TORONTO — Leadership, culinary inspiration and the importance of making mistakes were all topics at yesterday’s Icons & Innovators Breakfast Speaker Series held at the Toronto Board of Trade. More than 100 industry professionals joined chef extraordinaire Susur Lee and Rosanna Caira, editor/publisher of Kostuch Media Ltd., for breakfast and candid conversation.
Chef Lee began his career at 16 years old in the kitchen of Hong Kong’s elegant Peninsula Hotel. ““When you get a job, make sure it’s a job that will feed you,” his mother told him. In his 20s he moved to Toronto, where he has since made his mark on the restaurant scene and in 2000 was named one of the “Ten Chefs of the Millennium” by Food & Wine magazine.
But it wasn’t without its challenges. Along the way, Lee told the room, he made a lot of mistakes — which he viewed as an opportunity to learn and improve. Don’t be afraid to fail, was his message to wannabe chefs. “If I fail, I’m still me. I still have a skill — I have nothing to lose.”
With students and faculty from both George Brown and Centennial colleges in the room, Lee addressed the issue of culinary education. He said culinary schools need to expose students to real work settings like restaurants so they are better prepared for a career in the foodservice industry. He also offered advice on technique, saying chefs need to know their tools.
When asked about what he sees as trends in the foodservice industry, Lee replied that “I don’t really follow trends, I just create what I create”. But he has seen a rise in what he calls “lazy eating and random dishes”, food that he says doesn’t make sense but seems to allow people to have everything in one bite.
With four Toronto restaurants to manage, good leadership becomes key, he said, adding you have to take the time to know your staff, practice understanding and compassion but with a firm hand. “Good staff are hard to find,” says Lee, who is known for promoting from within. “Finding good staff is a challenge and I am fortunate I have some really wonderful staff.”
To read the full Icons & Innovators Breakfast Speaker Series conversation with Chef Susur Lee, be sure to check out the November issue of Foodservice and Hospitality magazine coming soon.