Timothy Palmer's culinary resume reads like the itinerary of the best trip ever. The Winnipeg native's first post as a chef was in the Rocky Mountains at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge from 2003 to 2005. Then he worked at the Sheraton Mirage Resort in Port Douglas, a peninsula on Australia's gorgeous northeast coast that overlooks the Coral Sea. In 2007, he rejoined the Fairmont and worked in its Southampton resort in Bermuda as chef de cuisine for the hotel's steakhouse.
But just over a year ago, Mr. Palmer was transferred to another bustling tourist city (though not as sunny): Toronto. He now works as the chef of Epic, the restaurant nestled in the Fairmont Royal York.
Globe Life caught up with the 32-year-old chef to see what the world traveller likes to eat when he's not cooking for tourists.
Tell me about what inspired you to learn to cook.
I always helped out my grandmother and mother in the kitchen. One of my fondest and earliest memories was at my grandparents' cabin, cooking carrots. I cooked them, I peeled them, I cut them, I did everything and I was probably about seven or eight. My grandmother also taught me how to make a white sauce to go with them. It was one of the first times I realized how exciting and interesting cooking could be.
Did you have a favourite childhood meal?
My mom used to make these things she called Japanese Chicken Wings. They are basically a braised chicken wing with equal parts soy sauce, vinegar and sugar. And some ginger. So they weren't exactly the best thing for you, but they were different. Growing up, we didn't exactly have an abundance of dispensable money, so things were always a little bit tight. My mom was always very good at getting the cheapest things and turning them into something absolutely amazing.
Do you have a favourite condiment?
Honey. Either in tea or used to sweeten a sauce a little bit, or on a fresh biscuit, cracked open with steam coming out of it. Just a drizzle of honey and it's perfect. Especially fresh, unpasteurized honey, like the stuff we make here. We have six hives on the roof of the hotel. We produced over 900 pounds of honey in the last year alone.
What about at the end of your shift. Do you have a go-to, late-night snack?
I taste everything during service, so by the end of the night, nine times out of 10 I'll have toast and good, old smooth Kraft peanut butter. By the time I get home, it's so late and I have to get up early because I have a little boy. You don't want to eat too much. But because it's the end of my day, I'll pair my toast with a glass of scotch or a rum and coke. It sounds so silly, thinking about it now, but it fills that gap until you're able to really have something to eat and feel better.
Is there any food you're not a fan of?
Yeah, I never really ate it growing up. There's something about the flavour of it. I mean, I will eat it if it's put in front of me. But I would prefer to have a white fish, something like pickerel or black cod.
Is there a holiday dish you're not keen on?
I honestly don't enjoy turkey breast. If I had the choice, I'd have leg or thigh. I love dark meat. I won't go back for seconds if it's only white meat left.
Do you have any food-related New Year resolutions?
Eat less junk food. Less ice cream. Less chocolate. I love chocolate and ice cream, even though I'm lactose-intolerant. I'll never not eat chocolate. Really, I'll eat anything in chocolate. You could cover an ant in chocolate and I'd probably eat it.
Now it's time for the firing line. Greasy spoon or Zagat-rated restaurant?
Street meat or burrito?
I'll go with burrito, especially if it's shredded pork.
Sparkling or still water?
Candy cane or Christmas shortbread cookie?
Shortbread, hands down. And my mom's in particular. I made a huge batch this year – like 60 – and they actually lasted more than three days.
This interview has been condensed and edited.