As a transition to my new home in Dublin, I have decided to pay a symbolic homage to my hometown, Calgary– mourning it by highlighting a few people in our food, coffee, and restaurant scene. As I complete of each biography in this piece, I am so encouraged to have encountered these people in our city. In most cases, we sat down for a conversation over coffee and these are the stories.
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You can love him or hate him, but I highly suggest you love him because he’s one of the most talented and creative food influences in Calgary right now, if not in Western Canada.
I know when I think of a chef, I expect the ‘Gordon Ramesay’-type, opinionated charisma with a loud presence; but John really surprised me. He’s the most down to earth, accommodating, soft spoken and hard working guys. His quiet talent has taken on the challenge of influencing the menus of the Teatro group of restaurants; each with a different feel and style of food.
John is the mastermind behind menus at Teatro, Cucina, Vendome cafe, and Carne ‘Street Meat’.
My first encounter with John was last April at Teatro, where he dazzled us with the 8-course tasting menu, and finished off with my most favourite salted caramel nitro ice cream. He has brought to our city an introduction of molecular gastronomy, playing with different textures and introducing new food science into the local kitchen. He has rejuvenated Teatro’s classic concept. His understanding, experience, and passion for food is unparalleled. After the recent opening of Cucina, while working no less than 80-100 hour weeks, he made time to meet with me and have a chat.
I began by asking where he got interested with food.
‘Food has always been a part of my curiosity. After a discussion with my parents, I decided in my high school years that I wanted to pursue food. At the end of High school, I left Cape Breton to continue my studies at a culinary school in Prince Edward Island.
John was generous with his time while sharing his experience. After his studies, he did a ‘stage’ (which means to work and study under another chef; learning new techniques and gaining experience) at a restaurant in Banff as well as working in Calgary. He moved to Halifax and worked at a few places in PEI, one working briefly with Chef Michael Smith. He was still yearning for more learning and a better fit.
So, in order to save up for his first stage in Europe, he moved back home to cook at a local place serving up frozen steaks, gravies, clubhouse sandwhiches and the like. … Doubtful that the local restaurant was expecting a full-fledged chef to show up with his roll of knives on the first day, I was empathizing with the heartbreak his creativity must have been feeling, Chef agreed: ‘yea it was tough, but at the same time they liked that I did a whole bunch of work, and worked hard…” .
He was then able to complete a stage in Europe at a restaurant in Switzerland, working day and night. It was there, that he was exposed to the very precise and articulate world of michelin restaurants. He described the experience as very professional. The michelin critics come unannounced and will often test more than just the food at the restaurant; extending to service, attention to detail, and cleanliness in such places as the washroom/toilets- who knew?
It was during his time in Europe that John felt Calgary was a good fit for him and a great place to return to. He really-really loved the city. John felt connected with the city and came back to work, even living at the same place as before. He worked at a few restauants, Living Room and then Teatro under Dominique Moussu, who he describes as a definite mentor to him.
John returned for another stage back in Europe, namely Bordeaux, France and Switzerland; had a great experience with his stages, was successful in landing a few offers, and learned volumes to boot. When he returned to Calgary, he was offered the Head Chef position at Teatro.
Congrats! This past November 3, marks the one-year anniversary that John has held the head chef position at Teatro. He wears many hats, from de-constructing the walls of vendome cafe to designing the menus of Cucina. What a story of trekking through adventure and perseverance.
What is your background in studies?
What’s your most fave thing to make at home?
Fresh Salad, super fresh salad. He has a hydroponic garden where he grows his own kale, arugula, basil, tomatoes… amazing! geek LOVE!
Fave place to Eat & Fave place to get Coffee in Calgary?
Place to eat: Anju, the flavours are very interesting and love what he’s doing; as well Blink.
Coffee: Kawa, Cucina… Phil & Sebastian
What do you think is your most valuable tool?
Liquid nitrogen / Classic El bulli spoon (for all the fancy tricks)