Breaking the Mould


He’s lived most of his life in Canada, but Poyan Danesh still prefers the warm aromatics and meat dishes of his Persian heritage — particularly braised lamb shoulder seasoned with advieh, a mutable spice blend highlighted by green and black cardamom and similar to India and Asia’s garam masala.

When the time came to choose a career, it helped that his mother was an accomplished cook and Persian-style pastry chef. “It wasn’t until my early 20s that I started looking at culinary arts,” he explains. “I figured I might as well spend my work days doing something I truly enjoyed.”

Danesh became involved in culinary competitions while he was attending at Vancouver Community College where he graduated with top honours. “I served as a helper for the B.C. provincial team in 2004,” he says of his first trip to the World Culinary Olympics. “I went to Germany as support and learned my way.” He returned to the world stage as captain of Team B.C. in 2008, earning fourth-place overall. After successful international appearances with Team Canada, he’s fast-tracking for a “three-peat” in Erfurt, Germany as a member of Team Canada 2012.

It helps that Bruno Marti, one of Danesh’s mentors and B.C. Restaurant Hall of Famer, is a coach for Team Canada. Marti’s work ethic and his varied career offered insight into the opportunities available beyond restaurant work. It was a useful lesson for Danesh as the 32-year-old’s diverse résumé includes a stint at a summer fishing camp, and time at Bocuse d’Or competitor Scott Jaeger’s Pear Tree restaurant in Burnaby, B.C. Even though he credits Jaeger with teaching him precision and French flair, Danesh never aspired to have a restaurant career. For him, the true challenge lay in creating something worthwhile outside of the restaurant milieu. That’s why a stint as a corporate caterer led to his current role as corporate development chef at the Vancouver-based Ocean Mama Seafood, a division of Frobisher International, a frozen seafood exporter. As head of Culinary Development, Danesh’s tasks include marketing, photography, website design and artwork. He also designs and brands recipes. “I’ve learned about managing people and different attitudes and styles,” he says. “During my day job, my experience in culinary competitions makes plate design and [food-styling photos] easier.”

But, that’s not the only way Danesh’s international experience has benefited him. “Competitions teach you what others aren’t exposed to [while] working for eight or nine hours. Competing puts you in a stressful situation. Down the line when stress presents itself, you’re used to it, and you handle it better. It accelerates your career.”

Danesh’s Olympic forté is the cold salon, which requires insight into presenting food. “You can’t just cook and put it on a plate; glazing is a big thing, and so precise.” He’s also looking forward to the hot app category, as he’s proficient with fish.

“The culinary team is a hobby, not a job,” he says, blithely ignoring the six or more hours a day he spends polishing his Olympic dream during a practice week. Despite the career jetfuel provided by international competitions, Danesh believes he isn’t that different from other successful chefs. “We have to roll with challenges. I work hard and have talent, but I’ve been lucky enough to be there at the right moment. Every competition teaches you what you don’t know and pushes you to learn.”

photo courtesy of Randall Cosco

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