When Joshua Moar, a Red Seal chef at Joey Restaurants’ Mayfield location, found himself at the James Beard House in New York City for a second time in five years, it felt surreal. “From when I started out with this company, over 10 years ago, to now, sometimes I don’t even recognize myself,” says the 30 year-old SAIT Polytechnic graduate.
Moar fell in love with the fast-paced profession at the age of 15, with his first kitchen job at a Chuck E. Cheese. But saying that he went from one chain restaurant to another is flat-out wrong. For one, Joey is not a typical big-box restaurant. Everything is prepared from scratch, rather than meals being simply reheated to match the service times and consistency of fast-food restaurants.
Secondly, the Vancouver-based franchise – with three locations in Edmonton and area, plus a new pub called the Local Public Eatery – has an apprenticeship program to help its aspiring chefs develop real culinary skills, from the creation of soup stocks to cooking a licorice-lacquered duck breast.
In 2006, Chris Mills, executive chef of Joey, took all the chefs, including Moar, from 18 Joey locations to help him prepare a feast at the James Beard House.
Mills compares cooking for the James Beard House to winning the Stanley Cup. Like Julia Child in the 1960s, Beard was a gastronomic aficionado who, a decade before her, hosted one of the first televised food programs. Through his shows, cookbooks and school programs, he helped make gourmet cooking a North American tradition. Following Beard’s death, his home became a place where world-renowned chefs are invited through recommendations and applications to flaunt their craft for industry leaders.
Mills was asked to return last fall, so he selected a team of four chefs and two apprentices through a series of culinary challenges. Moar won the first challenge in Kelowna with an exquisite beef trio.
Moar proved his experience in practices in both Edmonton and Toronto, says Mills. “The first [practice] dinner was all about me telling everyone what to do, but by the last [practice] dinner, everyone really started to own their roles. And by New York, I was just acting as a conductor.”
On the day of the Joey event, last Nov. 20, the group arrived at 8 a.m. and worked until the crowd arrived, slightly before the 7 p.m. show time.
But when it came time to prepare the dinner, Moar, who was in charge of hors d’oeuvres, had to do some quick thinking. The mche, a very delicate lettuce, had wilted, so he travelled to a nearby market to replace the important ingredient. “You can laugh after, you can get mad after – but in the moment you just have to act. There’s no time for panic,” says Moar.