When I was appointed as the first Executive Chef of the shiny new Ottawa Convention Centre in 2010, now called the Shaw Centre, the opportunity was irresistible. Born and raised in the nation's capital, I had left home to train at the Stratford Chefs School then worked first at the Chateau Laurier then other Fairmont hotels across Canada, learning a lot along the way. I always felt that as a place to work, live and raise a family, Ottawa has it all. It's not too big and not too small, has a wonderful local farming community with a good growing season and just a great food scene.
So why did I become a chef? One of my earliest food memories involves making soup with my grandmother as a very young child. Initially, I helped in the kitchen as a kid because the deal with my parents was if you help cook the meal, you wouldn't have to do the dishes! But then I quickly became interested in cooking. I count my grandmother as one of my big early food influences because she seemed to be perpetually cooking when we would visit her. In addition, I was lucky that my mother, who had lived abroad, always exposed me to a lot of different flavours, ingredients and cuisines, including curries, soba, French, Canadian, American, Swiss, German and more.
About a year before I graduated from high school, it was time to think about my future. I had toyed around with going to music school, but my interest in the culinary arts was greater. I had been working in restaurants throughout high school so the choice was fairly easy to complete Chefs school training, thus becoming a rock star was put on the back burner (no pun intended).
The Stratford Chefs School was a natural choice for me. It's a great, small school, focused on teaching the fundamentals of classic and contemporary cuisine. My time there gave me a great snapshot into how the industry works. Anyone can learn the theory of cooking but preparing you for working in the industry is a completely different subject.
One of the things that I often think about as a chef is how you can try to be as prepared as possible but sometimes you really have to think on your feet. I remember a VIP media familiarization tour where I was preparing lunch on the picturesque shores of Bow Lake in Banff National Park. My executive Sous Chef, Felix, and I were cooking lunch in this spectacular setting, and as we were putting the final touches on our prep half an hour before the guests were to arrive, Felix realized he had forgotten the sauce for the main course. So, there we are, in the middle of nowhere, awaiting these VIPs whom we had to impress and we were missing the most important element of the meal. Thankfully we had a litre of cream, some shallots, some wine, a pineapple, a Swiss army knife and glacier water from the lake! We pulled it off and nobody knew of our improvisation.
I am grateful for the places I've been able to cook in the past, but today, working in the 13,000 square foot Shaw Centre kitchen, I am proud to run Ottawa's largest kitchen and I have to say there really isn't anything I don't love about being here. We've developed an exciting, sustainable business with a great team and fantastic kitchen to work in. What more can a chef ask for?