As an executive chef with a reputation for creating signature dishes, Chef Corbin’s culinary magic is renowned throughout Toronto. Beloved by professionals and home cooks alike, Chef Corbin became a household name hosting several series on Food Network Canada, including Restaurant Makeover, Restaurant Takeover, Dinner Party Wars and The Incredible Food Race. Always looking for the next big project, most recently Chef Corbin has published his own cookbook and has launched his own catering company — all while raising three boys with his wife Charlene.
We caught up with the celebrity chef to see what’s cookin’
Growing up in rural Alberta what were your early influences in becoming a chef?
As a young boy, I loved watching my mother and grandmother prepare and cook farm-fresh meals on our family farm in Northern Alberta. We raised our own animals and grew crops along with massive gardens that supplied the freshest of ingredients. I can remember, when I was five or so, being enamoured with my mother’s cooking and magic in the kitchen. I would stack the yellow pages books onto the floor — back in the day when they existed — up next to the kitchen counter and stovetop just so that I could see my mother cooking and preparing meals; I was too small to see what was happening so I had to be creative
You have held executive chef positions at various restaurants across the city including Holt Renfrew Toronto, the ROM, and the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel. What unique elements do you consider when designing a menu for a venue?
The designing of the menu stems from the customer base and what their needs and wants are — paired with the environment and, of course, the space I am working out of. I always take into consideration the brand of the company or business I am working with and find ways to elevate and pair it with my own. I then take ALL of these considerations and create seasonal, local, sustainable offerings — that showcase my likings with food and ingredients. I get inspiration from several outlets including the relationships I have with my team and their talents, the purveyors that I purchase incredible product from, and of course, my creative and artistic abilities as a professional chef.
As a host/judge on the Food Network’s Dinner Party Wars you witnessed a lot of epic wins as well as many colossal fails. Can you share your top must and must-not tips when it comes to entertaining?
Most importantly, never lose sight of why you invite guests over — to spend an enjoyable time with one another. No matter your level of experience and expertise, cook what you know and be amazing at it; also an incredible sense of organization and planning ahead is helpful. As an Executive Chef, I take great pride and consideration in detailed plans and organization that include extensive lists and work-back schedules. For most home cooks I always say keep it simple — less is always more. Your guests want to spend time with you — so avoid chaining yourself to the kitchen stove and remember to spend time with your invitees.
Last year you published your cookbook, In Good Company. What is your favourite recipe from the book?
A tough question — it is like having to pick a favourite ingredient as a CHEF…too many to choose from. This cookbook is very personal and shares many stories associated to the recipes and I have many favourites — I love them all!
I especially love the Fennel and Pistachio Crusted Lamb Rack on page 131. This recipe was a favourite from when I was at Holt Renfrew and I remember preparing it for many VIP guests at a celebrity event. It is also a recipe that can be easily prepared by any novice cook — it seems complicated, but it is not. I especially love it when someone who normally does not like lamb tastes this dish for the first time and then raves on how delicious it is and how it tastes nothing like the lamb they have had before. It’s definitely and game changer! BARRY LINK TO RECIPE PAGE
You left the restaurant world to start your own catering company. Was there a specific reason behind the move? Is there anything you miss?
My new catering and event business is “The Ultimate Culinary Experience”. I have always loved the catering side of the business as it allows me to really showcase my talents in the private and corporate sector; all while curating specialized and personalized menus for each of my customers — something that many caterers do not always do. No two menus or events are the same and this philosophy of catering events is the mirror image on how I function as a creative being. I love recreating and reinventing meals and what better way to do it than with my very own catering company.
Every great chef loves the action and feeling one gets from a jam packed busy restaurant; catering provides me the same feeling, all while not having to create the same foods over time and time again —there are no limits! Check it out at http://www.corbins.ca.
Healthy eating habits start at a young age. Do you have any advice for parents struggling to get their children to eat their veggies or try new foods?
Rule #1. Never hide the veggies in your prepared meals at home. I get quite a laugh when I hear parents have to hide vegetables in meals in order to incorporate them. When you do this you are essentially teaching your kids that it is OKAY to avoid vegetables and you create a behaviour that validates their dislike for the veggies. The best way to get your kids to love and eat vegetable — and further more ALL foods — is to start them off young and teach them to try and taste various foods. Have your kids be part of the process with menu planning, shopping, and meal preparation. I have three great kids that pretty much eat everything — why you ask? They know no different. Homemade prepared meals are the first step and getting them to be part of the process helps. An easy suggestion is to take your kids to a local farm or garden and have them pick the item from the patch. Chances are if they pick it and help to prepare and cook it they will eat it!
As a busy father-of-three how do you make time for everything?
It is never easy, but life is about choices. As a chef, I have had to make some sacrifices along the way with my career and personal life. I have learned it is not always about how much time you spend with your family, but rather the quality of the time you spend with them. Our lives are a juggling act and no two days are the same. I love my family and take every opportunity to share and create experiences with them — whether it is coaching their baseball team, going for a walk, or simply reading with them at bedtime — kids just want to spend time with you. An easy way for us to connect at home is to cook and eat together! My incredible, beautiful and supportive wife Charlene is the family anchor and she keeps us all on task — we could not do it without her!
If you could give one piece of advice to help chefs at home up their game what would it be?
I would ask them to take some risks in the kitchen and attempt new recipes and methods of cooking. Practise makes perfect and do not be afraid to fail! Take advantage of the wealth of information that is available on cooking and do not be intimidated with new methods. I always say, “It is just food on plates,” have fun and remember that nothing ventured is nothing gained!