Welcome to a new section called “Meet the Chef”, where we connect and reach out to many of the cities talented Chef’s. We ask a series of questions that revolve around the culinary world — the community, industries, food, and trends — as well as personal adventures and goals.In our first segment, we reached out to Jed Smith, a 32-year-old Chef, who was born in England and at the age 24 moved to North America to pursue his career with Momofuku Ssäm bar in New York. He has been working in restaurants for over 10 years starting under the mentorship of Pierre Gagnaire. Cooking keeps him ecstatic and subsequently, seeing others happy from eating his food also makes him happy. He has worked for notable chefs such as Pierre Gagnaire, Martin Picard, Alex Atala and David Chang.
Jed: Explain what your blog is?
FWF: (Giuliano) The blog covers a variety of things from food to travel. We eventually would like to take this blog and curate a platform where like-minded individuals in both the hospitality and media fields could interact and collaborate with each other. We would want people to join in with us share some ideas, and experiences as well. (Giuliana) It is interesting because I haven’t really seen blogs out there that are written and created by two individuals that have gone through the whole process of going to culinary school, being in the industry, working in a kitchen, knowing the terminology of what everything really is so we are trying to break that down and re-invent that so it is easily accessible and understandable by the average home cook.
Jed: I see a lot of blogs and things nowadays that are mostly run by journalists or people who are only good home cooks might not necessarily know every single detail.
FWF: (Giuliana) Yup! We both enjoy the food industry, wanting to be cooks and wanting to work in the kitchen, but we are also big foodies that love our city and like to explore different cultures and different cuisines and we want to share that with other people. (Giuliano) The purpose of this interview is to try to get to know you more; your thoughts about the culinary industry in Toronto and in general, and see what you have planned and your motives etc.
FWF: (Giuliano) I know that back in 2014 you were at Momofuku Ssäm Bar in New York?
Jed: Actually it was 2011, just at the end of 2010, and I was basically at Ssäm Bar all the way through 2011 and hung out in New York for a bit afterward.
FWF: (Giuliano) How was that?
Jed: Well Ssäm Bar and Momofuku were in the early stages of becoming a restaurant group, and they only had the restaurants in New York, and during my time there they were opening the Sydney location, so that was the first outpost outside of New York. It was a pretty young company, and fun environment to work in. Everyone in the company knew everybody, so everything had a lot of personalities. Ssäm Bar was more like a family style restaurant, with the large sharing plates, and the big pork shoulder aka the Bo Ssäm.
FWF: (Giuliano) Is this where you started cooking?
Jed: I actually had been working for a French chef in London for five years, Pierre Gagnaire. I worked at that restaurant sketch, I started as a commis and my way up through the building.
FWF: (Giuliano) And that was your first restaurant job?
Jed: That was my first restaurant job.
FWF: (Giuliano) Nice! Did you always have an interest in cooking beforehand?
Jed: I actually went to school for pharmaceutical and cosmetic science, and then during university, I had to learn to cook and fend for myself. I was cooking on a low-budget and trying to guide my roommates who were eating crap. We would go to the supermarket and buy stuff for the week, and I would try to be creative with the ingredients available. I grew up with a lot of home cooked meals, it was just in my nature to not always want to eat takeout. It was then that I actually realized that I was good at it, making me pursue a career.
FWF: (Giuliano) Tell me a little about that. About your London stay, and how long you were there before moving to America.
Jed: I moved to America in 2010, I was about 24, but I had been living in London for 5-6 years prior. I have been living independently from my parents since I was 18.
FWF: (Giuliano) Where do you get your inspiration from?
Jed: I kind of get it from the ingredients themselves. For example, if I’m creating a dish or a menu for something – I always start with the focus ingredient and work away from that thinking how I can make this the best it can be and how can I make it sing amongst everything else. I always work away from a central focus point. Then I also, if I am cooking directly for a specific person, like to get inspired by something they have a particular affinity to. For example, something they really love that they haven’t had for a long time or something they really wanted once but were disappointed by. I also get a little bit inspired by British heritage, the simplicity of it. I grew up eating a meat and two veg, and that is so much more appealing to me than a dish with six or more different components.
FWF: (Giuliano) If I were to give you an ingredient, would you be able to create a dish for me on the spot? For example, if I say strawberries as the main component, design a dish around that.
Jed: Yea, for sure. It would definitely be super simple that’s for sure.
FWF: (Giuliano) I will give you monkfish.
Jed: I would definitely marinate the fish in something with high impact flavours, like spices, chilies, fragrant herbs, and punchy profiles; ingredients like ginger and red chilies. I would probably marinate it in a tomato-ginger-red chili rub. I’ve never tried to grill monkfish before so I would grill it and get some char on it. Serve it with a blond stewed cabbage with a little fish stock. Super clean, fish is super punchy, and then make a broken vinaigrette with ginger juice with some chili oil to finish.
FWF: (Giuliano) Where was your first Chef de Cuisine position? What were some of the challenges you faced?
Jed: Shõtõ was my first CDC position. One of the challenges I dealt with at this stage of my career was mentorship. That was one thing I was never really good at even though it was required of me as a Sous Chef. It was only when I became Head Chef was it that I finally realized I really needed to work on it, and I am still working on it to become a good mentor and leader. I strive to be more of a good leader than a good boss; I see myself as someone who could inspire people. Being a CDC is not all about cooking; cooking is 50% of the job.
FWF: (Giuliano) As a CDC for Momofuku, working with only Ontario seasonal ingredients, what were some of the challenges?
Jed: Yeah there are definitely challenges with that. The suppliers/availability of ingredients is very unpredictable. You need to work around the seasonal periods. This is a risk you take working with hyper-seasonal ingredients. You don’t know how long they will last nor do you know the quality of them. I need to have back up dishes in my head that can be inserted at any point just in case. You try not to use them just because you want to keep that seasonal flow throughout the year. You need to be resourceful, and figure out a way to preserve them for when you need them.
FWF: (Giuliano & Giuliano) One thing, since the renovation of Momofuku, are you currently working or returning? What do you see yourself doing within the next year?
Jed: I am having a little bit of a break, doing some traveling. It wasn’t a decision I made by myself. The renovation created an opportunity for me to move on. The new iteration of Momofuku isn’t going to have a tasting menu or an open kitchen where the chef will interact with the guests. This is something I really like to do and something I’ve been doing for the 6 years so I don’t see myself returning. I want to use this summer as an opportunity and a platform to get myself out there into the city. I am going to be doing two pop-ups in Montreal in June, and then one in upstate New York around July 4th, then we’ll see what happens after that, maybe a couple in Toronto, Port Elgin, and Prince Edward County. I’ll see what happens at that point and where my mind is at.
FWF: (Giuliana) What do you say is the trend in Toronto right now? If you had to follow one what would you follow?
Jed: I think right now it’s definitely the desserts like Hong Kong bubble waffles, and Japanese brunch/breakfast soufflé pancakes. It is definitely in the back of my mind what food trend I could potentially experiment with for a given summer. If I had to follow a trend I would follow one that was savoury, like the cheese stuffed Korean fried chicken.
FWF: (Giuliano) Momofuku is well-known for its Noodle Bar and serving Korean and Japanese influenced dishes. Have you been influenced by some of these flavour profiles?
Jed: I would say that I have been exposed to those flavours and ingredients a lot in Momofuku, but I always keep my mind open to everything. I like to expand my knowledge as much as I can on different ingredients and on how I can use them; I try to absorb as much as I can from other people. I always gravitate to ingredients that have the qualities I personally like to eat – full of flavour and spice. It has just become more familiar.
FWF: (Giuliana) What is your take on the food revolution? (Giuliano) In terms of going from processed food to a healthier outlook.
Jed: I definitely think everybody should be eating things at their rawest state, their most natural form. I think that that is the way I have always cooked. Buying the whole chicken rather than its pieces separately. But I also believe that certain processed food like fish sauce or Worcestershire sauce are great products. These are things that are made in factories that you cannot replicate and are good tools to use in the kitchen, I don’t think there should be a black and white mentality of what you should or shouldn’t use. You need to educate yourself on products from both spectrums, and being aware of what you are using.
FWF: (Giuliana) What about organic vs. GMO? I know there is a whole debate about it. In the novel Omnivore’s Dilemma there is whole chapter focusing on farming. What is your take?
Jed: I think that organic food or organic produce can and does taste better, it is about the care of the farmer. There is a huge difference between mass produced vs small farm produced. The end product simply tastes better. On the other hand, I do not necessarily think that organic means it should be the only way, but what I do know is that definitely more chemicals means way worse.
FWF: (Giuliano) I agree. I think that it’s the idea that “organic” comes with having a feeling of better consciousness.
Jed: There are ways of using pesticides and chemicals that do not necessarily hurt or impact the environment in the worst ways, but genetically modified food has definitely taken away flavour from the product.
FWF: (Giuliano) What is your signature dish? For staff at work? Family and friends?
Jed: I actually don’t have one. Funny enough when I was just starting out in the culinary world I thought I needed a signature dish. I made myself have one and it was a chicken breast stuffed with blueberries and mozzarella, and then pan-fried. This was the dish I pulled out when I had guests over or even at a restaurant I would try this dish on people. So that was my original. Maybe I’ll make it again one day. I don’t remember if it tasted good or not. Right now I generally like to make soups, broth ones. I like building on the flavours and everything is clear telling a story. I also really enjoy making a roast chicken or a meat and mushroom pie. I don’t really have something that people say ‘this is what Jed always cooks’ because I’m always trying new things. No matter what it is though I always make it family style.
FWF: (Giuliano) Do you have anything you would like to say about upcoming plans?
Jed: I would say that I am looking forward to changing and messing up the scene a little in Toronto in the next few years. Taking the restaurant community in a different direction and stir it up a bit. Make some good changes, and hopefully, there will be a place where you can get my food again.
Listen to the full interview below where you can hear some of Jed’s favourite ingredients, about his travels through San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Mexico and about some potential pop-ups in the city.
Written By: Giuliana Donia and Giuliano Vieira
Audio Edited By: Giuliana Donia
Post Edited By: Giuliana Donia and Giuliano Vieira