Bits and Bites: Nutrition News from Summer Camp Week 7: Perfecting Pastries

By Chef Kenzie Osborne, Rooks to Cooks

We’re entering the final stretch of the summer camp season and our tummies are just about ready to explode – but we have no doubt that it was all worth it! As the famous saying goes – “there’s always room for dessert” – and that’s why we saved some of the best desserts for the last weeks of summer.

This week, our young chefs are baking up a storm in our “Perfecting Pastries” program. Our young chefs got to work with a variety of doughs, batter, and custard fillings to prepare some of our very best sugar-filled treats. From apple fritters to savoury quiches to ooey-gooey peach pies, this week’s camp provided our chefs with skills and techniques that go way beyond the basics! Not to mention, I think most parents were pretty pleased to be heading home with a few containers full of treats to munch on after a long day at work.

Peach Pie

From Day 1, our chefs were very excited to be baking – and their love for pastries only seemed to grow once they learned more and more about all the amazing things they could make with just a few simple pantry ingredients. The first day was all about learning some of the basics – how to prepare a pie dough, how to make traditional pate sucre, how to use a deep fryer, and how to make marshmallows from scratch (who knew they were so simple and so tasty!?). Considering we hadn’t yet made our peach pie filling, I decided to challenge our chefs to think of some tasty pie fillings they could use to pair with their pie dough. As always, I was surprised by their amazing ideas, and I definitely got a little inspiration for my weekend baking project! Check out the feedback from our young chefs:

  • Apple cinnamon
  • Broccoli, corn, and cheese quiche
  • Strawberry rhubarb
  • Blueberry, raspberry and chocolate pie
  • Apple blueberry pie
  • Strawberry s’mores pie (with dark chocolate)
  • Strawberry banana pie
  • Pineapple pie
  • Raspberry coconut pie
  • Chef Kenzie: Sweet potato pie with roasted pecans and walnuts!

YUM – what a nice little list filled with fruits, vegetables, antioxidant-rich foods (like dark chocolate), and healthy fats (like nuts, cheese, and coconut). Trying out some of these pies is a delicious way to incorporate a few more fruits into your daily dessert, plus, it adds the perfect tangy, fruity bite to a sweet and buttery pie!

Homemade Marshmallows!

Day 2 rolled around and we finally had the chance to finish off the recipes that we started on the first day of camp. Our young chefs prepared a delicious peach pie filling, a lemon creme filling for their tarts, and they FINALLY got to taste their ooey-gooey homemade marshmallows. On top of all that, they also had the chance to start making their four-layer raspberry vanilla swirl cake. This recipe was definitely a crowd favourite, as they got to add some bright colours, sweet flavours, and essential nutrients to a basic vanilla cake! They swirled around their batter, popped their cakes in the oven, and waited to see the fun and colourful result.

For their next nutrition challenge, I was inspired by the fun swirls of colours that made this dessert so pretty and appealing. I decided to ask our chefs to think of some of their favourite desserts that had AT LEAST three different colours in them. A simple rule of thumb is the more colours that are on your plate, the more vitamins, minerals, and nutrients you are feeding your body. Therefore, if you try to fill your dinner and dessert plates with as many colours as possible, you’re most likely providing your body with a wide variety of nutrients so you can function at your best (as long as those “colours” aren’t just different shades of brown). Once again, our young chefs didn’t fail to impress with their colourful and creative ideas, and here are a few yummy desserts to try out this weekend:

  • Assorted fruit smoothie
  • Fruit salad with strawberries, bananas, apple slices, oranges, melons, and watermelon
  • Triple berry salad
  • Lemon cake with strawberries and blueberries
  • Banana bread with strawberries and homemade whipped cream
  • Homemade rainbow fruit sorbet
  • Watermelon “pizza” (round slice of watermelon), topped with cream cheese and assorted fruits
  • Pancakes or crepes with fresh fruit
  • Chef Rebecca: Homemade Neapolitan ice cream (strawberry, vanilla, and dark chocolate) served with assorted fresh fruit
  • Chef Kenzie: Ricotta and honey tart topped with fresh fruit “rainbow” (strawberries, mandarin oranges, peaches, bananas, kiwi, and blueberries)

YESSSS!! Summer is the perfect time to enjoy fresh fruit and serving some of these desserts at your next BBQ get together would definitely bring a smile to your loved ones’ faces (PLUS they’ll thank you for the little nutritional boost!). Try these out this weekend or next and let us know how you liked them!

Raspberry Vanilla Swirl Cake

Day 3 and 4 rolled around with even more delights – layered cake, babkas, pain au chocolat, croissants and sorbet!!! All of the recipes were crowd-pleasers, but the winning recipe was hands down the croissants! It may have taken a full day’s work to put together, but boy was it worth it! These flaky, buttery, light and flaky pastries were irresistible – and they were even BETTER with chocolate in the middle! It had me thinking – what else could you throw inside a croissant to make a tastier (and healthier) combo?? I decided to ask the real experts – our young chefs – for their opinions, and I was amazed!!

  • Raspberries and strawberries
  • Parmesan baked on top
  • Apple cinnamon stuffing
  • Cream cheese and strawberry croissant “sandwich”
  • Peaches and honey (baked inside or eaten as a “sandwich”)
  • Grilled pineapple “sandwich”
  • Spinach and feta filling
  • Ham and cheese filling
  • Dark chocolate, banana, and coconut filling
  • Chef Kenzie: Dark chocolate, hazelnut and coconut filling (with maple drizzle on top!)

I may have just learned how to make croissants myself, but it looks like I have a few more recipes to try out. These really are chef-quality ideas. The endless creativity and innovation from our chefs is something that I am continuously amazed at – these kids have such incredible ideas that are out of the box, yet genius!

Finally, Thursday’s recipes were preparation for pop-up and it was veggie time!! My favourite was our famous rich and creamy quiche – it’s so simple, so easy, so nutritious, and SUPER delicious!! Quiches can be made using so many different vegetables – spinach and feta; sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, and chicken; peppers, onions, and broccoli (our amazing combo!); mushrooms, ham and onions; etc., etc. But, don’t be fooled, veggies aren’t only for savoury recipes – they can be snuck into many different sweet treats to boost the nutritional value and add to flavour! Some of our chef’s favourite veggie-inspired dishes are:

  • Zucchini banana bread
  • Avocado brownies
  • Pumpkin muffins
  • Celery ice-cream
  • Beet brownies
  • Rhubarb pie
  • Celery with peanut butter and chocolate chips
  • Zucchini blossom with ricotta and honey
  • Cucumber and mint sorbet
  • Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting (try using honey or maple syrup to sweeten the cream cheese frosting instead of sugar!)
  • Pumpkin brownie
  • Apple rhubarb crumble
  • Sweet potato fries (maybe with drizzled peanut butter and dark chocolate!)
  • Pumpkin Pie
  • Chef Rebecca: Rhubarb pavlova
  • Chef Kenzie: Gluten-free sweet potato brownie with toasted pecans on top and avocado dark chocolate mousse!

I’ve certainly learned a lot from our young chefs, and I can’t wait to continue to learn in the final weeks of camp. The upcoming sessions of camp feature some famous contests such as Chopped, Iron Chef America, and Cake Boss. During these friendly competitions, our young chefs have a chance to display their culinary creativity and talent. Not to mention, they will also learn some delicious and nutritious meals that they get to indulge in for lunch throughout the week! This week was certainly sweet, but we’re excited for the creativity and innovation that the next two weeks will bring! Join us again at camp for some more culinary knowledge, tons of yummy flavours and, of course, a whole lotta fun!

** If you have specific questions regarding the nutritional information of a meal (or you would like to know how to make substitutions for vegan, gluten-free, or other dietary restrictions), feel free to reach out to me (Chef Kenzie) by sending an email to: kenzieosborne08@gmail.com. If you are interested in more general nutritional information, head over to my personal blog at: thrivingonnature.wordpress.com

Hiking Your Way to a Healthy Lifestyle

Special Contributor: Somia Zafeer, Marketing Intern at Rooks to Cooks

International Trails Day is celebrated annually on the first Saturday of June. In Ontario, we are so fortunate to have an abundance of natural trails that showcase the most glorious views. Hiking those trails is a great way to combine outdoor enjoyment and living a healthy lifestyle.

In order to explore nature, you need to hike for it. Hiking enables us to become immersed in nature by exploring turbulent rivers and meandering streams, hidden waterfalls, majestic trees and unbelievable wildlife! From the smallest birds that make the loudest chirp, nature has mysterious talents that are yet to be discovered. We believe that hiking is an amazing everyday routine that helps us relax, reflect upon life and rejuvenate ourselves. It gives us the opportunity to connect with nature and its’ hidden beauty.

Hiking provides us with many benefits! We are sharing our TOP 5 Reasons to Hit the Trails:

  1. Great for your mental health! Walking down a trail with a river flowing beside you, helps soothe and clear the mind. Hiking has been proven to be a natural treatment for unclogging the mind with unnecessary stress by focusing on the bigger picture.
  2. Improves Fitness Levels: Hiking allows an individual to become stronger by challenging yourself. Unconsciously, our body is burning calories from top to bottom through pumping our arms and continuous legs movements. Hikings is one of the best cardio workouts and burns lots of calories.
  3. Social Activity: The experience of hiking is much more enjoyable and memorable with your friends and family. At the end of a busy week, parents can take time to go for hike with their children, enjoy nature and make their bond stronger.
  4. Inexpensive: The best part about hiking is that it’s inexpensive. We are not buying nature’s beauty because its already given to us through locals trails. We would recommend that you purchase a pair of hiking boots to provide good grip, keep your feet dry and protect your feet from rocks and debris on the trail..
  5. Enjoy the beauty of nature and explore beautiful landscapes. No matter how small the trail is, it’s the experience that counts.

If hiking is a new challenge, then we need to properly prepare ourselves. Here’s a few suggestions on How to Get Ready to Hike:

(a) First, prepare yourself physically. We will need to prepare our physical body by walking 2 to 3 times a day to bring up our heart rate. Small regular workout sessions like lunges, crunches, squats and cardio will help the hike become easier. The important thing about hiking is that it will help you to become stronger as you continue to challenge yourself on different trails and longer distances;

(b) The second step is to research the trails. It’s hard to prepare for a hike if you don’t know what to expect on the trail. Research guides, trails guides, internet are all the basic information to gain knowledge about trails. Hike Ontario has a Trail Finder that helps you locate trails in your area: http://www.ontariotrails.on.ca/trails.  

(c) The third step involves essential items to bring with you. This includes maps, extra food and water, flashlight, first aid kit and sun protection.

(d) To help you get started, some organizations offer Training Courses to learn to hike safely. We suggest that you check out Hike Ontario. You will also want to learn about hiking etiquette. For example, hikers going downhill yield to those hiking uphill, don’t feed the wildlife, never throw your garbage in the woods as this can harm the animals. Lastly, we hope you enjoy the hike!

This year, on June 1st, bring forth your families to celebrate International Trails Day by spending quality time connecting with nature and rejuvenating yourself. We found some great hiking challenges to try with your friends and family on Hike Ontario Website Trail Finder.So let’s go outside, get active and explore all of nature’s hidden treasures by going on a hike

One final recommendation … Bring along a container of our delicious Trail Mix to keep up your energy levels. Try this amazing Trail Mix recipe provided by Kenzie Osborne, Sous Chef at Rooks to Cooks!

TRAIL MIX

Yield: 3 cups

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup nut of choice (peanuts, cashews, walnuts, or a mix of a few kinds)
  • 1/2 cup seed of choice (pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds)
  • 1/4 cup honey or maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup dried coconut flakes (optional)
  • 1/2 cup dried berries (raisins, dried cranberries, etc.)
  • 1/2 cup dried fruit
  • 1/4 cup cacao nibs or mini chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375F and line a large baking tray with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the rolled oats, nuts, seeds, and honey or maple syrup.
  3. Spread the mixture onto the baking tray lined with parchment paper and bake for 15 minutes (or until oats, nuts, and seeds are slightly browned and toasted). If you are using coconut flakes, add them to the pan after 10 minutes (they only need about 5 minutes to toast!)
  4. Take the pan out of the oven and let cool completely. Mix in the berries, fruit, and cacao nibs or mini chocolate chips. Store in a mason jar or air tight container and enjoy!

Happy Earth Day 2019!

Happy Earth Day Everyone! Today, and Everyday, we need take the time to appreciate and respect this wonderful planet that we call home. Earth is where we live, work and play and we all must do our part to keep our home healthy for future generations. Let’s try our best to think locally and take conscious steps within your own family – such as conserve energy, recycle, try to eat sustainably.  Every little bit helps to conserve our planet and protect our nature – plants, animals and environment.

For 2019, the Earth Day Network is inviting everyone to join their campaign entitled: “Protect our Species”. We can and we must work towards protecting the world’s threatened and endangered species! Their message is that we can slow the rate of extinctions and even enable the declining, threatened and endangered species to recover by joining together globally and taking immediate action. Check out their website for more information,
Source: https://www.earthday.org/campaigns/endangered-species/earthday2019/

Let’s start within our own community! While there are many ways to respect our planet, we have some Earth Day ideas that will get you started right at home. “Lettuce” help get your whole family involved in these activities!

4 Earth-friendly Ideas for your family:

  1. Buy local food to reduce the distance from farm to table:
  2. Look for organic food to support farmers who practice organic farming that is free from toxic pesticides. Also purchase food from companies who use organic ingredients.
  3. Compost your kitchen scraps. Use your green bins so that kitchen garbage is diverted from the landfill. Or use a backyard compost bin so you can turn waste into fertilizer for use in your garden.
  4. Grow your own organic garden. If you have some space in your backyard garden, then think about growing some vegetables. Many vegetables can even be grown in containers, for example tomatoes, herbs, lettuce, peppers.

Since it is Earth Day, let’s also try to be more planet-friendly and eat food that comes primarily from plants. As we read in the new Canada’s Food Guide, we should strive to choose protein food that come from plants more often. But rather than a complete changeover to plant-based diet, we would suggest that you try to incorporate more plant-based meals into your current food plan. For example, you could try a meatless meal once a week as a way to introduce the concept to your family. We know change can be difficult so if you take small steps to introduce a variety of different options then that will be much easier for you and your family to succeed.

Here is a great list of Plant-based Protein options to get you and your family started.  Plant-based diets offer all the necessary protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and  minerals for optimal health, and are often higher in fibre and phytonutrients. Plant-based includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans. It doesn’t mean you never eat meat or dairy, but you are choosing more of your foods from plant sources.

PLANT-BASED PROTEINS *

Here is a list of plant foods that contain a high amount of protein per serving:

  1. Soybeans
  2. Lentils
  3. Chickpeas and most bean varieties
  4. Spelt and Teff
  5. Hempseed
  6. Green Peas
  7. Blue-green algae (Spirulina)
  8. Amaranth and Quinoa
  9. Ezekiel Bread and Other Breads Made From Sprouted Grains
  10. Soymilk
  11. Oats and Oatmeal
  12. Wild Rice
  13. Chia Seeds
  14. Nuts, Nut Butters and Other Seeds
  15. Protein-Rich Fruits and Vegetables

*Source: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/protein-for-vegans-vegetarians#section1

In this section, we asked Karen Gilman, Registered Holistic Nutritionist, to provide valuable answers to our questions related to plant-based diet. We have also compiled a helpful Q&A below:

Q1. Within our own family, we can do our part by adopting a plant-based diet. We asked Karen to provide a few key benefits for our bodies when we switch to plant-based foods?

Karen: Plant-based foods have been linked to a number of health benefits among which is heart health. As plant-based foods like nuts, seeds, beans and legumes are rich in fibre and low in saturated fat they can help reduce cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure thus reducing our risk of heart disease.  The fibre and protein in these foods is also helpful in managing blood sugar levels. This helps keep us fuller long which may help with weight management. There is also some research that supports a plant-based diet may reduce your risk of some cancers.

Q2. Many people are concerned that they will not get all the protein and nutrients they need by eating plant-based. What types of plant-based foods do you recommend to get the most nutritional benefits?

Karen: One of the biggest concerns about plant-based diets is that it will be difficult to get all the nutrients your body needs. And most specifically there is a concern about protein. It is possible to get these nutrients when you follow a plant-based diet as long as you are eating a variety of foods.  And fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes all have protein!  However, there are a few nutrients like Vitamin D and B12 that are more difficult to get on a plant-based diet. You should make sure to discuss your dietary preferences with your healthcare provider so they can advise whether or not you should consider taking any supplements.

Additional info: If you are looking to add more plant-based proteins, but aren’t quite sure how, Karen offers a free Healthy Veg Call so book some time to talk to her today! Telephone: 416-949-0164

Contact Karen Gilman, Registered Holistic Nutritionist TM

Get your copy “Vegetarian Teen Basics For Busy Parents” = www.nutrilicious.ca

E: karen@nutrilicious.ca

Like: www.facebook.com/veggiegirls2016

Join: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1638202229738048/

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Celebrate Women on International Women’s Day!

Chef Shai Mandel, founder and owner of Rooks to Cooks

#IWD2019 Happy International Women’s Day to all the talented, confident, strong, entrepreneurial, caring women in our lives. You are amazing and we admire and appreciate all of you just as you are!

On March 8th, women across the world come together to celebrate their accomplishments but there is still more to be achieved with regard to gender balance. This day is a call to action for businesses, government, media, employers and more … to truly make a difference to create a #BalanceforBetter!

At Rooks to Cooks, we applaud and appreciate all the hard-working women in the culinary field. Once predominantly a male career path, we see more and more female chefs in strong roles in the foodie world. So amazing to see women as chefs, restaurant owners, and educators across the country.

Chef Shai Mandel confidently and successfully chose to fulfill her goal of teaching cooking to the next generation of potential chefs by starting her own company, Rooks to Cooks. Shai is a chef and teacher and has been working in kitchens her whole life. Inspired by her passion for food and education, Shai’s goal is to teach today’s youth valuable cooking skills and life skills that they can use both in and out of the kitchen.

Let’s look at some other renowned female chefs that have made a mark in the culinary field. In Canada, we have our popular group of Food Network chefs: Lynn Crawford, Anna Olson, and Christine Cushing, to name a few. But we were also thrilled to see that the list of female chefs is steadily increasing at many of the top restaurants across the country.

Working together we can all make a positive difference and help build a gender-balanced world. Balance is an issue that’s important for our economy and for communities to succeed and prosper. #BalanceforBetter

Chefs in training!

Top Topics from Canada’s Food Guide – Commentary by Karen Gilman

We are so happy to see Canada’s revamped food guide finally reflect relevant themes around healthy eating and lifestyle! Although nutrition is highly dependent on one’s lifestyle and we consider this a guide, not a rule book, we believe this a great start and a very welcome change. Rooks to Cooks had the pleasure of connecting with Karen Gilman, a Toronto-based holistic nutritionist, and we asked for her key take aways to share with our readers. We thank Karen for her valuable and helpful commentary and suggestions! Link to Canada’s Food Guide: https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/

Karen Gilman: As a holistic nutritionist I have never paid much attention to food guides choosing instead to work with clients and provide them with custom meal plans based on their individual needs. However, the recent launch of the new Canada’s Food Guide has been getting lots of press, so I decided to take a look and see what all the noise was about.  I was pleased to see how well-rounded the new food guide is, and I am happy to share the TOP 4 things that really resonated with me:

1. Choose protein foods that come from plants more often.

As a holistic nutritionist with a special interest in vegetarian diets, I was pleasantly surprised with the addition of this recommendation. Yeah! I absolutely love this. Yes, as Michael Pollan said “eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

Photo by Karen Gilman

As someone who has been following a mostly vegetarian diet for about 30 years now, plant-based proteins have always been the hero on my plate. However, most people think of animal-based options when it comes to protein. As a mom with a vegetarian daughter, I am always asked how she gets her protein and I always tell people there are so many options, even for those who say they hate tofu.

Things like beans, lentils, chickpeas are all great plant-based options you can incorporate into your meal or build your meal around. Nuts and seeds and even vegetables have protein.  It really isn’t difficult to get enough protein following a plant-based diet but you don’t have to go plant-based all the way. Start with “Meatless Monday” and then add more plant-based meals as you become more comfortable and find options your family likes.  Trying adapting family favourites and make tofu stir fry instead of chicken or make black bean tacos instead of meat tacos.

2. Have plenty of vegetables and fruits.

It may come as a surprise to lots of people that half their plate should be made up of fruits and vegetables. I think a lot of people have been following the old “protein, carbohydrate and a side of veggies” mantra for preparing meals with the traditional meat, potatoes and a side of veggies. This veggie half of your plate can be anything from a single vegetable, a mix of vegetables or even a green salad. Or make soups and stews with lots of different vegetables. Believe it or not but you don’t need as much protein as you think and vegetables have protein too!

3. Be mindful of your eating habits.

This was a really insightful addition to the Canada Food Guide. Not only is it important what you eat, but how and when are also important.  Are we eating because we are hungry or are we eating because we are bored or even stressed or anxious? It is important to look for our internal cues, so we eat when we are hungry. And, of course, enjoy our food. Food should be savoured and not inhaled on the go. If we eat in a relaxed manner, our bodies will be able to digest our food properly and absorb all those amazing nutrients.   

4. Cook from scratch.

Now here’s an idea! Cooking from scratch. I think our culture has moved away from the notion of cooking from scratch. It seems everyone is too busy to cook these days which is so unfortunate. We need to get back in the kitchen, not just for ourselves but for our kids. How are they going to be able to feed themselves? We don’t want them to eat a diet full of fast or processed food. That’s not going to help the ever-increasing rate of obesity and Type 2 diabetes.  Just basic skills like learning how to make an omelet or even boiling pasta will go a long way in helping them be self-sufficient when they move out on their own.

Rooks to Cooks offers our kids just this chance. Forget about all those YouTube food videos! Hands-on cooking is where it’s at. At Rooks to Cooks kids will not only learn how to cook but to become more comfortable and confident in the kitchen.  Kids also gain the opportunity to expand their palate by trying new foods. How awesome is that?? Too many of our kids eat the same thing over and over again. At the Rooks to Cooks cooking classes, chef instructors take the time to explain about nutrition and how to safely navigate a kitchen. Kids will come away with a keen understanding on how important cooking really is and how easy and fun it can be.

About Karen Gilman: Karen is a Toronto-based holistic nutritionist who is passionate about supporting families with vegetarian children. Even if you don’t have vegetarian children, but are looking to incorporate more plant-based proteins into your family’s diet, Karen can provide you with some guidance.

To get in touch, please email Karen at:  karen@nutrilicious.ca or sign up for her newsletter at: www.nutrilicious.ca and grab a copy of her e-book Vegetarian Teen Basics For Busy Parents.

Photo by Kailee Mandel

Chef Flynn – “Boy Wonder”

Exclusive Interview with Chef Flynn McGarry

By Bonnie Laufer


Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Will McGarry.

Flynn McGarry is not your average kid. Truthfully, he is quite extraordinary.  Ever since he was a small child, he has loved cooking.  So much so that when he was 10 years old, he decided that he was going to start his culinary journey and not just aim for a career but have it dominate his life.

Currently at age 19, Chef Flynn is not only a master at his craft but runs his very own restaurant in New York City called, Gem and is the subject of the documentary entitled, Chef Flynn.  It’s an engaging documentary about McGarry’s journey, which concludes as he prepares to open his Manhattan restaurant.

Chef Flynn, Directed by Cameron Yates, opens at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema on Friday, January 25, and runs to Thursday, January 31. This documentary is sure to inspire as it captures Flynn’s singular drive and passion for cooking and follows the incredible rise of this culinary prodigy. To purchase tickets to the documentary: https://bit.ly/2FVQMSa

Watch the Official Trailer: 



Flynn McGarry appears in Chef Flynn by Cameron Yates, an official selection of the Documentary Premieres program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

There is no doubt that Flynn McGarry is not only an inspiration to all budding young chefs out there but to anyone wanting to pursue their chef dreams. In 2015, McGarry was named one of Time magazine’s thirty most influential teens and there is no question that we will be hearing a lot more from this talented young man in the years to come.

Bonne Laufer had the chance to chat with him about his culinary life and what it took to get where he is today.

Q: Cooking is something that you have always been passionate about. As we see in your new documentary, Chef Flynn, the passion really kicked in at around age 10. How did you know at that age that this was something you wanted to spend the rest of your life doing?

Chef Flynn McGarry: I don’t think that it was a conscious decision at that age that this was something I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing but I’ve always been the kind of person that if I am enjoying something, then I want to keep doing it. So, becoming a chef was a natural progression for me. It never started as, I want to be a chef, it was just that I loved cooking and I kept doing it. Being that young I was never pressured into anything and I could have stopped whenever I wanted but I just truly loved doing it and it turned into something much bigger than I could have ever anticipated.

Q: You’ve always had the support, help and backing from your family. How important has that been in shaping who you are and what you’ve become?

CF: It was definitely an integral part of my life especially as a child because I looked to my parents for guidance. I think having that support gave me the confidence to actually go work in kitchens or set up a pop up restaurant in our home and let me fulfill my cooking dreams. My parents knew from the beginning that this wasn’t just a hobby. They supported my passion and, along with my sister, were with me every step of the way. Without that there is no way I would have gotten this far so quickly. 

Q: We learn through the documentary that you were so passionate about cooking that you turned your bedroom into a makeshift kitchen. What was it like for you to get started at such a young age and as things were seriously progressing as you got older how did you handle knowing that this was something you were really going to do for the rest of your life?

CF: I don’t think I ever really thought about it like that to be honest.  It just kept progressing and I was always finding new things to cook and I really enjoyed what I was doing. I still think of it the same way, I keep finding new things that I enjoy about it and I think that is really what keeps me going. Every day is a new experience and being inspired and getting to create exciting new dishes is a dream for me. To be honest, it’s very rare for me to think, ‘this is my job’.  I appreciate all the opportunities that I have been given and I love having this freedom to create and make people happy with the food that I present.

Q: When the documentary was being shot was it annoying to you at any stage? The cameras were constantly in your face and we do get to see you when you are most vulnerable.

CF: It really wasn’t that bad but for me the most important element was having trust in the person who was making it.  I have known the director/cinematographer Cameron Yates for a very long time so it made me a lot more comfortable for him to film certain things that you see in the documentary.

Q: It was such a fascinating and honest look at your life and I especially love the footage of you as a little baby – not quite a year old and banging around the pots and pans!

CF:  (laughs) Ha, I know. I guess I was destined to be a chef at a VERY early age! My sister found that footage and it was a nice addition to the documentary.

Q: What is the biggest lesson you have learned over the past 9 years since you started taking your cooking seriously all the way to having your very own restaurant in New York City?

CF: I think the most important thing that I have learned is that you have to be very confident but also, I think about everything as though I am constantly learning. You can NEVER stop learning and I am always inspired by other chefs and the people I surround myself around. I never take the attitude ‘oh, I know this’ because you never know everything. My goal is to learn as much as possible and to continue learning.

Q: We know that cooking has always been your passion and you can spend 24 hours a day cooking if you could but there had to have been time to just be a kid?

Well yeah, I was a kid until I was 12 years old and then I was just kind of over it. (laughs)  For me, spending time cooking was kid stuff. I never felt like I was missing out on anything and I never felt the need to play or partake in other programs.  I was doing something that was interesting to me and I never felt left out or that I was missing out on anything.  Don’t get me wrong, everyone is different, and I think the freedom of being a “kid” is needed and great but for me I was perfectly happy doing what I was doing.  My parents were always happy and supportive with my decisions and, in fact, encouraged me to take some time away from the kitchen but I was always most happy when I was cooking and creating new dishes.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Will McGarry. 

Q: With so many TV options out there today, cooking and baking shows are all the rage.  We can’t get enough of them and I was wondering why you think we are all fascinated by them?

CF: I think it’s because they are interesting, and people want to learn how to cook. Chefs are interesting people and are artists in their own right. I see them as not disconnected, as many art forms are, but it’s partaking in something that we can relate to. People get ideas from these shows and many see themselves in the contestants. Especially the shows that feature every day home cooks who want to explore their passions.  I think it gives people confidence and there are so many elements that give people something to be interested in. 

Q: Who inspires you?

CF: There are so many Chefs that I am inspired by like Daniel Humm, René Redzepi and Thomas Keller.  I am constantly inspired by people I work with and who have the same drive and passion that I have for cooking and creating.

Q: At Rooks to Cooks some of the things that we are passionate about is empowering our students, we’d like our young chefs to become more independent, we want them to build self-confidence and support their self-expression through a culinary education.  How did these elements play in for you growing up as a young chef?

CF:  All of those things were and still are very important to me.  That is one of the reasons I started my pop up restaurants. There is always a learning curve but what was most exciting for me was creating and then executing the dish. I always try to find a balance between the two. It’s fun to create and take into consideration who and what inspires me so that I can add that to my dishes, but I also make sure I put my own spin on it and create my own style of food. It takes a while to do that and I only feel like now I can sort of define what that is, but it took many years to figure it all out.

Q: What is your creative process like?  You now run your very own restaurant and I am sure that you spend a lot of time creating new and exciting dishes for that. You offer 12 courses so it must give you such freedom to express yourself in so many different plates.

CF: We try to change things up almost daily. I definitely have some signature dishes that people expect but I try to change something up all the time.  I never want to be boring or stale. The idea behind our menu is to showcase what is available and what is inspiring at that moment too. Obviously, some ingredients are only available at certain times of the year, so we work around that.  It all starts with the ingredients and the farmers that I work very closely with, but from there I look at the foods as an art form.  I can’t really explain my process but it’s all about what I have to work with and what inspires me.  Having the restaurant gives me structure so sometimes I keep the same menu because I am not inspired that day, but other times I may change it up 4 times a week; it really just depends.  I want it to be a very personal restaurant in that way, where the food changes by what I am inspired by and what interests me.

Q: Do you ever surprise yourself with what you cook?

CF: (laughs) Every once in a while I will make something and think, wow, I didn’t expect that! I may put something in the menu that I don’t necessarily like but customers love and ask for.  It really is a new experience every day.

Q: I was wondering if you ever step back and say to yourself, wow – I can’t believe what I have accomplished, and I am not even 20 years old!  Hard work definitely pays off!

CF: I don’t do that for that exact reason. If I did that, I don’t think I would be doing what I am doing.  Age is just a number, I can’t focus on that and sometimes I wish others wouldn’t either! You’re right, I have worked really hard to get where I am, and I don’t plan on doing anything less. It’s a tough business but I love it and it really makes me so happy.


Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Will McGarry.

CHEF FLYNN’S KID-FRIENDLY ADVICE:

1.What advice would you give to young and aspiring cooks and chefs?

CF: Find a style or an entry point to cooking.  While it is important to cook your own stuff and kind of create dishes and be creative with it, you can’t do any of that until you know all the basics. So learn all the basics on your own or go work somewhere to learn all the basics, and then from there start kind of doing your own thing. But never be like, “Alright, I’m done learning from other people.” Never get to a place where you think you know everything, because you never will. You are always going to be a student and you are always learning. Yes – you are going to constantly mess up but that’s ok and a huge part of it. Especially in cooking – there’s always something else to learn. You have to work really hard, but you also have to enjoy the work. It is long days and it can get tiring and trying at times but if you actually truly love it, then it’s easier to stomach than if you feel like it’s just become a routine job.

2. What skills does a young aspiring chef HAVE to learn?

CF: Knife skills are really important and a sense of urgency. Especially for young cooks wanting to work in the industry or a professional kitchen.  It’s something that a lot of people don’t have anymore, but it is so important especially for a higher level of cuisine.  Also, be a team player.  You’re not going to get anywhere on your own and it’s important to work with others and respect them as well.

3) What is the best way to persevere and not let things get you down?

CF: It’s different for everyone but for me cooking is my outlet, I find it therapeutic. It could be the roughest day at work, but I always try to focus on the task at hand and it calms me down.  I am working with my hands and creating something tangible which always gives me a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

4)  What is the most gratifying thing about becoming a Chef?

CF: People liking your food! That is a huge thing for every chef — seeing the reaction from people eating your food and knowing that they are really enjoying it.  What we create is special for people and when they come and eat in my restaurant for example to mark special events in their lives nothing makes me happier to know that I have made that day a little bit more special.

5) What is the best way to relieve stress?

CF:  I like to read about anything that is NOT about cooking or I will go see a movie or watch a show on TV that has absolutely nothing to do with food!  For me it’s been really important to be able to remove myself from it in some way for a few hours of the day.

6)  What is your favourite guilty pleasure food?

CF: I love ice-cream! I eat ice cream way too much! I don’t know if it is a guilty pleasure at this point, I have just really come to terms with it!

Bonnie Laufer and Rooks to Cooks would like to thank Chef Flynn for taking the time to talk about his love of cooking and his amazing career! We wish him continued success in all his future ventures.