Jeff Law is the Director of Culinary Services at Revera’s Granite Landing Retirement Residence in Cambridge, ON. He has been serving the residents there for eight years. Jeff has been married to his husband for 18 years, and is proud of the fact that they were the first same-sex couple to be registered to be married in Kitchener-Waterloo. He has a passion for the local microbrewery scene and enjoys tasting all different kinds of beer. When not at work, Jeff enjoys a good movie with his husband.
What made you decide to choose a career in Culinary?
I kind of fell into cooking. When I was young, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I found I was good at cooking and I just stuck with it.
What is your favourite childhood memory involving food, or a special meal?
My fondest childhood memory of food is when my father was forced to start learning how to cook for us. This one time he wanted to make chili, so he got everything prepared and put it into the crock pot, turned it on and went to work for the day. I’m not sure what happened but by the time he served it to my sister and me it should have been called soup. My Sister and I called it “Ocean Chili,” because it was so watery. To this day, when my Dad makes chili I call it Ocean Chili. He’s a good sport about it though.
How did your career in the culinary field begin?
My mentor, Chef Jerry Kelland, helped to encourage me to follow the culinary path. Ultimately, I became his apprentice and then went to Humber College through the apprenticeship program.
What was your first culinary job, and how did you know that you wanted to pursue a career in this field?
My first culinary job was working as a short order cook in Fergus, ON at an ice cream shop called the Dairy Dip. We made hamburgers, hotdogs and fries and of course soft serve ice cream. We did it all from dipped cones to sundaes.
I didn’t know that I wanted to pursue a career in this field at that time. I moved on from that job to work at a small Italian restaurant in Elora, called Basha’s. That is where I met my mentor, Jerry, and through him I was able to gain focus and pursue culinary as a career.
What makes food and cooking special to you?
I love how I get to be creative. I get to design menus and recipes and to see that being implemented and executed is special particularly when the end product is enjoyed by others. It makes you feel like a rock star!
What do you enjoy about cooking at Granite Landing?
I enjoy working at Granite Landing because the residents here are amazing! They make coming to work every day easy. I have the freedom within the framework to cook different foods on a regular basis. Most chefs have to cook the same food day in and day out and I get to do something different every day.
What is your favourite type of cuisine to cook?
I love working with exotic items and game meats. I love helping people change their mind about a food that they think they wouldn’t like. That being said, to pick a particular cuisine is difficult. I like to use a lot of different techniques and often that means blurring lines between cuisines.
Do you have a favourite cookbook or chef?
My favourite “cookbook” is called The Flavor Bible. It lists almost every ingredient you can think of and tells you what pairs well with it. For example, it says that duck goes well with apples, blueberries and ricotta cheese. It doesn’t give you recipes, instead it just tells you what foods go well together and then the rest is up to me. That part is exciting.
I am not sure I have a favourite chef, however, I do have a great deal of respect for Chef Michael Smith. On his show he talks about how fine dining seems to be where all cooks and chefs want to work but that everyone who works in any kitchen is just as important as a fine dining chef. He says a cook in a cafeteria is just as important as a fine dining chef and that no one should ever feel like they are less for not working in fine dining. Listening to him talk about it honestly changed my life.
What is your go-to recipe to impress your residents?
My residents are wonderful and amazing, and they know their stuff. When I need to impress, prime rib or shellfish is always a winner.
What is the best compliment you have received about your food from a resident?
The best compliment was before COVID-19 when one particular couple would invite their whole family to dine here at Granite Landing instead of going out to eat. The group was always at least 20 people and although the guests would say how lovely the food was the best part was seeing how our food brought family together.
In your opinion, what are three tools every chef needs?
A sharp knife, a sharp mind and willingness to learn. If you have that you can make anything.
What food trend is overrated?
Plant based proteins. I know health is a concern for most people, but I just don’t get the appeal of eating something that has been overly designed to look and mostly taste like the real thing. Personally, I think people should enjoy their favourites in moderation. Have the burger, but remember to have something healthy at your next meal.
What underrated foods should people try?
Mushrooms. In my opinion mushrooms are amazing and delicious. Many people view them as gross and slimy but when properly prepared they can be the centrepiece of a meal.
If you could only have one dish for the rest of your life what would it be, and why?
I have two favourite foods: a well-prepared burger and eggs benedict. Those are the things that I like to indulge in… probably more than I should.
When are you happiest at work?
When I am cooking. From time to time I like to host a sampling event and prepare foods that normally wouldn’t be featured on our regular menus. When we are cooking for these events is when I am at my happiest.
What do you wish more people knew about a career in the senior living sector?
Cooking for a retirement residence can be considerably more fulfilling than working in a fine dining restaurant. You get to cook your recipes and your food. In fine dining you are only ever cooking someone else’s food and recipes and you cook the same stuff day in and day out. In retirement you get to cook a huge variety of food and use and develop your own recipes.
What have you learned from your residents?
Throw away your preconceptions of what residents should like. Every resident has had a different journey to get to where they are today. Some have eaten like queens and kings and others have only ever eaten homemade meals. When I first started, I wanted to deliver something different and unique all the time and try and be cutting edge. But that isn’t what the residents wanted. After all, we cook for the residents not ourselves. We need to feed them what they want to eat not what we want them to eat, and sometimes that means a simple tuna salad sandwich and other times it means a perfectly prepared osso bucco with creamy polenta. Both meals are just as important to my residents.