Celebrated as one of Canada’s first celebrity chefs, Chef Jamie Kennedy has certainly made his mark during his 40-year career. Known for his innovative approach to gastronomy, this award-winning chef and author has not only influenced Toronto’s restaurant scene, he has also been instrumental in shaping the culinary landscape in Canada. His unwavering commitment to sustainable agriculture and his advocacy of local food has helped pioneer ‘farm to table’ practices nationwide and has fostered important ties between farmers and chefs across Ontario. For his contributions Jamie has been honoured with the Order of Canada as well as the Governor General’s Award in Celebration of the Nation’s Table. We caught up with the culinary icon at his farm in Prince Edward County to find out more.
You were one of the pioneers of the farm-to-table movement in Canada. Tell us a little bit about your philosophy on food.
It boils down to recognizing that there is excellence to be found in all areas of artisan production of food in Ontario and in the larger sense in our country. My thinking is that we should be seeking out and supporting this excellence in our choices about the food we bring to our table.
What’s it like to see that philosophy gain popularity with Canadians?
This philosophy finds support in many countries. Certainly in the United States, the UK, parts of Europe and further afield there has been a shared re-evaluation of our values when it comes to food and food culture. It is satisfying to see this philosophy come to life in Canada. One example is the increase in popularity of supporting farmer’s markets. In Toronto alone, one can find a farmer’s market operating on every day of the week. That was not the case even 10 years ago.
Over the years you ran and operated a series of popular restaurants in Toronto. Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs who want to open their own establishments incorporating your approach to gastronomy?
The challenges entrepreneurs face in my sector are common to all entrepreneurs practicing restaurant operation. I don’t think there is any real difference. Some may say that costs in my sector are inherently higher than in other sectors. This may be true to some extent, but the real success of any restaurant lies with the operator’s ability to provide an experience that their customers will support on a regular basis.
You have left behind your hectic city life and now reside at your farm in the countryside of Prince Edward County. What life is like after leaving restaurants behind? Do you see this move as an extension to your philosophy on food or something different?
Living in a rural area, surrounded by farms and small scale producers of food and wine makes me feel at home. In this sense, yes, it is an extension of my philosophy and provides me with fertile ground to continue the exploration of terroir-based gastronomy.
Can you tell us more about your work with Canada’s Own soup line?
Since my last restaurant, Gilead Café, closed in 2015, I have been looking to stay involved in the food industry, but perhaps in a different manner than restaurants while still adhering to my basic operating principles. Carole-Ann Hayes approached me last year to gauge my interest in becoming involved with Canada’s Own. Carole-Ann started the company 10 years ago with the intention of producing delicious, fresh soups using ingredients sourced from local producers with no additives. She felt she had a role to play to encourage Canadians to make good choices about supporting the local food economy and eating nutritious food. The position of chef and brand ambassador came up in the company and it resonated with me. Time will tell in which direction this little soup company that could will head. I am excited to take Carole-Ann’s original company concept and grow it to reach all corners of Canada and extract the best each region of our vast country has to offer.
Tell us about your recent renovation and what it’s like having your first dream kitchen?
This is an ever-evolving design collaboration principally between me and my girlfriend, Victoria Taylor. To date many people have been involved, our architect, Vanessa Fong, and our builder, Peter Sage, top the list of so many skilled artisans. It was most exciting for me to create a kitchen from scratch with no imposed physical restraints, a blank canvas where the materials used for everything — from the floor to the walls to the counters — was carefully considered before making a decision. I am loving the protracted process.
What are some simple changes home chefs can make to embrace the ‘farm to table’ movement in their lives?
Whenever one can, one should demonstrate support for the local food movement by purchasing produce and products from a local farmer or food artisan at a farmer’s market.
For more on Jamie, visit jamiekennedy.ca or follow him on social media:
Facebook @JamieKennedyKitchens | Twitter @ChefJKennedy