Chef Cory LeDrew honoured at Holland College distinguished alumni awards
'The sky's the limit,' says LeDrew of culinary career after Holland College
Holland College is recognizing three distinguished alumni Thursday evening including, Chef Cory LeDrew, a 2001 graduate of the Culinary Institute of Canada who's worked in some of the top restaurants in Alberta.
The event will also honour alumni Wayne Stewart, president of the second-oldest plumbing company in Calgary, and Kevin Proude of Proude's Shoes in Charlottetown.
"It [the award] definitely came as a surprise, but we're excited to be on the Island again," LeDrew told Mainstreet P.E.I. host Karen Mair.
Lighting the fires
LeDrew was drawn to Holland College's culinary program, though he confessed he "wasn't much of a cook."
The fires of foodie passion were lit, though, when he hit the kitchens and was mentored by the school's award-winning chefs.
"I definitely gained the skills there to go into any other organization or hotel," he recalls.
It's more fun than what you can see on tv! But there's a ton of work that goes along with it.— Chef Cory LeDrew
After graduation, the Newfoundland native got his first job at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge in Jasper, Alta., which employs 86 cooks.
"You start out peeling a lot of vegetables," he said, noting large banquets of up to 800 people required him to peel 200 lbs of carrots and 200 lbs of onions.
"The goal was to beat the couple guys around you who were peeling," to move up in the kitchen hierarchy.
LeDrew then jumped at an opportunity to work at the five-diamond Banffshire Club restaurant in the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel, staying nine years and becoming executive chef.
'Money was no object'
"That was probably one of the highlights of my career," LeDrew said. "We had a lot of wait staff, money was no object. Those days don't really exist in a lot of restaurants anymore."
He flourished there, he said, because he could try out any dish he dreamed up, often making meals for seasoned international diners who ordered bottles of wine worth $2,000 or more.
"As a chef, to be able to order anything from anywhere and not really have to worry about the cost, that was quite amazing."
He became known for dishes created with Alberta produce, including pistachio-crusted rack of lamb and local soups, winning the Alberta best dish award in 2011 — ironically, for a lobster recipe.
LeDrew has been profiled in numerous magazines and blogs including City Style & Living, Virtual Gourmet, Food Service & Hospitality, and Advantage Magazine and has cooked for the Canadian Ambassador in Singapore and at the opening of O-Bar in Cairo, Egypt.
"It's been fantastic, so we're having lots of great success there, lots of happy customers," he said, adding he still helps out in the lodge's kitchen occasionally.
LeDrew now cooks for fun for his wife and baby, doing a lot of grilling. "You just want to to keep it as simple as possible, if you've got great produce."
Inspiring a new generation
His advice to culinary students whose ambition may be fuelled by the plethora of reality TV chef shows?
"It's more fun than what you can see on TV! But there's a ton of work that goes along with it. So when you're in school, you've gotta make sure you give the chefs the respect. Put your head down, listen and learn," LeDrew concludes.
If you work hard and are dedicated to your craft he said "the sky's the limit." And the proof is, as they say, in the pudding.
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With files from Karen Mair