Having landed in Toronto just a few years ago, Chef Ron McKinlay brings over 10 years of international cooking experience in renowned restaurants across the U.K., Australia and the Middle East.
Chef Ron has always loved food – whether he was digging in to his mom’s homemade Sunday roast or mixing up waffle batter on Saturday morning. After completing a Culinary Arts diploma in his hometown of Vancouver, he took off to New Zealand to play competitive rugby and travel abroad, until an unfortunate injury ended his career in his early 20s. That’s when he decided to move back to Canada and give cooking a shot.
In 2006, while researching the U.K.’s Michelin-star restaurants, Chef Ron booked a ticket to Edinburgh, Scotland on a whim. Through sheer persistence, he was able to snag a role training under Michelin-star Chef Tom Kitchin, who would become a great influence and mentor. He spent nearly four years at The Kitchin cooking classic French food with Scottish ingredients, while grinding out 17-hour days. He worked hard to perfect his old school cooking techniques, established a strong sense of discipline, and learned how to take criticism in the kitchen.
Chef Ron made the leap to Melbourne, Australia in 2010, where he helped to open Maze by Chef Gordon Ramsay, and then moved on to work under Chef Scott Pickett at Estelle Bar & Kitchen. After rising up to Senior Sous Chef, he was appointed by Chef Pickett to open and lead Saint Crispin as Chef de Cuisine, which would earn two hats in 2014. The following year, Chef Ron made another big move – this time to take a Chef de Cuisine position at the Six Senses resort in Zighy Bay, Oman. While he embraced his autonomy and took the opportunity to create and test out new dishes, after 18 months he was moving to Canada to become Executive Chef at Canoe Restaurant.
Why did you decide to become a chef? What other back-of-house positions have you held?
I'd always liked cooking and eating as a kid but it wasn't until in my mid twenties that I figured I'd make a proper go of it. So I got myself a visa, packed my bags and flew over to the UK to get stuck into some proper kitchens
What was the most special event you have had the privilege of experiencing in your career?
Wouldn't say the most privileged event but an event that sticks out none the less was the day the phone rang in Edinburgh to inform my Chef Tom Kitchin that we had won a Michelin star. Thinking back now how crazy that day was. At the time we were so unbelievably in the shit that we couldn't take it all in.
What do you do to stay current on new trends? What do you think is the most interesting industry trend?
One good thing about social media for chefs is the ability to see and learn new techniques and flavour combinations from all over the world. Another great one is the amount of podcasts from industry pros right now that are readily available and incredibly informative. For me personally the most interesting trend right now is the genuine interest in old school cookery that I see happening all over the globe. Its definitely a trend I can and do get on board with
Who inspires you most? And why?
From afar I would say im a huge fan of Simon Rogan. What he has achieved at L'enclume specializing in only British products had a big impact on how I look at the food we do here in Canada. From the crockery he chooses to the style of which he plates his dishes. Everything is very aesthetically pleasing and incredibly well thought out
What is your favorite ingredient? And for what reason?
That answer changes all the time. From Jerusalem artichokes to Saskatoon Chanterelles. Right now Id say my favourite ingredient is Birch Syrup. Not something Id ever worked with before I made my way back home to Canada. Its like maple syrup but a touch more bitter and savoury. Stunning stuff.
Are there any sustainable or socially responsible projects that you or the restaurant are participating in?
I think the biggest socially responsible project every chef needs to be consistently focusing on this year and moving forward is the well being of their staff. From hours worked, mental health and appropriate pay. Covid has opened up alot of these conversations and its up to the leaders in this industry to keep the communication lines open and continue pushing to make this industry the amazing place it can be and is.
What (signature) dish are you most proud of? And why?
I would say one dish that comes to mind is the Pigs trotter dish we did in 2021. It was a take on Pierre Koffmans classic stuffed trotters with sweet breads and morels with only a few modern touches. Being respectful to the classic way of making it as possible and lightening up for the modern palate. Turned out a treat and was definitely proud of how it turned out
Which chef would you like to invite to cook together sometime?
Simon Rogan, David Kinch, Jules Wiringa and Sean Brock
If you have the chance to turn back time? What would you have done differently with today's knowledge?
The biggest thing I would of changed in my career would of been have better and healthier habits outside of the kitchen. Your habits outside of the kitchen lead to a better and more productive time in the kitchen. Been a lessen I've learned the hard way but that's usually how I learn the best!!
What advice would you like to give to all the boys and girls who want to start a career in the hospitality industry?
Find a restaurant or chef that you respect and can genuinely learn from. Don't be in a rush to climb up the ladder to get a name on your jacket as that name doesn't dictate the amount of knowledge you actually have about this craft that deserves more respect than that.
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