What do you mean by the term “start with the plate first?”
Plate backwards to me is a way of approaching the way we have to look at food in our restaurants. We need to start every day and every night with the objective of putting out “hero” plates every time. We cannot be motivated by what things cost when we are plating. We need to start with the absolute best product, prepared the right way, tasting the right way with no exception. From there, we can start to work backwards to ensure operationally we can accomplish this.
We cannot make sacrifices or create shortcuts on our way to plating because in the end the guest experience will suffer. They won’t receive the hero. We cannot learn or be adjusting things at the guest’s expense! If our focus and motivation starts with what things cost as opposed to what the plate and finished goods should look like, smell like, and taste like, then a hero will never be born!
Where do you go to dine out?
I will pretty much go out to eat anywhere. My preference, however, are small restaurants where chefs are changing their offerings weekly or, better yet, daily depending on what they purchase.
What is your favourite ingredient?
Probably butter. It is the base to so many great things. It tastes great naturally, as an ingredient to different dishes, as a base to many sauces and definitely melted over popcorn.
Who were your biggest influences/inspirations for becoming a chef?
My biggest influences for becoming a chef were two chefs that I worked with over the summer months in Ontario’s cottage country. Both were different but each had very unique qualities that I looked up to and admired. Both of them were great leaders, which is one of the most important qualities when running any program, especially a culinary one. They earned my respect at the youngest part of my career. I still hold their values very close to me and try to carry myself the way they did so that hopefully they can continue to be impactful through me.
If you knew you were going to be exiled to a desert island, what three ingredients or food items would take with you?
I think I would take tomato seeds so that I could grow tomatoes. Flour so that I could make bread and mayonnaise so that I could complete a toasted tomato sandwich.
What do you think is the most overrated food trend right now?
This is a tough one as it is very subjective. Trends that people find to be overrated are often foods that people simply do not like. For me, I will pretty much try anything. I do think that if something is “trending” then it has already been done, so I do like to look for foods that may be a little “out there” and certainly try to create foods that have not been done before.
What do you think is the most underrated food trend?
Food trucks. I think people still look at food trucks as being cheap, greasy food. The reality, in my opinion, is that food trucks are putting out some amazing, crafted real food. Most are sticking to a certain genre and making the food or the theme of their truck completely authentic and served in a way that makes it easy to enjoy.
Is there any type of cuisine that you would like to experiment with?
Probably Indian food. It is one of my favourite foods, but I don’t spend very much time working with it. I feel that Indian cuisine is a perfect example of amazing ingredients put together simply to create fantastic-tasting food.
What are the essential ingredients for success in the foodservice industry today?
Hospitality and service. Amazing-tasting food. Always going above and beyond for every guest at every hour of the day. Hiring and training enthusiastic staff to carry out all of the above.
Which cooking technique or tool is a favorite of yours right now, and why?
I would have to say brining and braising. I love what both techniques do to their respective subjects. With brining, you can add so many different flavours to anything while making the meat melt-in-your-mouth tender, assuming you cook it properly. With braising, you can use less traditional meats, show them some love, and they become a beautiful, pull-apart, delicious, succulent eating experience.
What is your favorite food combination right now?
My favourite food combination right now is the combination of hot and cold food. Pairing a hot protein with a cold side dish or accompaniment OR a hot accompaniment with a cold protein. I find the contrast between hot and cold food items really gives a cool eating experience. Often the two conflicting temperatures bring out flavours and textures in the food that would not be present if both items were the same temperature.
Do you have any culinary guilty pleasures or food treats that you couldn’t live without?
I love chips — any kind, any flavour. To be clear I should probably live without them.
What are some of the most interesting or unique challenges of being a corporate chef for a large company such as The Keg?
Having over 100 restaurants across Canada and into the U.S. certainly has some unique challenges associated with it. The biggest challenge is probably trying to create menus that resonate with all different tastes and preferences while still keeping with who we are as a brand. As we continue to evolve our menus and innovate, naturally some items remain on the menu and some items are removed. Food is very subjective. We do our best to look after each and every guest that walks into our restaurants. We have incredible guests at the Keg who we value immensely. Their feedback is very important to us and we listen to it all.
What advice would you have for aspiring new chefs as they enter the industry?
Be relentless in the achievement of your goals. Stick to what you believe in. Surround yourself with people that support and believe in what you are trying to do. Always be willing to learn from others. Be open-minded. Leave your ego at the door. Taste your food.