From Farm to Washroom – A Chef’s Approach
@ The Hawthorn Dining Room with our bro, Chef Eraj
The context of our collaboration:
Here’s Lowen’s latest interview with our fiend, Eraj Jayawickreme, or “E for short.
We’re writing today about Chef’s and Lowen’s “From Farm to Washroom” collaboration which has caught the attention of others – As the Hawthorn is one of Cintas’ Top 5 Finalist for Canada’s Best Restroom.
How many years have you been cooking for, and when was the first moment that you realized your passion for the culinary field?
I’ve been cooking for almost 29 years. I started when I was 13 and I knew at around 10 this was it for me. So I told my parents, very apprehensively, but surprisingly they were totally open to it. They really helped make sure that they could do everything they could to make sure I was the best at what I do.
Are there any chefs that inspired you on your journey to the chef you are today?
Thomas Keller from French Laundry, Daniel Boulud, Pierre Grenier, Paul Bocuse, these are titans of the industry. Their philosophy of what food should be and what you should focus on molded me as young cook coming up. It’s the forefathers of our industry that mold and create our next generation of young cooks.
Have you created any of your own unique dishes?
Most of the items on our menu are my own. For me, I find the hallmarks of a great recipe are not complex. The best ones are those with very few ingredients with being all about technique and adeptness of hand. My favorite dishes is a very humble one. It’s just potatoes, onion, and dill. A simple salad really. But the key is being able to know when to pull out the potatoes. Using vinegar to expertly marinate the onions, etc. It’s about simplicity.
As you get older, through experience you see some of the most iconic dishes are very, very simple. The simple things and the finesse of it all is what showcases the talent of the chef. Something like foie gras and truffles on a plate is an “easy” win, right? Up the ante and try taking carrot, celery, onion or leek and make them shine. That’s where the skill-set comes in.
My favorite dish?
Dim Sum, I love Asian cuisine It’s very near & dear to my heart and I can eat that every day.
Do you have any favorite culinary equipment or approach?
I believe that everyone will always have the tools they can afford. The equipment doesn’t define you as a cook. You can take a knife from a dollar store and get it done. It’s about the passions and the understanding of what you’re doing. You can take two cooks: One with natural talents and passion and one with all the toys… Just because you have all the toys doesn’t make you the better cook.
Another key element is waste. When it comes to animal products, there’s no way around it – lives were sacrificed to create food. Even more, the lives of farmers and the producers time has been spent.
Show respect, gratitude and reverence.
A carrot is unassuming. Simple. Boring? But someone spent time growing, nurturing, harvesting and shipping it. If you let it go moldy or let your meat go rancid and you just throw it out, you’re not showing respect to the life and investment. There are only a few parts of an animal you can’t use; eyeballs and noses – everything else you can use.
Are there any special ways that you handle the “Team Dynamic” of a kitchen?
I’m not only a chef but also the director of food and beverages at the hotel. My cooks and the people I work with take pride in trying to rattle me, because I’m known to be quite calm no matter what happens. What I tell everyone is that “We’re paid to react when something hits the ceiling, we’re not paid to freak out and run around like a headless chicken.”
My key management style is calmness; in a kitchen, tempers and emotions can always flare. Frustrations can always escalate. At the end of the day its always about having respect for each other. In an argument you should always be able to defend your case.
What your reasoning is.
I’m all about being logical, I ask people to defend their argument and explain themselves. I pride myself on a calm kitchen because that’s a reflection of the mind of the chef, and the person running the show, and to me, calmness should come naturally in this type of leadership position.
At the end of the day, conflict is okay and healthy. It’s what keeps your mind flowing and criticism is never a bad thing. People afraid of criticism are governed by their ego. You need it. Criticism is someone giving you feedback.
Is there any kind of discipline or mindset that you’ve gone through to build up your craft to this present day?
You learn from the industry itself, you take the good that you learn from them learning under them, but you also take the bad, if you see someone doing something that you don’t like then you keep that in your memory to learn from…
I learned from my parents to lead my life with empathy. If you lead your life understanding where other people are coming from you will never hurt them and better understand them. The moment you understand where people are coming from, you realize we’ve all got common ground.
What differentiates people are opinions. So, they don’t change who you are or what you value because your wants and desires are the same as mine. That’s where the common ground is.
With guests like Queen Elizabeth staying at the Fairmont Palliser, have you ever gotten the chance to cook with any celebrities you’re allowed to name?
I’ve cooked with and for celebrities, heads of state, etc. but unfortunately, I’m not at liberty to name names. To me, celebs are no different to Calgarians who come into the Fairmont. Anywhere where I serve food, such as the Hawthorn, is an extension of my dining room at my home. Everyone is just as important. If you come in for high tea with your grandmother, or you’re the head of the EU, they’re the same to me. With the world in the place it is, in such a volatile place, and so high in emotion, we’re all in this together, so why not figure out a way to get out of it together.
What caught your eye about Lowen’s?
Chad and I have known each other for over two years. I’ve always had such amazing experiences with him in the past, I knew he was the right person.
Chad and I came up with Fairmont’s custom lip balm – called it’s Mint Tea Honey. Lowen’s manufacturers them with our urban hive honey and wax managed and farmed by Eliese Watson at ABC Bees. We even use locally grown mint leaves from Teadore Tea Company and organic canola oil from Highwood Crossing Foods.
These lip balms were and continue to be very popular.
When we knew the Hawthorn Dining Room was opening, I knew I always wanted to run a program where we curated soaps, lotions to put the “From Farm to Washroom” concept in play it was an easy decision to make – similar to the farm to table or Lowen’s farm to face approach.
To date Chad and I have created 2 season iterations of natural, locally sourced, liquid soap and hand lotion – both are EWG Verified like most of Chad’s line so we are also confident that they are safe and non-toxic. The latest iterations were called “Alberta Pine Apple,” as the scents were created from locally sourced Alberta pine oil and the apple component comes from an extract Lowen’s made from the apples from Chad’s backyard tree. As well, Chad loved dad jokes – so hence the name.
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Interested in hearing more about what he’s cooking up in the kitchen, or hearing more about the Hawthorn Dining Room?
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Hawthorn Dining Room & Bar