Stirring the Pot with Chef Doug McNish

Chef Doug McNish began cooking at the age of 15 and immediately fell in love with the kitchen, which he describes as an environment like no other in the world. At the age of 21 he had ballooned up to 270 pounds and needed to make a change in his life. After watching a video of how animals are treated in slaughter houses and learning to understand health and nutrition, he became a vegetarian and 6 months later a vegan. He lost almost 100 pounds and completely changed the direction of his career. He went from working the grill at The Air Canada Centre to tossing salads in Kensington Market, which he considers to be the best choice he ever made. He is now the Executive Chef of Raw Aura (94 Lakeshore Road East, Mississauga).

What inspired you to become a chef?

I fell in love with cooking because of the honest hard work, creativity, teamwork and the ability to make people happy by feeding them. I knew I would never be out if a job, because everyone has to eat right?

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Stirring the Pot with Chef Adam Baxter

Adam Baxter was born in Montreal but grew up in Burlington, Ontario. Throughout high school and university he cooked to make ends meet with a career in the hospitality industry far from his mind. Upon graduation from university he couldn’t really land a satisfying job so he returned to the kitchen and has not been away from the stove since. He moved to Toronto in 2007 and has been the executive chef at Fire On the East Side (6 Gloucester Street) since 2009 where his love of southern-inspired Canadian and French comfort food plays out on his menu, focusing on seasonal, sustainable ingredients.

What inspired you to become a chef?

Growing up, our family dinners centred upon simple, straightforward food and working in restaurants allowed me to discover new ingredients, tastes, and flavours. I’m not going to lie, the pretty waitresses and free beer after work didn’t hurt.

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Stirring the Pot with Chef Joshna Maharaj

Joshna Maharaj is a chef and writer and who is passionately committed to good food and ideas of sustainability. A dedicated food activist, she works to promote the awareness of the power of food to nurture, build and strengthen communities. Joshna is a regular guest chef on CBC’s Steven & Chris, maintains a blog, and speaks to anyone who will listen about the importance of good food.

What inspired you to become a chef?

I lived in an ashram in India for a year after I graduated from university, and was put to work in their very humble village kitchen. I learned so much about the power food has to transmit love and nourishment to people in this kitchen, and had the time of my life! I came home from India, and enrolled in the George Brown Chefs’ School.

What is your favourite dish to cook and why?

I don’t work in a restaurant, but one of my favourite things that I make at home a lot is a mighty BLT. The other day I made one on olive bread with avocado and chipotle mayo, and it was outrageously delicious.

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Stirring the Pot with Chef Brian Morin

Brian Morin grew up in Toronto, where he studied at George Brown College, and then moved on to working in small restaurants like Napoleon and Truffles. In the 1980s, he moved on to work in hotel kitchens such as The Four Seasons, Sutton Place, and the Intercontinental. He then became the executive chef of Prime restaurants, and in 2003 opened his own restaurant, beerbistro(18 King Street East).

What inspired you to become a chef?

I loved cooking from an early age, probably about 10 years old.

What is your favourite dish at the restaurant where you cook and why?

Hard to say because it would depend on my mood. I think our mussels are some of the best things we do and are the best in the city.

Three ingredients you couldn’t live without and why?

Beer, butter and cheese.

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Stirring the Pot with Chef Tawfik Shehata

Tawfik Shehata was born in Cairo, Egypt, and grew up in Scarborough. He did his apprenticeship at Scaramouche (1 Benvenuto Place), and attended George Brown College and The Cordon Bleu cooking school in Ottawa. He has worked in a variety of Toronto restaurants including Auberge du Pommier (4150 Yonge Street), The Rosewater Supperclub (19 Toronto Street), Winston’s, Truffles at the Four Seasons, and Boba. He also lived in Bermuda for two years and worked as Sous Chef at Cambridge Beaches, which was voted one of the top 5 spa hotels in the world during his time there, and later (after a return to Toronto) went to Jamaica where he worked at award-winning restaurants including Grand Lido Negril. In late 2005 he took over as Chef at Vertical Restaurant (100 King Street West) where he has been cooking food that is inspired by Italy and the Mediterranean, using local and sustainable ingredients.

What inspired you to become a chef?

I have always loved food. When I was quite young I used to love going grocery shopping with my mom and she was always very in tune with the seasons. When it was time for Seville oranges she would make marmalade and chocolate dipped orange peels for two weeks straight. Same for when other fruits and berries were in season. She made the best strawberry jam in the world!

What is your favourite dish at the restaurant where you cook and why?

I love the grilled or braised whole fish. For two reasons, first, the fish itself is fantastic, but more importantly, the accompaniments change nightly so it is always paired with the most seasonal vegetables. When I go to the farmers market and can only find a small quantity of something it will invariably find its way on one of those dishes.

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Stirring the Pot with Chef Carlos Fuenmayor

Chef Carlos Fuenmayor is the owner and chef of Sabrosito, a private catering company where he specializes in in-home parties, as well as larger events, often with a teaching and Latino focus. He also offers cooking classes, both privately and through organizations such as the LCBO. He is Cordon Bleu trained and loves classical French cuisine, but his roots are South American, which is why his work celebrates Pan-Latino cooking and culture. He is a blogger and loves to dance.

What inspired you to become a chef?

My grandmother Wilma, who took care of us when we were kids and was a great cook.

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Stirring the Pot with Chef Jesse Vallins

Jesse Vallins is a native of Toronto and has spent the last 12 years working in some of the city’s best restaurants. He has spent the last four years as the chef at Trevor Kitchen and Bar (38 Wellington Street East).

What inspired you to become a chef?

For as long as I can remember I’ve fallen asleep and woken up thinking about food. I love eating and sharing food with people and the experience of restaurants. I don’t care if it’s Canoe (66 Wellington Street West) or a dive in Chinatown, all restaurants are as much about experience as eating. I’ve always loved that and wanted to be a part of it.

What is your favourite dish at the restaurant where you cook and why?

The bacon and tomato salad with avocado ranch and crispy shallots. I love it because it’s got a great mix of different flavours and textures that really work together…and it’s absolutely lousy with bacon.

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Stirring the Pot with Chef Thomas Bellec

Chef Thomas Bellec was raised in coastal Concarneau in Brittany, France and trained in the classical tradition – at a Michelin one-star in his hometown. He then worked in a few French restaurants before being recruited to Canada by the Inn at Manitou. In 1999, he began a career with Four Seasons Hotels, with postings first in Toronto, then in Carmelo, Uruguay, Lana’i, Hawaii, and Boston. He became the Executive Chef at Four Seasons Toronto (21 Avenue Road) earlier this year.

What inspired you to become a chef?

I was inspired to cook by my grandparents, who ran a renowned bakery in Brittany.

What is your favourite dish at the restaurant where you cook and why?

Born and& raised in a coastal town in Brittany, I love to cook seafood; my favourite dish right now served in Studio Cafe ia a pan-seared scallop with green apple and celery salad served with a warm bacon vinaigrette.

Three ingredients you couldn’t live without and why?

Bread, cheese and wine….. simply being French.

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Stirring the Pot with Chef Chris McDonald

Christopher McDonald is one of Canada’s most respected chefs, known for a creative, first-principles approach to cooking, and an exceptional knowledge of the intricate relationships between food and wine.

Born in Toronto and growing up in New York and later Toronto, his childhood and early interest in food was conditioned by his mother Marion Grudeff’s career as a concert pianist and Broadway musical writer in New York. After returning to New York in 1979 to work in Dodin Bouffant, one of the city’s finest French restaurants, McDonald embarked on what would become a 15-year educational odyssey of learning both the spoken and culinary languages of the world’s great cuisines, studying at the famed La Varenne Cooking School, travelling to Verona, Italy, where he worked as the chef of La Bottega del Vino, and opening the kitchens of two world-famous luxury hotels in Mexico. His international travels also took him to San Francisco, where he cooked at both Stars and Chez Panisse, and to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he worked at the renowned Coyote Café for Mark Miller, for whom he developed the menu at Coyote Café’s Las Vegas incarnation.

In Canada, McDonald has been influential in bringing his experience to several acclaimed projects, acting as chef at the VIP lounge of the Ontario pavilion at Expo 86 in Vancouver; as chef de cuisine at Centro, a project that introduced the emerging California cuisine to Toronto; as opening chef at Santa Fe Bar and Grill in Toronto, a highly successful project showcasing his southwestern and Mexican culinary skills; and at Massimo Rosticceria in 1990, which drew on an intensely personal vision that grew out of his experience in Italy.

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Stirring the Pot with Hubert DMello

Hubert DMello was born in Mumbai, India where he graduated from Hotel Management in 1984. He ran a catering business in Mumbai from 1985 to 1990, when he moved to the US and joined Carnival Cruise Lines as a bartender. He eventually moved to Atlanta and opened an Indian restaurant and then moved the business to Jackson Heights in New York. After a successful run in New York, he moved to Toronto to be with his wife in 1996.

Over the years he travelled to India and learnt new Indian cuisines and cooking techniques.

After few stints in the food industry, he opened his first vegetarian restaurant in Toronto called Udupi Palace in September 2001, and is now in the process of opening a second restaurant on Gerrard Street called Nitya, which should be open by the end of July 2010.

What inspired you to become a chef?

Since the age of 16 in the catering business in India, I fell in love with food and cooking. I always wanted to experiment and learn; the kitchen has been my comfort zone, so to speak.

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