Kelly Hughes [chefkellyhughes]
When did you start cooking? Who got you started in this art?
I have cooked my whole life. I think it around the age of 12 when I started experimenting with recipes and cooking meals for my family. The real inspiration came after a stint cooking for seniors at a retirement home. It was my job to create menus and prepare the meals. They became more involved and more elaborate, until my boss said, "you should really go to cooking school", which I ultimately did, which started my cooking career.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in food?
Food is such a basic human need, and yet in our society it has become an afterthought, even vilified. Cooking to me is a way of reconnecting with others, whether I am cooking for people in my job, or sharing a meal with friends and family. It gives me joy to see people come together at the table and really enjoy the simple pleasure that is food.
Is there a website or blog where we can see something about you and your cooking?
Yes, I have two websites:
www.the-caterie.com which highlights my catering business and provides information;
www.foodisgood.org which is a celebration of all things to do with food and cooking.
I also write a blog, www.fig-foodisgood.blogspot.com
What culinary training have you received? Where have you learned more, in class or by experimenting?
I attended the Chef program at George Brown College, and went on to do my apprenticeship in various restaurants around Toronto. I also learned about large quantity food preparation by working for an upscale catering company and building my own. School gives you the basics, but it is the days and nights spent in the kitchens that hones your crafts and develops your skills. In this phase of my career, it is the networking with others in the industry, as well as being exposed to restaurants, blogs, and foods of other cultures that has allowed me to keep things innovative and current.
How and where did you get your first job as a professional cook?
I got my first job in a French/Fusion restaurant in Toronto through word-of-mouth, which is how it often happens in the industry. From there I moved around alot, before finally committing myself to my own ideas and establishing The Caterie in 1999.
How would you define your style?
"Elegant Rustic". I like food to be as close to its natural state as possible. Wherever I can I use locally sourced, seasonal, and organic ingredients, free-range meats, and artisan cheeses. I love colour, and view each dish as a bit of an artistic composition.
Do you select and buy the ingredients yourself? Where?
I do. I scour markets, farms, and my own city for sources of amazing ingredients. Usually whatever it is I'm going to make is dictated by what I find out there, not the other way around.
What is your favorite spice to cook with and why?
There are too many to choose just one, but I do love working with fragrant spices like cardamom, anise, cumin, and fenugreek. I also really love chilis and the range of things you can do with them, from crusting a piece of fish to spicing some Mexican Hot Chocolate.
What is your signature dish or your favorite recipe?
My chocolate macadamia tart, rosemary herb bread, and gumbo.
What is your favorite cooking gadget?
I don't generally use gadgets, but I could not live without a mandoline for beautiful vegetable cuts and mortar and pestle for grinding my own spice blends.
Who have been the biggest inspirations in your career?
My step-grandmother who was a caterer, and who told me once, "never be a caterer! It's too much work". I think I wanted to find out for myself. Of course I am always inspired by my mother's home-cooking and by the bounty that surrounds us.
If you were stranded on a deserted island for one year, what dish would ask to eat after your rescue?
A wheel of Sauvagine cheese, fresh figs and baguette, followed closely by a Rowe Farms Organic cheeseburger from Artisinale in Guelph.
If any chef in the world could prepare a meal for you, who would it be?
That answer would have been Eric Ripert a year ago, but I was lucky enough to have a meal at Le Bernardin, so now it would be Jacques Pepin. I would love to sit and have a glass of wine and watch him work. To me his style embodies all the best things about food.
Men versus women: do they cook differently?
This is an interesting question. I would have to say people all cook differently, men, women, chefs, and laypeople. It's about the motivation behind cooking. If you are passionate, you will treat your ingredients much differently than if you are just looking to fill the gap.
Is there something you hate to see when you go to a restaurant as a customer?
Disrespect for great ingredients, and the price that is charged for simply bad food.
Do you sometimes find yourself eating junk-food?
Of course! Anyone who says they don't indulge once in a while is missing out on a part of the whole food spectrum. Who doesn't enjoy a bag of salt and vinegar chips or some "street meat" every once in a while?
Who cooks in your home?
What would you say to a novice in the kitchen to help them get over their fear of cooking?
Get yourself some good basic tools, and start simple. Make sure you have a couple of good, sharp knives, a decent cutting board, and go from there. Pick a recipe you have always wanted to make, or a style of cooking your are interested in, and work through some recipes. Don't try to make something really ambitious the first time out, or you will get discouraged. Then once you have some confidence, try something harder. Cooking should be fun, and if it isn't, you may be trying to do too much.
Guelph, Ontario, Canada.