If you believe what you see on television, Chuck Hughes spends his free time road-tripping across Canada with his friend and fellow chef Danny Smiles, hopping down to Mexico for a week of eating, or cooking for friends at his restaurant in Montreal. But in reality, the 43-year-old chef spends all his free time making meals at home for his long-time girlfriend and their two young sons.
Hughes became a star in 2008 with the launch of his series Chuck’s Day Off on the Food Network. His celebrity status made his restaurants Garde Manger and Le Bremner Montreal hotspots, and the telegenic chef, who proudly wears his passion for food on his arms in the form of iconic tattoos of lobsters, oysters and lemon meringue pie, has hardly had a day off since. In addition to his duties at the restaurants and on his television projects, Hughes now sells a bevy of prepared sauces and kitchen staples bearing his name and recently launched a home cookware line with Hudson’s Bay. But when he spoke with The Globe, Hughes explained that as busy as he is, his real work today is managing his home kitchen.
Most chefs say they hardly cook at home, so what made you want to launch a home cookware line?
Cooking at home is something I never did before I had kids. I came home really late at night – having dinner, sitting down and cooking a meal was not a thing. I didn’t open two restaurants to have people come to my house. I went from that to cooking three full meals a day for a family of four. I didn’t have a spice rack before. Now I make my own yogurt, I have spices, I have my own cookware line. Things I would never have before. I’m an older dad, so I really got into it. I did a lot of my crazy stuff beforehand, so I didn’t mind staying at home and cooking and getting things ready for the next day.
I’m about to have my first kid, so that hits home for me. I love cooking, but cooking for kids is something new to me. Do I need to work on my purée game?
Basically you’re making purées for two weeks and then you’re just cooking. I cook way more at home now than I do at the restaurant. The kids get breakfast, I get them off to school, and then I come home and I’m basically starting on dinner. Like you would at the restaurant, I’m getting my mise en place – all the peeling, the washing, the setting up. During those hours between nine and noon, I’m preparing snacks, prepping for dinner, it doesn’t stop. It’s like a restaurant approach to home cooking. At the restaurant, people are spending a good amount of money and you want to make sure they get a full experience. At home, you’re really doing the same thing – and the critics at home are a lot tougher.
For better or worse, the critics also never become your sous chefs, but I assume you get your kids involved in the kitchen.
I cook with my kids a lot, which really inspires me. It’s part of our activities and what we do as a family. I’m always pretty passionate about food, I get excited, but if you show a six-year-old how to make risotto, dude, they’re pumped. You kind of relive it through a kid’s eyes. My older son is six and he really enjoys cooking. He loves getting involved and helping out. I love when he has this ownership of food. That he made that, and we’re all eating it, and it’s good.
I’m already scared my kid will be the pickiest eater or not care about cooking, but if yours get excited about risotto, it sounds like they’re pretty adventurous.
People say, “You’re a chef, your kids must eat everything.” With my first, I really wanted to make sure that he knows good food and he likes to cook. He was two years old and he ate, like, a dozen oysters. I was filming it, I was so excited. The next week I ask him about oysters, and he’s like, “Oysters are gross.”
Then you realize things happen naturally. The more you get kids involved and the more they cook, the more they want to try new food. Do my kids eat diverse foods and like good stuff? Yes. Are they like any other kid in the world who wants to eat macaroni and cheese and ketchup? Yes. But if he picks up a knife, he may be a little further ahead than other kids just because it’s such a part of our lifestyle. He’s my kid so he’s watching me all the time. His awareness of cooking and what to do might be a little sharper than other kids, but besides that, a kid’s a kid.
Obviously, they learn from you, but has cooking with your kids changed your approach to food as well?
I get questions from a 3 and a 6-year-old, like “Why does this pepper have seeds?” They have this way of making you think of things in a way you never would have. I’m really thinking about food more than I did before. To them cooking is playing, it’s having fun. That’s been a transformation in my life. It’s just who I am now: a parent. I’m still involved in the restaurants but my real work now is managing my home kitchen.
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