Chef Devan Rajkumar is quickly becoming one of the hottest names in the Toronto culinary scene. Driven by a deep passion for all things food related, Chef Devan spends his days at the helm of his downtown Toronto restaurant, engaging audiences as a guest chef on CITYLINE, spurring culinary battles with up-and-coming local talent, and honing his craft as a culinary and food expert.
We caught up with the exuberant chef to learn more about the man behind the apron.
Anthony Bourdain once said, “Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.”
Tell us what food means to you?
My oldest memory of food is sitting on the floor of my grandma’s apartment as a small child helping her to grind coconuts for making a classic traditional Indo-Guyanese dish which is called ‘coconut choka’- a spicy and flavourful grated coconut condiment.
This was my introduction to cooking and sparked my love of food. The flavourful profile and delight of this dish transported me to another planet; and, since then, I was catapulted on my quest to discover and recreate exciting culinary experiences for others from all the various cultures of the world.
Food has a way of connecting people, unlike anything else. Similar to music, you can connect and bond with someone from another culture without even knowing their language or customs. Food is the common denominator which connects our global human family. It is the essence of life. I am passionate about food to the core of my being and strive each day to learn a new recipe or improve on my skills.
Have you been able to infuse a little bit of your personality into your Toronto restaurant, Loch & Quay? Do the menu and ambiance reflect who you are as a chef?
Without a doubt the menu at Loch & Quay reflects my personality and unbounded passion to leave a lasting and flavourful impression with every guest. I have been very fortunate to travel to many countries to work and learn indigenous food cultures from authentic local chefs and families. In fact, I took a 6 month sabbatical in 2016, for a world food tour where I was able to eat my way through India, Dubai and several countries in Europe plus a 2 weeks intensive training at a Cerveceria in Peru. My menu here at Loch & Quay is world inspired, as I am.
How do you run your kitchen? Do you strike fear like Gordon Ramsay, or do you prefer a cooler, calmer approach?
I have worked under chefs who would yell, scream and thrown plates at walls. However, this is certainly not my style, approach and innate personality. I prefer to be a mentor and teacher to all the people in our kitchen. I am fortunate to be surrpounded by talented cooks and chefs. Indeed! things can get very heated in the kitchen, at times, but remaining calm and collected not only sets a better environment for our staff, but the customers as well. Besides, I see food as sacred and should be treated with the respect and positive energy to enhance the dining experience.
Have you always dreamed of becoming a world-class chef?
Ever since I was a child I have been obsessed with food. I would go to bed at night and dream of what I would eat for breakfast; then, after breakfast I would conjure up lunch. As a child, I would watch cooking shows instead of cartoons. I would badger my mom to take me to see famous chefs. I saw Emeril Lagasse when I was 10 years old. My attention and focus was on food and nothing else as a career. I am constantly learning something new each day. The one thing that I learned on my 6 months food tour that sticks with me the most is that, food is about love and energy and the taste is between the preparer and the eater who must open up to experience with a positive attitude. You cannot enjoy something that you do not truly appreciate. Anthony Bourdain has exposed the world to the magic of food in his travels from the big cities to the most remote corners of the globe. I will always be a cook with an open mind to keep learning the endless mystery of food and the human palate.
You’ve made a number of appearances on Cityline as a Culinary Guest Expert, are you naturally comfortable in front of a camera or is it something you’ve had to work on?
I have been a regular guest chef on CITYLINE for 5 years now. I am very grateful for the opportunity that they have given me. I was also featured in a Classico & Cracker Barrel commercial among many other television segments. As well, about 5 years ago, I embarked on a televesion tour across Ontario with the Dairy Farmers of Canada and only last year travelled from Western Canada all the way to the East hosting chef battles for McCain with my chef battle league. Every time I host an event, or get in front of a camera I learn something new. It is a progressive learning experience that invigorates me. I am motivated by the experience and as such look forward to each new TV appearance.
You and Nikko Jacino started The Underground Chef Cartel to showcase up-and-coming culinary talent in Toronto. Can you share a little bit about the inspiration behind the concept?
We started the Underground Chef Cartel to create a platform to showcase and promote up-and-coming local chef talents in the city by challenging them with this Chef Battle League. This idea was incubated to stimulate and create awareness and also to promote lour local, restaurants, food producers and distributors who supply the food industry.
There are a lot of talented chefs out there, is there one, in particular, that has really influenced you? Do you have a culinary muse?
Anthony Bourdain was a very big inspiration for me. He had a natural ability to assimilate in any setting and unpretentiously become one with the local people who he seamlessly connected with. Undoubtedly, he was a great and fabulous mentor for me. I am saddened by his untimely passing and would keep the dream alive by what I have learned from him.
What is your ultimate aspiration? Would you love to become a household name like Bobby Flay or Jamie Oliver?
Surely, I would like to make an significant impact on the younger generation to be more aware and respectful of the importance of food in our societies and also to help them to eat healthy. I have been touring elementary schools and some churches, to tutor the kids, in this regard.
In your opinion, what is the recipe for a truly unforgettable dining experience?
Cooking from the heart, with soul and passion. This is the one ingredient that cannot be substituted for anything. Also, to present your food with all the aroma and flavour that makes the guests feel that they are special and deserving of your total attention and purpose to their dining enjoyment.