have never seen the inside of a refrigerator), Maldon salt, Domenica Fiore olive oil and burrata cheese.
Do you have any culinary guilty pleasures?
I have always loved foie gras and could eat it anytime, anywhere. I used to sneak foie gras terrine and make sandwiches with it as a young cook in NYC.
What are some of the most interesting or unique challenges of being a chef?
I think nowadays the challenge is mentoring a new generation of cooks that have a much different mindset from how I was raised in this industry. Trying to relate to them and keep them happy without sacrificing your standards is important. It is such a dog fight now for people, it’s a huge focus.
Talk a bit about your experience on Top Chef Canada and how winning has impacted your career.
Winning Top Chef had a huge impact on my career. I have had so many cool experiences, whether it was travelling to Korea and promoting Canadian products or working with some huge international brands like Glad, Wolf Blass wines or Ford Lincoln to working with some amazing charity organizations like Covenant House. None of it would have been possible without going on TV and having that level of exposure.
What advice would you have for aspiring new chefs as they enter the industry?
Go all in. Fully commit and don’t look back. Enjoy the early stages while you are working on the craft. Find joy in perfectly turning artichokes or rolling pasta. You have to love the repetition of cooking in order to become successful. Don’t try and move up too fast; it’s a major problem with the next generation.