By Denise Deveau
Keith Pears has never been one to shy away from a challenge, whether in work, sports, or culinary competitions. It’s a spirit that has served him well throughout the many stages of his culinary career.
Pears grew up around food. His grandparents owned a Chinese café in Vancouver called A Place For Me. “My earliest memories were there, peeling potatoes with my grandma.” Both his parents were executive chefs, and currently own their own café called Argo in Vancouver.
After 10 years working with family, Pears felt it was time to move on. “I was unsure about what I wanted to do,” he says. “I realized I had to take things more seriously and decided to give it my all and make it to the top. To make a name for myself meant separating myself from the family business.”
He found his motivation when he entered a local cooking competition, placing second. “It was a local food show. I had no time to practice and had only two pans to prepare three courses in half an hour.”
Multiple competitions followed, including the Best of the West, City TV’s MasterChef, B.C. Chef of the Year, the Garland Canada International Shellfish Chef Challenge, and Canada’s Great Kitchen Party. A big confidence boost came in 2016 when he won the Chopped Canada title. “People still remember that and it solidified the idea that I can cook with the best.”
The fun of competition is understanding the rules and playing them to create something, he explains. “You are pushed to the limits and test yourself to see where you stand with the world. I learn a lot about myself and develop new skills I wouldn’t otherwise.”
He will soon be putting that learning experience to the ultimate test. Pears recently won the Bocuse d’Or National Selection competition and will be leading Canada’s culinary team in the finals in 2025 in Lyon, France.
Outside of competition, Pears built a successful career with Delta Hotels in Vancouver and Toronto, and most recently as executive chef with W Hotel Toronto. For Pears, they were the ideal venues for exercising his creative spirit and learning from all varieties of international culinary professionals.
“In hotels you have more resources and space. You have bigger teams and more structure, which gives you time to experiment and develop the people around you.”
He recently left the hotel industry to start his own venture with Ontario-based Accensis Group called Glass Kitchen, an 80-seat upscale brunch concept in Richmond Hill, Ont. where he puts his hallmark creative spin on classics such as upscale Eggs Benedict items (served on focaccia or croissants). Variations include Korean short rib, in-house smoked salmon, lobster. The menu also features seafood scrambled eggs, Baked Alaska with lichee sorbet and raspberry ice cream ($22 to $35).
Whatever his pursuit, Pears’ particular passion is combining the art and science of food. “Everything’s been done before. Classic cooking is called that for a reason. I like to try and present flavours in different ways, or it just gets boring.”
While his roots are in Vancouver, Pears has settled into Toronto’s culinary scene. “Coming here accelerated my career. The opportunities are greater because there are a lot more people, which means more opportunities. However, while it has helped my career, it hasn’t changed me as a person.”
His next goal is to make his new restaurant successful and scale the brand while also preparing for Bocuse d’Or. “I’m focusing on the upcoming competition and looking for support. That means a lot to me.”
If all goes as planned, he already has ideas for a fine-dining concept in Toronto. “My ultimate goal is to get a Michelin star.”
Whatever path he takes, Pears says he never wants to stop learning. “You can never, never know it all. You always have to be a student of the game.”