5 Questions With: Alexandra Feswick

Alexandra Feswick Chef de Cuisine Drake Hotel by Kayla Rocca (1) small

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.

5 Questions With: Miranda Malisani

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Nutrition is one important subject. Whether training for a sporting event or just going about your every day life, what you fuel your body with has the utmost importance. I met holistic nutritionist Miranda Malisani a few weeks ago at the Nike Run Club. She gave an incredibly informative talk about nutrition for those preparing to run the Nike Women’s 15k on June 14th. I really liked all of the things she talked about so I wanted to know more about her journey as a nutritionist and get some tips from her for those who like myself, are currently training for the race. She was kind enough to answer the questions below. Hope you’ll find this #5QuestionsWith interview with Miranda Malisani informative and helpful.

1) What first got you interested in nutrition? What made you want to become a holistic nutritionist?

I spent many years as a kid complaining about stomach pains, nausea and other digestive issues until the age of 8 where my parents discovered I had many food sensitivities including a severe one to MSG. Even at that young age I remembered feeling such a difference when it was taken out of my diet and that experience planted the seed for my passion of nutrition. I realized growing up that I could change the way I felt and looked with certain foods and I became really excited about learning more about how to be healthier that my elementary school friends would call me Dr. Mir. Fast forward many years and I am just as excited to inspire others to make the connection that their body is unique and finding the right foods for you can completely change the way you feel.

2) What would you say is your mission as a nutritionist?

I feel my mission is to help others connect to themselves and understand that the body has unlimited wisdom. By tuning into our intuition you can maximize your health potential and never need to rely on any diet or fad. The diet industry is geared to take accountability away from an individual where following the diet guidelines becomes the awareness, then when someone decides that the diet is no longer working they go back to their old patterns that contributed to weight gain in the first place. The missing links are education and accountability. I take on clients for one on one programs for 6 weeks and 3 months at a time, where I learn about their style of eating and educate them on how to make small shifts that can really alter the way they look and feel. I provide them with weekly follow ups and help to draw their attention to the way they are feeling through these new foods. A big part of my mission is to also bring awareness to the holistic enormity of our lives. It is not only the food we digest but the thoughts and emotions that play a crucial part in our overall health. It is by no coincidence that certain personality types may have weaker areas of the body. For example, those who have a hard time expressing their voice or connecting to their creativity may have problems with their thyroid. The incredible part of what I do is inspire others to realize that changing your health can happen at your next meal and with your next thought.

3)  For those training for a run or a big sporting event, what are the three things they should keep in mind regarding nutrition?

1) Food Train to Maximize Performance. Just like you allocate time to train for your event, setting aside enough time to prepare healthy meals is important to maximize performance. At first, trying new foods or removing some comfort foods can feel uncomfortable. You can compare this to when you began training with extra ache muscles, digestive complaints and other body reactions, but with time, they go away. Challenge yourself to give that extra effort with healthy food to get the most from your sporting event.

2) Be Conscious of the Train & Treat Mentality. I’ve trained some athletes who work really hard during their training and then naturally want to treat themselves to reward this effort. This becomes a slippery slope that can reduce the performance that you are training so hard for. Your body is most vulnerable after training and it waiting for the correct fuel to help repair to reduce inflammation, increase lean muscle mass and restore glycogen for your next training session. Protein, premium carbs, healthy fats, fibre and antioxidants should be included post-train. Reward yourself with something non-food related and reserve food for fuel.

3) Set your Intention & Visualize. Numerous studies have shown that attitude and perception of our experience can drastically impact performance. During training, keep your affirmation strong and powerful. Visualize the way you feel when you cross the finish line, make clear and impactful statements on a blackboard to keep you directed during especially busy or challenging times.

4) What are some of your go-to food items for a healthier life?

I am a mom of two young boys, so I am always thinking fast and nutrient dense. I am often snacking on goldenberries which are rich in potassium, vitamin C and anti-bacterial properties which is crucial with boys 😉

I try to add as much colourful fruits and veggies to my family’s plate as this amps up the antioxidants to keep our cells young and healthy. I also stock up on healthy fatty foods like nuts and seeds, avocado and hemp hearts. I am also a lover of dark chocolate so I always have a batch of my favourite Dark Chocolate Caramel PB Cups in the freezer for when a craving arrives. They are made with coconut oil, cocoa, maple syrup, medjool dates and nut-butter. Easy and delicious.

5) What are your thoughts on the current food industry in North America?

I could go on for a while about this one, but I’ll keep it short. I feel there’s quite a disconnect between many producers and consumers. Good marketing has gotten in the way of the consumers ability to gage if a product is the right choice for them. I am often reading labels in the grocery store and disappointed seeing how certain companies spin their products to sound healthy. Just because it has some fibre doesn’t make it okay that sugar is the first ingredient. As a mother, I think it’s ridiculous that it’s not mandatory to label GMO foods in Canada. I feel it’s my right to know this information so I can make a conscious decision for my family. I am pleased to see many local producers doing their best to get good quality products to communities and I feel we need to amp up our support for these small businesses to create better quality foods for everyone.

April!

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April is a good month! There are several reasons why: Spring is here, the days are longer, it’s warmer out, I can finally put away my winter jacket and I can start riding my bike again! This month also marks the beginning of my journey towards the Nike Women’s 15k race in June. Watch for my special blog post tomorrow about what I’ll be doing leading up to my 1st ever 15k race. I’m so excited!! What are some of your favorite things about April?

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Photos by @Offner

Zara structured grey coat

Anine Bing Studded Boots With Buckles (get them here)

Aldo Parella bag

Zara grey trousers with ribbed waistband

Zara blue and white striped shirt