Photo credit: Kayla Rocca
If you’ve been following my blog or even my social media, you know that one of my favorite places to eat in Toronto is The Drake Hotel. I’ve been going to The Drake Hotel almost weekly since I moved to Toronto six years ago. I love The Drake Hotel’s food because they make it from scratch in-house every day. They also use some of the best local and seasonal ingredients. I had the opportunity to meet The Drake Hotel’s Chef de Cuisine Alexandra Feswick recently, when she came to one of the morning runs I was doing with the Nike team. She taught us how to make some of her favorite pre and post-running snacks, all of which were delicious. Getting cooking tips from one of my favorite chefs was pretty incredible. I was curious to know more about her journey and how she came to work at this hotspot so I asked if I could interview her for this section of the blog. She kindly agreed so I’m thrilled to present to you today, my #5QuestionsWith Alexandra Feswick:
1) What first got you interested in cooking and food in general? Do you remember the moment when you decided to make this your career?
I decided I wanted to become a Chef when I was in University and found myself cooking more than I was studying! I had always worked in a kitchen (to help pay my way through both high school and University) but it was in a nursing home – not exactly as glamorous as the kitchens I have become known for operating. There were a few women who worked there that I really looked up to. They called themselves Chefs – they were dedicated, determined, extremely organized, hard-working, tough – in a nutshell admirable. I decided I wanted to become a Chef second year – still finishing up my degree (because my parents taught me to never give up on something you’ve started) – I quickly enrolled in George Brown College in 2015, got a “real” restaurant job and never looked back.
2) Who are some of the chefs you look up to or get inspired by?
These days, any Chef who has a family inspires me. When I first found out I was pregnant I was frightened at the prospect of having two things in my life that both would demand all of my love and attention. How could I raise another human being while I allowed myself to be completely consumed by my job. There is rarely a time that I am professionally unavailable. Working in a kitchen, being a Chef, this is what I do. Frankly, how I have self-identified for nearly a decade… My whole world is about to change!! It’s both magical and terrifying all at the same time. Then I look to Chefs like Donna Dooher + Connie DeSouza and it definitely calms my heart. In fact, the more I look around, the more I see other like-Chefs, both mamas and papas who in my opinion are doing it all…and well, if they can do it… then so can I!
3) You are the Chef de Cuisine for one of Toronto’s most high-profiled restaurants, The Drake Hotel, how do you constantly re-invent your dishes and keep things fresh & interesting for customers?
I work with an amazing team of Chefs at the Drake. I wanted to work here after being on my own for several years prior. I was tired of “working out of my own brain” so to speak. It became boring and frankly exhausting. I remember I was in between jobs once and I had an interview applying to be the host of a TV show – and the casting lady said “just all your culinary juices flow!!” – so enthusiastic – I wanted to walk out right there – I was defeated and completely uninspired. Now, every day I sincerely count my lucky stars to work with Chef Ted and this amazing team of talented Chefs. We have the opportunity to bounce ideas off each other and constantly keep each other challenged and motivated. Even though I’m specifically responsible for the menu at The Drake Hotel – it’s that much better with the extra creative boost I get from the entire team.
4) The chef world seems to be evolving these past couple of years, do you feel that women have more opportunities in this industry today or is there still a lot of work to be done?
The long and short of my feelings on this matter is that I feel women have come a long way – but that we still have a bit of work to be done. I feel this issue is a blanketed issue for all working women. I’d be hard pressed to talk to any other woman who has a professional job and argue that being a Chef is harder than whatever they do… and honestly think I’d be unfair to try. (Although I could probably make a few strong arguments for why being a Chef is especially hard… but that’s for all of us, both male and female!!). Now we are finally getting recognized for what we do – and equal respect for equal work, effort and talent – I would like to see Female Chefs be recognized as Chefs – I think it’s time we drop the “female” from our professional job titles!
5) You are currently training for the Nike Women’s 15k race in June, as a chef, what are some of your favorite things to eat pre or post-training?
This is a tricky question because I’m also pregnant. I can’t always be sure I’m exactly in my mind! I was making a cucumber and grilled tomato gazpacho the other day and my mind all of a sudden went to curry… maybe not the worst idea… but I passed the finishing touches along to one of my Sous Chefs anyhow… probably for the best! When I get a craving – mind you I haven’t really wanted anything overly “weird” – I want it – and I want it now! Pre run however, I eat a granola bar – 100% of the time. It gives me and baby enough nutrients for the run and stops me from wanting to vomit mid-run! I’ve consistently been in love with the “vitamin sea bowl” from Bolt Juice Bar on Queen street paired with the beet juice cocktail they have there post run… the healthier and more active I am – the more I run – the more I want to fuel myself with healthy raw food. I get one of my Chef de Parties to make me salads all the time – she’s been taking really good care of me the last 6 months… but don’t let me fool you entirely… later on that day you’re more than likely to catch me on the other side of the kitchen (more or less) demanding a grilled cheese with bacon or infamously a quesadilla with extra cheese and olives.