Getting to Know: Chef Jason Bangerter [Celebrity Chefs of Canada]

Chef Jason Bangerter. A name synonymous with culinary genius. 

                                 [Photo by Stacey Newman Photography]  

Whether you’re familiar with his name from his years at Auberge du Pommier, where he revamped classical French cuisine with a modern, creative flair, from his many cooking demos or culinary tours throughout Toronto (and around the world, I’m sure), or from his current prestigious gig as the executive chef of both Luma and O&B Canteen in the TIFF Bell Lightbox, it’s evident that Chef Bangerter is a culinary force to be reckoned with. 

[edible table -  TBDtoronto brunch 2011]
His career started out in Toronto, apprenticing with Chef John Higgins at Le Royal Meridian King Edward Hotel and eventually found him in London, England working for the esteemed Chef Anton Mosimann, 13 year Maitre Chef des Cuisines at the Dorchester Hotel, owner of private dining club Mosimann and caterer to the Royal Family, among other celebrated points. This was a momentous start for a man who would soon be one of Canada’s culinary top dogs. Chef Bangerter cooked in Michelin starred restaurants throughout France and Switzerland for a few years before returning to Canada to claim his role as chef of one of Toronto’s top French restaurants, Auberge du Pommier.  

Currently, Chef Bangerter is the executive chef at O&B Canteen & LUMA, both located in the Toronto International Film Festival Bell Lightbox building. 

O&B Canteen
 is a casual street-side market café somewhat reminiscent of a “high-end cafeteria” with it’s sleek lines, open airy space and neutral, eye-pleasing colours. Canteen offers a Grab-and-Go menu and an All-Day Dine-In menu consisting of everything from the Canteen Butty, a fried-egg sandwich notably served with Chef’s housemade ketchup, to Short-Rib Ravioli served with brown butter, grated horseradish and toasted hazelnuts. Nothing is overlooked here. If you’re craving it, there is a good chance Canteen offers it - perfectly thought out and ingeniously executed.  

[Grilled poussin. Chard, Polenta and spiced date jus]

LUMA is stylish and sophisticated, open and warm. A lounge in the heart of downtown Toronto, right at the corner of King and John, that offers food as beautiful as it’s upscale atmosphere. Like Canteen, Luma showcases some of the finest local and regional ingredients cooked with the utmost respect. Afterall, respecting his ingredients is something Chef Bangerter holds in high regard. The brunchlunch, and dinner menus boast dishes like the Luma Lobster Burger [with cucumber pickle, togarashi mayonnaise and crispy shallots], Lamb Sirloin [with caramelized roots, quinoa, crispy lamb sweetbreads and rosemary] and Croque Madame [with gruyère, ham, mornay sauce and a sunny side up egg] to name just a few (I can hear my stomach groaning in agony as I read the menus with nothing but a cup of tea beside me). The cocktail and wine menu is also worth mentioning with it’s predominantly Canadian wines and, of course I would mention this, Lazy Caprese cocktail [classic caesar, basil purée, bocconcini garnish, balsamic drizzle, lemon-pepper rim]. Mmmm delicious! 

[Roast cod, crispy sweetbreads, mushrooms and celery - LUMA]

Since it’s opening in September 2010, Luma has has been named one of North America’s Top Ten New Restaurants by Frommer’s Travel Guide, as well as one of Toronto’s top ten by local food reviewer James Chatto, and O&B Canteen has become one of the most frequented restaurants of the King West theatre district.

Being kind as he is, Chef Bangerter was gracious enough to take some time out of his overloaded day (He’ll be on Canada AM tomorrow - March 2nd) to answer a few quick questions for me. 

[Blinis Demidoff. Chef Bangerter’s interpretation of the first course of Babettes feast - one of the dishes for the Food on Film series]

Has food always been a part of your life? Have you always known you wanted to be a chef?
Food has always been a big part of my life.  From as early as I can remember I was exposed to great food and the passion and joy found in the kitchen.  And by no coincidence, also as early as I can remember, my family began spending summers on the coast of Nova Scotia with my grandparents on Amherst shore.  It was a time of relaxation, family gathering, tradition and good food. I recall vividly the aroma of fresh breads, pies and cookies baking in the morning, simmering braises in the afternoon and the sweet salty smell of the seafood we would boil in the early evenings after a bountiful clam dig on the sandbars or visit to the lobster docks.  Nova Scotia for me came to represent the very best of my culinary heritage.  Back in Toronto my aunt Jan was the gourmand in the family.  She loves great food and is a fantastic cook.  At an early age I was sampling baked escargot and fancy canapés in her downtown condo.  

What would you do if you weren’t a chef?
At one time I was on path to become a teacher.  I guess in a sense I have followed that path.  If I was not a chef, I would be a teacher.   But it is hard to say.  I can’t imagine being anything other than what I am. 

Do you have a favourite dish on each menu right now? 
Fave dishes….O&B Canteen-Seared scallop on curried cauliflower with spiced raisins, crispy shallots and coriander.  LUMA-ricotta gnudi with Northern Woods mushroom, buffalo milk parmesan and truffle.  BUT, these faves change from week to week…..Depends on the mood. Luma’s Gnudi is in an on line competition right now check it out.

As a chef, what inspires you the most to keep creating? 
Many things for different reasons. Pleasing the guest is pretty high up there.  We work very hard, long hours and to see the satisfaction a guest receives from enjoying a dish and having an experience; not just a meal is motivating and inspiring. The young cooks on their way up in the industry.  I am inspired by the drive and passion of the talent around me every day.  The challenge of creating something new with an ingredient.  Something I haven’t done before.  New ingredients!  Finding something not the norm and throwing it into the repertoire.  
I know you come from an Acadian background and that it played a big role in your love of food, what would you say is the one dish that reminds you most of your childhood?  
The dish that reminds me most of my childhood…That’s tough.  There are lots of memories.  Not just one.  Simple dishes; my parent’s spaghetti and meat sauce.  Probably one of the first recipes I learned. Eating warm picked wild blueberries in milk at my grandparents on lake panache near Espanola Ontario.  Sitting on the rock where we picked them and watching the loons on the lake.  In Nova Scotia my grandparent’s cabbage rolls and fresh baked bread.  My grandmother sucking razor fish out of the shell live is a pretty vivid memory as well.  The kids would run away screaming in horror.  I loved it.

I know you do a good amount of mentoring, teaching and presenting - what’s your favourite part about giving back to your community? 
Whether it’s teaching, cooking demos, seminars or culinary tours, I just love getting people excited about food.  I hope to open people’s eyes to new possibilities when shopping and preparing meals at home. 

The Food on Film series is such a wonderful, creative way to combine the arts of cooking and film - what made you want to start this event? What’s been the most fulfilling part of it so far? 
Food On Film is an exciting new series with TIFF at The Bell Lightbox.  Since the opening of Luma and O&B Canteen I have been excited about the idea of designing dishes and events around film.   It has been a lot of fun and keeps the creative juices flowing.  I think the most fulfilling part so far is that it is new.  It isn’t being done anywhere else.  We are connecting food and film and creating an extended film experience outside the cinema.  Being able to watch a food film, ask insider questions on techniques and cooking background followed by tasting a dish possibly seen in the film or inspired by it is pretty special.

Favourite 10-minute dish? 
Fave quick dish.  Pasta.  Love it.  Simple fresh or al dente.  Onion, garlic, basil and tomato (quick tomato fonduta).  Good olive oil, fresh Parmesan, and a glass or 2 of wine. 

Sunday supper style - what is a typical one in your home? 
No traditional Sunday supper at our house.  We go with the flow.  Could be a roast, fave quick dish or sushi.  The kids are on the sushi boat kick right now.  For me, I just like being home spending time with the fam.  I eat everything. 

[Fresh, grilled herring with watercress puree, warm potato salad. orange segments and grain mustard vinaigrette]

When asked about Celebrity Chefs of Canada, Chef Bangerter answered, happily,
I am very excited to be a part of the CCOC event this year.  I am honored to be included in this line up of fabulous chefs.  It has been years since I have visited Ottawa and I am really looking forward to cooking up some great eats with chef Jason Duffy and our CCOC team.”

You can catch Chef Bangerter demoing some Elk Ribs along-side Chef Jason Duffy at this year’s CCOC event. 
For more information or to purchase tickets, please see the NAC website and visit their Facebook page and Twitter feed for the latest news on the event.

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