Chef David Lee of PLANTA: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Chef
I am a big believer in sourcing and cooking with the right food source.
Ihad the distinct pleasure of interviewing Chef David Lee.
Internationally recognized and award-winning Chef David Lee is the Co-Founder and Executive Chef behind the successful group of Planta Restaurants, in Toronto and Miami. Chef David Lee’s expansive culinary career includes working with a number of Michelin star and famed international establishments such as Relais & Chateaux at Hotel Fleur du Lac in Switzerland, Anton Mosimann’s eponymous restaurant, as well as opening some of Canada’s most respected and awarded restaurants such as Splendido and Nota Bene. Today, Chef Lee is on a mission to transform the plant-based dining experience with the expansion of Planta Restaurants.
What inspired you to become a chef?
My initial inspiration to become a chef was my grandparents and their gastropub in Marituis. Watching them serve and make people happy through their food and service, is what made the foundation to my career and my passion for life.
Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?
When I first started learning how to cook professionally, it was all about traditional French cuisine. Back then, it covered the basis for multiple techniques and flavor combinations.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a chef? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
When Steven and I were developing PLANTA, we were back and forth between doing brunch and how we would go about it. I did this vegan festival in Toronto and this is where we finally understood the culture of 100% plant-based cuisine. You never really stop learning, it is fabulous that we live in a world with access to endless information.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?
I would call it more of a learning experience. Coming from a non-plant based world, the transition from non-plant-based to plant-based, challenged me as a chef. I learned that it is easy to cook an animal protein, but with vegetables there’s a bigger story: whether the vegetables are in season or where they are sourced. I am a big believer in sourcing and cooking with the right food source.
In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?
I truly believe that it is, unami, the fifth sense that make your taste buds tingle and make you want more.
Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?
Eating cold zucchini soup with french fries tossed in olive oil and sea salt, while watching the sunset on the beach.
Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?
The world, all the places I have traveled to and childhood memories. I turn to my guests and colleagues for feedback and daily inspiration.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?
We recently opened PLANTA Queen in NoMad and are happy to say we have a couple new locations in the works.
What advice would you give to other chefs to thrive and avoid burnout?
I believe as a chef, you need to have a ritual. My ritual is to drink about 4 liters of water with chia seeds and lemon juice, cut out artificial sugar and carbs and try to eliminate any processed foods.
Thank you for all that. Now we are ready for the main question of the interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Chef” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.
- The nutritional value of food. I was never educated on the difference between vegetable proteins and animal proteins.
- The process of food sourcing.
- The educational park of plant-based cuisine.
- Growing up in the 80’s, I wish there was more of a focus on sustainability.
- Learning how to create my own garden and then cooking with the vegetables being grown.
What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?
Dumplings, dumplings, dumplings!
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