In Good Company – Chef Corbin Tomaszeski
Popular Canadian chef Corbin Tomaszeski shares with us his love of food and what it means to be a chef.
interview By michelle zerillo-sosa
Best known for his appearances on popular Food Network shows like Restaurant Makeover, Restaurant Takeover, Dinner Party Wars and The Incredible Food Race, chef Corbin Tomaszeski is a cornerstone of the Toronto hospitality community. Having trained at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, Chef Corbin (as he is most widely known) has held executive chef positions at Holt Renfrew Toronto and the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel. His unmatched passion for food and dedication to bringing the joy back into the kitchen has earned Chef Corbin a seat at the table of Toronto’s top restaurant experiences.
Growing up on a farm outside of Edmonton, Tomaszeski first learned of the magic of food through sharing time with his mother in their home kitchen. And he credits his family and his upbringing for his love of food. As a child, he witnessed that family togetherness and bonding usually occurred over the preparation and eating of meals, either for celebrations or regular visits with loved ones. It’s the reason his career is so dedicated to the pleasure of cooking, not just the rules or techniques involved. “We’re so removed from where our food comes from and how to make it properly, because we’ve stopped making time to make food and spend that time with our families,” says the chef. He wants to change that.
Now, Tomaszeski is looking beyond his career of preparing expert menus for well-known restaurants in Toronto and has decided to bring his knowledge of food into the kitchens of all Canadians. His new book, In Good Company, shares a series of treasured tales interwoven with restaurant-quality recipes and the chef’s personal inspirations for each.
Recently, City Life sat with the master chef to find out how he infuses meaning into his cooking, what he’s aced throughout the years and what he thinks it takes to become a chef in 2018.
“Success in the kitchen is defined by incredible conversations and shared stories”
At what age was your first memory of being in a kitchen?
I can remember my mother cooking in our farmhouse kitchen since I was three years old. I remember the aroma of fresh-baked bread and all the other incredible foods she created. At age five, I would stack the old phone books up from the floor, so that I could stand on top to see what my mother was cooking on the stovetop. It was the beginning of an incredible journey.
What do you love about cooking for others?
There is something so magical when you see how cooking can create a difference in people’s lives. I always let people know that food should “remind us of a memorable time and can create a memory.” Cooking fuels our senses and appeals to everyone on so many levels. An empty plate from someone with a smile is the best compliment anyone can receive after preparing a meal. There is always something to learn when cooking and sharing a meal with someone. Some of my best recipes are inspired by what others share. My kitchen is the heart of my home.
What have you mastered over the years in the art of cooking?
I have mastered the art of organization, order and timing in the kitchen. Preparation is key to a successful meal or recipe. Allow time to enjoy the process, and if you are a beginner, start with simple tasks and recipes. The more experience you gain, the better you become. Working in a restaurant teaches you that you can only succeed by timing, and it is like orchestrating a symphony, with many components all happening at the same time. I love the rush and excitement you get when in the kitchen.
If you could cook for anyone, who would that be?
I lost my grandparents when I was quite young, and more recently, my father passed away. My mother is alive and well, and I am very grateful for that. If I could prepare a meal for my grandparents and parents as a professional chef, I would create a meal that speaks to their heritage and the legacies they have left behind. I would thank them for our families, history and stories as well. I would let them know how I was inspired by them, and that one of the reasons I am a professional chef today is because of them all.
Tell us about the importance of your new book, In Good Company?
In Good Company speaks to who Chef Corbin is and what I truly believe cooking represents. I share stories and inspirations, and hope that it becomes an “all-rounder” cookbook that people use for their inspiration when they cook at home. The recipes are chef- and restaurant-worthy and represent my career’s building blocks paired with accessible ingredients, with easy-to-follow recipes and methods of preparation. I want this book to live on people’s kitchen counters, get stained, used and worn. I mentioned in the book that the greatest compliment I could receive was if people use it as a way to connect people to prepare “Easy Recipes for Everyday Gatherings.”
What makes a successful get-together?
In Good Company has a chapter on entertaining — simple tips and tricks when planning a get-together. I have even provided some simple menu plans with recipes from the chapters in the book. From planning the “Perfect Backyard Feast” to food for the “Big Game” or even a “Romantic Meal” with a loved one, the chapters and recipes intertwine with one another and create some fantastic meals. Success in the kitchen is defined by incredible conversations and shared stories. I hope that this book alleviates the stress and pressures in the kitchen and teaches people that incredible food can be easily prepared. Keep it simple, remember the details, open a bottle of wine and enjoy the book!
While working at a restaurant, you made Sophia Loren very happy with one of your dishes. Can you tell us a bit about that?
I was the executive chef at Holt Renfrew Toronto; Holts was always famous for its incredible parties and events. It is the luxury retail capital of Canada, and at one particular event, we hosted a week-long extravaganza that celebrated everything about Italy. We hosted a VIP gala that week, and several famous designers and celebrities attended the party. Sophia Loren was our guest of honour, and prior to her speaking at the event, she asked for something to snack on. I prepared her a plate of fresh figs with Parma prosciutto and truffles. She loved it so much, she insisted on thanking me personally.
What makes you proud?
I take it as a personal compliment when someone asks to have one of my recipes. It is so rewarding to know that they appreciate what I do and want to bring it into their homes and bring it to life. That is a proud moment.
How has your family supported you throughout your journey?
My parents encouraged me to always work hard and do something in life that made me happy; they were there from the beginning and very supportive. My wife and our three sons are my greatest accomplishment. The life of a chef in the restaurant and hospitality business means that you never have the same schedule. I often work long hours and at times can be away from my family with travelling for work. My wife, Charlene, continues to be my greatest support. She makes sure all of us get what we need. She also works full-time and always manages to keep our household running — she is my rock!
Define happiness for us.
Creating a difference with food and sharing meals with those around you.
Happiness is living life to its fullest, while remembering to be respectful and giving back to your community. Invite people over to share a meal that you have prepared and remember: it all does not have to be perfect; sometimes it is just as satisfying to be “In Good Company.”
What is most important to you today that was not as relevant a few years back?
Taking time to be in the moment and slow down to appreciate everything around you. My three sons remind me that it’s not what Daddy does or how busy he is that is important, but rather, the enjoyable time we all spend together.
What advice would you share with someone who is interested in becoming a chef/author?
It is all about loving what you do. It is something that you think of when you wake up and reflect upon when you go to sleep. Being a chef is not a job, it is a lifestyle. Writing a book is no easy feat, but in hindsight, it allowed me to express my creativity and share my story on food and how I have become the chef I am today.
What do you love about our city?
I love Toronto’s cultural diversity and eclectic neighbourhoods that all have incredible restaurants, food shops and people. It is a creative palate that allows me to explore and be inspired like no other.
Last stamp on your passport?
Mexico — we travelled with friends and family to have some downtime. We ate like kings, took in some sun and enjoyed local hot spots, all while “In Good Company.”
What is the one ingredient every household should have?
A good bottle of olive oil. It is just like wine. It can be fruity, with many layers of flavour, and it’s a complement to every meal.
Roasted Baby Vegetables with Burrata
With a little sea salt, good-quality olive oil and vinegar, this dish can be served as an appetizer with just about anything. Here, the sweet baby carrots and beets, along with the red pepper flakes and vinegar, blend beautifully with the milky cheese to create a bright and vibrant salad. If there was ever a salad to share among close friends, this is it.
- 1 lb baby carrots, scrubbed
- 1 lb baby beets, peeled
- 1 cup pearl onions
- 5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (divided)
- 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- Pinch of red pepper flakes
- Salt and coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
- 6–8 oz burrata or fresh mozzarella cheese, whole and drained
- 1/2 cup curly endive lettuce or frisée lettuce, coarsely chopped
- 1 tbsp thyme leaves, torn
- 1 small baguette, torn into pieces
- Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- To make the salad, in a large bowl, combine carrots, beets and onions. Add 3 tbsp olive oil, vinegar and red pepper flakes and toss to mix. Season with salt and pepper.
- Transfer to the prepared baking sheet and roast for 30–40 minutes, until tender and vegetables can be easily pierced with a knife. Set aside to cool for 5 minutes.
- To serve, place burrata (or fresh mozzarella) on a cutting board, arrange roasted vegetables around the cheese and sprinkle endive (or frisée) lettuce and thyme overtop.
- Lightly drizzle with remaining 2 tbsp olive oil.
- Enjoy with torn baguette.
Whole Roasted Cherry Tomato and Bocconcini Salad
Replace the roasted vegetables with roasted cherry tomatoes and replace the burrata with cherry bocconcini (or feta) cheese.
Excerpted from In Good Company by Corbin Tomaszeski. Photography by Christian Lalonde.
Recipe copyright 2018 by Corbin Tomaszeski. Excerpted with permission from Figure 1 Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.