Tuesday, January 24, 2012

An Interview with San Pellegrino Almost Famous Cheftestant Cole Nicholson

Next week is the Canadian final in the San Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview Cole Nicholson, one of the cheftestants (can you tell I'm a Top Chef fan? That's so my choice of title, not the competition) who currently attends George Brown University here in Toronto.

To be honest, with trying to get the new house set up and prepping to finish and screen a short film I produced, it was an email interview.  Though after reading his answers to my questions, I wish we had spoken personally because I LOVE alot of his answers.

I chose my questions carefully to balance typical cheffie questions with some that would help us get to know Chef Nicholson.  I'm so glad I did because it's nice to see we have some things in common, things that I may or may not have commented on in italics.

Oh and I have a special little note for my Toronto peeps at the bottom of this post, so you will want to read the whole thing.

1.What is your earliest food memory that influenced the way you think about cooking?
 The high school that I went to was originally a trade’s high school when it was opened; it had professional auto shops, carpentry labs and a full production kitchen.  Part of the curriculum when I first went to that high school was to take a trade class.  You had a choice of Auto, Carpentry, Cosmetology and Cooking.  I decided to take cooking because nothing else really interested me and I thought it would be a good life skill to have.  I ended up taking it all through high school and I really learned a lot.  In my grade eleven year the school got a new cooking teacher.  He was completely different from any other teacher at the school, he was only 27 years old, and this was his first teaching job.  He was fresh out of the industry and was up on modern cooking techniques and styles.  He made me realise that cooking could be cool.  He changed a standard cooking class into something so much more; we learned how to make fresh tomato sauce, veal jus, homemade pasta and ravioli, even butchery.  That teacher made me realise all that cooking had to offer and gave me a good foundation to learn more, if it were not for him I would have chosen a completely different career.

How cool is that? I always wished my high school had cooking or even just home ec. I guess that's what you get going to a ritzy girls school.   

2. Who or what is your inspiration in cooking?
My greatest inspiration in cooking is the ingredients that I cook with.  The more you look around and research the better the product you can find.  If you have ever tasted something at its peak you really don’t have to do much to it.  When I was in Italy I tasted the greatest tomato I have ever tasted before.  I don’t really like tomatoes, but this variety I could eat like it was a fruit.  I realised that if you get a great product it is really just your job to keep that flavour and not screw it up.  Most of the time the best way to prepare something is the traditional way.  It requires the least amount of manipulation and the greatest tasting food.

I can't imagine not liking tomatoes, but I can understand how the freshest tomatoes in Italy would make anyone fall in or rediscover their love for tomatoes.

3. What chef do you look up to and why? 
The chef that I look up to is Thomas Keller.  I had the opportunity to meet him and hear him speak when he was in Toronto a few years ago.  He completely changed my life.  His whole approach to food and respect for ingredients and people is something to learn from.  The French Laundry cookbook is like my bible, not for the recipes necessarily, but for the philosophy and wisdom.  I had the opportunity to eat at his restaurant Per Se in New York City last year and it was a life changing experience eating there, I knew after that meal what I wanted to do with my life.

LOVE Thomas Keller from Ad Hoc at Home to Bouchon, to my desire to eat at Per Se or French Laundry I can so relate.

4. I love comfort food, what is your ideal comfort food?
My Ideal comfort food is anything that my mom makes for me.  She doesn’t really cook a lot but when she does its always really tasty and satisfying. 

5. What ingredient do you hate? love? why?
I don’t really have any ingredient that I hate, I’m not a picky eater and everything is fun to cook every once in a while.  The ingredient that I love is potato, it’s a simple ingredient but there are thousands of ways to cook and manipulate it and it’s always satisfying eating a good potato dish.

6. I think dinner and a movie are the perfect date night, what is your favorite food scene in a movie?
My favourite food scene in a movie is the Christmas dinner scene in the movie National Lampoons Christmas Vacation.  It’s a classic holiday movie and everyone I know gets a laugh just thinking about that scene when they cut into the dried out turkey.

Totally an amazing scene and one I never think of when thinking of food and film.  Dried turkey and Jell-o mold with kitty litter, it doesn't get much funnier than that though. 

7. If you could cook and eat a meal with anyone (chef or non chef) dead or alive, who would it be and what would you make?
 If I could cook and eat a meal with anyone it would be Chef Thomas Keller.  I would make whatever he wanted me to make for him, but if I had to choose it would be Agnolotti.  I know that he really enjoys preparing the stuffed pasta, and I learned how to make them while I was working in Italy in the Piemonte region where they come from.  I find pasta making very satisfying and relaxing and there are so many things that you can do with it. 

Chef Keller, enough said. 

8. Where is your favorite place to shop for ingredients in Toronto?
My favourite place to shop for ingredients in Toronto is the St. Lawrence market.  It is on my way from George Brown to Union Station and I can stop in there and quickly get some good stuff to make dinner with.

Completely agree, especially the Saturday Farmer's Market. 

All I know is I'm excited to see what Chef Nicholson is going to come up with next week.  I know I'll be rooting for him.   

**Stay tuned tomorrow for a fabulous giveaway from San Pellegrino!**

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