Perseverance, attention to detail and an aggressive spirit are the three most important traits that anyone wanting to be a chef should have, according to Tim Doan, part owner and Executive Chef of Lo Presti’s at Maxwell’s. But also, he adds laughingly, if you want to be a chef you must have the energy to “run, run, run.”
I interviewed Chef Doan at nine o’clock on a Saturday morning and he was quick to make the point that the life of a chef is not one of ease and quietude. Already in the kitchen, he noted that the work has ridiculous hours: He always works all weekend, including Sundays, when everyone else is relaxing, and he starts at 8:30 in the morning and doesn’t leave the restaurant before 9:30 at night.
Nevertheless, cooking has been a lifelong passion and he know that he always has been a chef at heart. By the time that he was 9 years old he had started to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, and when he was 13, he began to work in restaurants. He trained in Ottawa, at Algonquin College, which was the premier place to train at that time and then continued on to the Cordon Bleu School. His final decision to make cooking his career came about on a trip to California to visit his family.
“I had been accepted there as an engineering student, but I realized that I just wouldn’t be able to do it, ” he recalls. What tipped the decision? Some good advice that told him, if you want to be successful in your career, do something that you would do for free.
Lo Presti’s at Maxwell’s is, of course, one of Hamilton’s most longstanding, well-known and finest restaurants. The elegant venue is all “luxe, calme and volupté”, offering a comfortable and charming ambiance, along with a continental and Italian menu. The wine list is unusually diverse and very interesting, the service is impeccable and there is a very wide variety of pastas available. Because of his Asian background, Doan grew up immersed in Asian food; He has has taught Japanese cooking and worked extensively in Chinese and south east Asian restaurants. (He has done a Thai menu for a previous Go Cooking session, you may recall.) But he is not at all tied to one type of cuisine. Up-coming Go Cooking sessions with Doan include a “southern” menu and a barbecue in May. Good cooking is universal he maintains and you just have to apply what you already know to create new types of cuisine. He has no specialty or signature dishes. He says, “You can’t limit yourself — if I just cook one type of food, I get bored. I’m always changing, the food is always evolving.”
This openness to experimentation is one of his mantras and his advice to home cooks is “stop following recipes.” You don’t need another chef to tell you what to do, he believes. Cooks should read the recipe and go with what they know.
“Your cookbook is in your heart,” he says. “Our emotions dictate our food. If you are happy in the kitchen and making what you love, it will always be good.”