The announcement of 2011’s Top Chef Canada winner was a tearjerker of Tim-Hortons-TV-commercial proportions. Nanoseconds after Dale MacKay’s name was announced, his son Ayden, then nine, ran into his arms. MacKay, a single dad, was utterly surprised and visibly emotional.
“I came to show Ayden that you can do whatever you want to do, if you work really, really hard. So it was pretty sweet having him there after I won.”
Here, MacKay talks about his approach to cooking – at work and at home. (Bonus: check out MacKay’s incredible falafel focaccia sandwich recipe.)
Q: You became a chef by learning on the job – first at chain restaurants, then at fine-dining establishments with masters like Gordon Ramsay and Daniel Boulud. How has that shaped your cooking style?
A: Even if I’m cooking more casual stuff, I still like it to be refined. Flavour blending is my favourite; I like subtle flavours and I like to use spices from all around the world. You won’t see me cook a dish that’s heavy and rich.
Q: How do you transition from being Chef Dale MacKay at work to being dad at home?
A: I’m the exact same person I am at work in the restaurants as I am at home. I’m very close with my staff and that’s part of the reason I love this industry; I can be myself.
Q: What does Ayden like to eat for lunch?
A: Ayden is quite picky, so it can be tough. For a long time he would only eat peanut-butter sandwiches, but then he couldn’t bring peanut butter to school anymore. I send a lot of apples and carrots.
Q: How do you handle family dinners?
A: Sundays, we’re at my mom’s house for dinner. On Mondays, one of my restaurants is closed; we used to order pizza and do a boys’ movie night, but now we cook dinner together. He’ll eat when he can smell it cooking and he’s been a part of the process. It does make a difference when kids are involved.