Put in the hours
Younger chefs today, they get their education, they put their résumé together and they’re looking to get hired as a sous chef. That just doesn’t happen. When I started out it wasn’t even walk before you can run, it was stand still before you can walk. You have to observe a kitchen, strengthen your skills and really just build up knowledge. I can’t even tell you how many cases of lettuce I had to wash where my hands were in pain because of the icy water. I remember setting up the salad bar and thinking, “Oh, but to make that hollandaise.” That’s what I wanted to be doing, but I didn’t get it right away.
Be a slave to your passion …
Obviously, I enjoy being well received or successful, but my goals aren’t for other people to know about, they’re for me. You see a lot of people who want to kind of slide by. They’ll say, “Oh, I don’t have to do that – great,” but it’s not about having to do things, it’s about wanting to. Being a chef is a passion. I wake up thinking about food and I go to bed thinking about food. Being a chef is not about being on TV.
Keep calm, carry on
Kitchens are stressful environments. Is there any chef who hasn’t raised his or her voice in the heat of the moment? Probably not, but I don’t think it’s the best way to operate, particularly since that kind of behaviour is so draining. It takes way too much energy. People look at Gordon Ramsay [as what a chef is supposed to be like], but that’s just a persona. In reality he is one of the nicest, most talented chefs I have ever worked with.
But not to fashion
I’ve seen a lot of food trends over the years, but I have tried not to get too sucked in. I just want to cook real food that people want to eat. I remember back in the eighties when alligator was a trend. Who wants to eat an alligator? I was never into that. How many alligator restaurants do you see today? Another trend was edible flowers. At one point everyone was doing them, but I just didn’t get it. The other day at the 100-mile market they brought in some edible flowers. They gave a sample and it’s like – what am I going to do with these? Corsage anyone?
Think about tomorrow
In this business there’s the saying “you’re only as good as your last dish” but that’s just not true. Don’t get me wrong – it’s very important for a chef to be reflective and to always think about what they can learn from any cooking experience, but the idea that any one dish is that important is just silly. It’s not brain surgery. If anything people should be thinking about their next dish and ways to improve. No matter how good your last dish was there are always ways to be better.
Top Chef Masters premieres July 24 on the Food Network Canada
This interview has been condensed and edited by Courtney Shea