by John Lee
Amanda Ray was smitten with food at an early age and has gone from culinary student to Sous Chef at Canoe in a relatively short period of time. Through her tenure at Oliver Bonacini, Amanda has estaged in France, participated in numerous culinary competitions and events as well volunteering her time to various food related causes and charities. Those who know her describe her as “busy.”
GFR: Could you actually run a restaurant that only used sustainable, organic, local and seasonal ingredients without going broke in a few days? If no, then what are all these crazy people talking about?
Amanda Ray: Yes, I think you can to a certain degree. I do think it would be difficult to do it straight across the board. Just due to simply our geography there will always be items that you cannot get from within the sustainable/organic/local/seasonal criteria. First and foremost I think you have to decide what your philosophy is for your restaurant. Canoe’s been on the forefront of this for years, we do support sustainable, local and seasonal and that’s evident from looking at our menu. I think it’s become a lot easier to do this with companies like 100km Foods, who we’ve been dealing with since they opened shop over a year ago. They are bridging the gap between chefs and growers and making it possible for more than 30 chefs in Toronto to get produce from some 20 different farmers within 24-48 hours from being harvested.
This summer I went out with Paul Sawtell, co-owner of 100 km Foods, to do a ride-a-long and got the chance to meet 12 or so of the farmers whose product we’ve been using. It was amazing! We began our trip in Toronto just after 8AM, and headed to Uxbridge, Bradford to the Holland Marsh area and to Barrie to meet a few other of the smaller farms who drive to meet Paul with their products. It was a full day of meeting farmers and talking about what they had for us this week, I loved it. My grandfather and great-grandfathers were farmers in that area, and some of the farmers knew of him. It was fantastic and so nice to put a face to a name on a product list. We got back to TO around 7PM and met Grace Mandarano, Paul’s co-owner, at their warehouse to unload, so they could sort through the days goodies and put them away for the night till they would be delivered to the Chefs kitchens in the morning.
I think that it’s a lot more affordable now to eat locally, sustainably, organically and seasonally as it becomes more mainstream. At Fiesta Farms, where I shop, they have a partnership with LFP (Local Food Plus) and are committed to stocking a range of LFP Certified Local Sustainable items. They also are partnered up with important organizations like The Stop and The New Farm, and they carry a variety of The New Farm’s products that they grow near Creemore.
GFR: What’s the worst part about working in a corporate environment? And what is the best?
AR: I honestly could not say there is worst part of working in a corporation. The best though would have to be the people working in the restaurants. I have never worked anywhere before where the people who make up the company have so much passion for what they do, its amazing to work with so many talented people. I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing chefs like Anthony Walsh, Tom Brodi and Jason Bangerter who I’ve worked with during my eight plus years with Oliver & Bonacini.
Okay, so Yes, we are a “corporation” by definition but each of our restaurants are different and unique. Like Auberge du Pommier, Biffs, Jump and Canoe. Maybe Oliver Bonacini Café & Grill would fall more in to that corporate vein I guess you could say. We have OBCG’s now in Bayview, Oakville, Collingwood, and Waterloo…and the next to open at 33 Yonge St. It’s an exciting time right now in the company, since we’ve just launched our own artisanal breads bakery for the company. The breads have taken flight in Canoe, Auberge, Jump and Biffs. We are very happy to have David Wilson join us and bake up some beautiful breads.
And, there are lots of opportunities for advancement in this “corporation”: to climb the ladder within a single restaurant, whether it be in the front of the house or back of the house. Or it could be to move to one of our sister restaurants and work with another chef or type of cuisine. I love being able to be involved with events in the industry like Taste of Toronto, What’s on the Table, Gold Medal Plates and the Slow Food Picnic, these things are possible because of chefs like Anthony Walsh who give back time and time again showcase what we do at Canoe and share our passion with others in the industry.
GFR: What is your favourite food themed movie and why?
AR: I have a few, so it’s too hard to pick just one. Definitely Like Water for Chocolate: a classic film out of Mexico that parallels food and passions. Like many cultures, Mexican revolves around good food and communal eating. When emotions and dreams are stifled, they surface through the food in this movie. I read the book and loved it!! I loved how they started each chapter off with a recipe and the passion behind her cooking. Also Big Night. Do you think it’s alright to eat risotto alongside a plate of spaghetti and meatballs? The horror! If so, you’d learn a thing or two from watching Big Night, a movie doused in Italian reverence for food. The story is of two immigrant brothers, Primo, the prideful chef, and Secondo, the smooth-talking front man, who struggle to run a real Italian restaurant. Their Big Night comes with the chance to cook for famous singer Louis Prima, and they put everything into it, money, passion, themselves. Not to be missed are cooking scenes of the Italian dish timpano and Stanley Tucci with a hilarious Italian accent. And finally, Ratatouille, the Oscar winner for best animated film, it follows the adventures of an aspiring chef, and the gastronomic genius rat that helps him cook. It is remarkable how many true food principles are on display in this film, but the true message is that anybody can cook. I saw this while I was in France, doing a stage at a five star Relai & Chateau, Crillon le Brave. It was very fitting.
GFR: You have been chosen to cook for Barack Obama and he is looking for a truly Canadian dinner which does not include beets, maple syrup, cranberries, caribou or salmon. What would you make? Three courses, please.
AR: Amuse: Quebec Foie Gras with Brioche and a Saskatoon Berry Compote. Appetizer: East Coast Lobster & Spaetzle with fennel, tarragon and a Lobster Bisque Foam. Main: Trio of Pork- Roasted Pork Loin, Pork Belly braised with Big Rock Winter Spice Ale and a Tortierre with Jerusalem Artichoke Gratin, Cookstown Carrots & Ford Hooks with A Pork Jus & Apple Gastrique. Dessert: Apple Strudel with a Cheddar Cheese Ice Cream.
GFR: What was your favourite book that is not about food or cooking?
AR: That’s a tough question. I love reading, but I have many favourites. My father was an English teacher and both my parents are avid readers, so growing up my Dad would always give us books for every occasion. A few that I love are The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving and A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah.
GFR: Where would you send my wife and I for dinner if we could go anywhere in the world and money is no object?
AR: Wow. If I could send you anywhere? Hmmm… I would send you to Pic in Valence, France to have Anne-Sophie Pic cook for you. Few women have managed to make a name for themselves amongst the culinary elite. She is the first woman to be awarded three Michelin Stars in over 50 years. You would definitely have to stay at Maison Pic for the night to get the full deal, then drive through the wine regions and do some tasting. It was the one place I truly wanted to eat while in Provence… next time I won’t miss out! Bonne appetit.
GFR: Who is the one person that you would be petrified to cook for?
AR: Probably not petrified, but I’d have to say Anthony Bourdain. Or Marco Pierre White.
GFR: To sous vide or not to sous vide?
AR: Most definitely to sous vide! Cooking Sous Vide has been around for a long time, but is enjoying a re-emergence as a gourmet cooking method. The sous vide cooking method keeps all the flavours in the food, they are more intense because there is absolutely no loss, nothing is diluted, it’s a nice gentle slow method locking all that flavour inside. It’s like cooking in a womb. It’s f**king awesome. I want one for home, but its not in the budget.
GFR: Which is your least favourite ingredient?
AR: Canned mackerel. When I was 19 I did an international co-op with AFS & CIDA in Costa Rica. We worked with endangered leatherback turtles. It was an amazing experience; one I will never forget. I was living on a refuge in a remote village off the Caribbean Coast named Gandoca. I lived in a volunteer house with many travelers who would come to work with the turtles. The volunteer house that we lived was very rustic, the first floor was an open concept with a dirt floor where our open-air dining room was, and where the kitchen was located. Upstairs were four bedrooms, with wood shutters, bunk beds and a tin roof. There was a woman from the village named Dona Lydia who would cook for the volunteers; she would often have little supplies to work with. Our staples were gallo pinto (rice & beans) which we had without fail for breakfast, lunch & dinner daily. Sometimes we would have some protein to accompany it, and other days it would be vegetarian. My least favourite was the canned mackerel. It was awful and I can’t stand it to this day. Even the smell. I would almost wish for the days when one of our pet chickens would go missing and low and behold we had chicken for dinner. Sad but true.
GFR: What do you cook when you are sad? Or do you?
AR: When I’m sad I generally will either make comfort foods, something from my childhood usually. Classic sad food for me is my Grandma Richardson’s Macaroni & Cheese or Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Sammy’s. A stew or something I can put on and forget about for a while. Or take-out if I’m feeling both sad and lazy.
GFR: What is the one quality you detest in others that you see in yourself?
AR: I don’t know…probably having a horrible poker face… being too expressive. My cooks sometimes tell me how funny my facial expressions are when I react to something. I’m trying to be more conscious of it so I don’t say it with my eyes before I use my words. That’s probably why I don’t play Poker. Oh, and the use of too much green oil. I hate the overuse of it, but somehow I seem to use it here and there. There is no need for the green heavy Hulk hand puddle on the plate.
John Lee is the President of Chippy’s Fish & Chips.
Good article Ray.. Diggin’ the strudel with cheddar ice cream.
Nice interview. 🙂 Cool to read about some of the people behind such fabulous food. I was at Canoe for Winterlicious this year and the food was absolutely incredible – I can hardly wait to go back!
Amanda ray is one of the most talented Chef’s I have had the pleasure of working with. Stellar work RAY RAY
Congrats on a terrific interview Amanda. I’m so proud! Love Mom.
Congrats, Amanda…what a great interview. We were partners 2nd year at George Brown, and wow has she come a long way! It’s great to see you are still so passionate about food.
Congratulations Amanda on a fantastic interview. I’m so happy that you are able to live your life’s passion. Love Aunt Dianne
Wow Amanda, I am truly impressed by this interview. You are extremely passionate about food, the way you have always seemed to be about life. I would love the opportunity to have a meal with you, be it breakfast, lunch or dinner. Great job and kep up the great work!!!