Mediaplanet: What inspired you to pursue a career in the culinary arts?

Mark McEwan: When I was really young, I was drawn to the energy of the kitchen. It’s so fast-paced and intense. Kitchen teams are like families and everyone works really hard. George Brown College is where I created a solid culinary foundation and truly began to appreciate the artistry, skill, and time that goes into building a dish. It’s a challenging field and I love a challenge.

MP: What keeps you inspired today?

MM: I’m inspired by young chefs entering into the culinary scene as well as the guests that visit my restaurants and grocery stores. Firstly, I’ve seen some real talent coming out of Canada (especially through Top Chef!) and am always looking at how young chefs approach new techniques and experiment using different ingredients. I’m also always pushing myself and the McEwan Group chefs to deliver the best food to our customers. Diners today have discerning taste, truly appreciate what it takes to run a restaurant and understand the intensity of the kitchen. Our guests always inspire me to deliver memorable experiences.

MP: What are your thoughts on the local food scene in Ontario?

MM: I love the Ontario culinary scene and it all starts with produce. We grow phenomenal fruits and vegetables, have fantastic farmers, make delicious wines & cheeses… and the list goes on. We also have wonderful diversity in Ontario so we have great ingredients and a variety of culinary influences. This mix makes for a unique food scene with international flair. Again, I also think there is an abundance of talent that just forces everyone to be better!

MP:  What career would you have today if you didn’t become a chef?

MM: That’s a tough question! I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I always say to young chefs: if you don’t love it, don’t do it! I do really enjoy gardening and landscaping. Every year, I plant and tend to my garden – nothing beats fresh veggies that you grow yourself. I suppose if I wasn’t a chef, I would be a landscaper - still working with my hands!

MP: What is unique about Canada’s food culture?

MM: I think Canadian history and the Canadian landscape is what makes Canada’s food culture unique. Cultural influences like those seen in Quebec, for example, have made recipes like tourtière or poutine recognizable as national dishes. Smoked meat, maple syrup, Saskatoon berry jam, Nanaimo bars, smoked salmon, or butter tarts seem cliché, but are nostalgic to many Canadians. Also, to go back to a previous question, I think Canada’s diversity really makes the food culture different. We embrace new flavours and techniques which makes food interesting to eat. I’ve seen the food scene evolve over the years and it’s incredible to see our cuisine now on the global stage!

MP: What is your absolute favourite dish to make?

MM: I love cooking Italian food. Italian cuisine is all about technique and allows for the freshness of ingredients to shine. I really enjoy cooking big family-style seafood & fish dishes. I particularly like whole-roasting fish. It’s just a great way to eat!

MP:  Where are your favourite places to eat in the city?

MM: I do like to visit the new openings when I can like La Banane back in February. I also always return to my old favourites like Rodney’s. I love the atmosphere especially right at the bar where you can see the team shucking away! A great platter of oysters and a cold, crisp glass of wine is tough to top!