|“For me, food is about being a vehicle for really good intentions,” says Maharaj. “I know that is way more head-in-the-clouds kind of talking than most people want to entertain, but I really do think as cooks we have an honour and a great responsibility when we feed people. In every kitchen I have run, I always tell my staff that while they are putting on their aprons and washing their hands, they need to put the madness of their lives aside and focus on the fact that for the next three or four hours we are going to put food together for this community of people.”In her current role at Ryerson, Maharaj oversees the campus cafeterias and foodservice at student residence, including several coffee kiosks around campus. And while her typical day is more likely to involve poring over architectural plans for new buildings and kitchens than donning her chef’s jacket, Maharaj still finds plenty of intrinsic value in her job.|
“It’s true, I’ve become a bureaucrat,” Maharaj says with an easy laugh. “But what I love about my days at work is that there are so many different scenarios I can find myself in. I have a lot of meetings with a lot of plans for the future. It’s exciting because I like talking and I like planning things.”
Along with all of her past accomplishments and current successes, Maharaj has some interesting future plans of her own. Not surprisingly, they continue to reflect her philosophy about connecting food and community.
“I’ve always been super-curious about how we feed prisoners, and the politics around that. I’m curious to learn what the culture of food is in a prison and to see how good food and even service finds its way into that context, if at all.
“You have to be open and ready for new ideas. Considering everything from sourcing challenges to real pushes for sustainability to rethinking menus and involving more diverse flavours, I think that what brought us to this point in the foodservice industry is not what’s going to take us into the future. We have to be open and innovative and embrace new ideas for what our future together is going to look like.”
“I would also love to build a cooking school that specifically raises chefs like me, that pushes the idea that chefs can be raised and grown to work in a context outside of restaurants. It would be some sort of culinary/social work/political science hybrid and give students solid sustainability knowledge as well as the production and knife skills.
“It would also help them to understand the broader context of how these elevated cooking skills and real dedication to food can impact people at the grassroots, community level.”