CHEF DE CUISINE - MAPLE LEAF TAVERN
Flashback to high school: when I wasn't loitering in parking lots or updating my MySpace page, I was hanging out at shows with my then-boyfriend's screamo band. At the time, I'd heard of Liferuiner and 'Jonny OC', a popular metal-core vocalist from Toronto, but never expected that years later I would come to meet the frontman under very unusual circumstances - in a running group. Our paths crossed thanks to The Food Runners, and while Jonny's career in music has never been short of successful, his accomplishments as a rising chef are undoubtedly taking the spotlight these days. Tenacious, skilled, and one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, he's spent the last decade successfully navigating two contrasting industries without missing a beat. We met up and he kindly shed some of his wisdom while baking an incredibly delicious gingerbread molasses bundt cake, no less (recipe at end of interview).
Describe what brought you to what you're doing now.
I'd been cooking with my mom, since I was a little kid. Cooking is the only job I've ever really had. The moment I was old enough to work, my mom said “you have been cooking with me for so long, now it's time for you to work”. My neighbour worked at East Side Mario’s and offered me a job washing dishes. I did dishes for about two weeks, and then a line cook called in sick on a Friday night, they couldn't get anyone and I was put on the fryers. That was it, that was when I started cooking. I learned how to put out 200 covers before I could hold a knife properly. A lot of people talk shit about people who work in corporate restaurants, and I get it. As a chef you take a lot pride in the ingredients you use and building the recipes, but I learned a lot working restaurants like that until I was 17. Then, I went to culinary school.
Where did you go to school?
Vancouver Culinary Arts Institute.
Are you from Toronto originally?
Yep, born and raised.
And so you moved to Vancouver temporarily?
When I was looking up schools, I kind of just wanted to get out of Toronto. I loved living here, but I've always had a weird bug for wanting to travel, so I took off when I was 17 to go cook. It was crazy and I remember thinking to myself, "I've been cooking since I was 14, I'll be able do this!" but my first day there I was like, “Ahh! I don't know shit!” For me cooking has always been a big grind and I started at the very bottom. When I graduated and returned to Toronto, I was thinking that I would be able to work at the best restaurants because of my degree and it was such a reality check. “What experience do you have out of culinary school? None? Cool. Here are the dishes, here's a bag of potatoes, start peeling." It was a very big eye-opener and I guess I got to where I was by wanting to work for really great chefs that gave me lots of great opportunities.