Canada's Chefs: Danny Hassell, Parcae, Toronto ON

by Krlmagi

Chef Danny Hassell takes carefully selected ingredients from his network of local producers and crafts food that highlights the natural flavours of those ingredients at Parcae.

Being in the kitchen with his mother was the first influence that pushed Danny Hassell towards a culinary career. He adds, “At a certain point, my entire family was cooking as well. We all worked in a tapas restaurant. Eventually they all moved on to other careers and I stuck with cooking.”

He cites his mother as a primary shaping factor as a chef. She taught him all of her recipes and the two of them shared cooking duties for family gatherings. His enjoyment of those experiences has stuck with him until today.

Chef Danny Hassell
Chef Danny Hassell

Food is something to be approached with simplicity and a respect for ingredients for Hassell. He explains, “I’m relying on very good ingredients and highlighting them. There are some technical things we’re doing but most of it is just simple. I’ve sourced out suppliers from all over Canada but mostly stayed local.”

Menu creation happens spontaneously for Hassell. The last menu he created was born while he was interviewing someone for a job. He says, “I was interviewing this person, lost my train of thought and created the menu.” Once he has the basic outline of the menu, he refines and upgrades it until he’s comfortable with it.

An example of his creative process is a dish of raw sea urchin with sturgeon cartilage chips. Hassell braises the cartilage for thirty hours until it’s soft, rolls it into a ballotine* before freezing it, slicing it and dehydrating it to create chips. He says, “It’s 100 percent unique to this restaurant. I serve it with a persimmon mostarda which has a little spice in it to balance the softer flavours.”

Hassell’s relationship with his suppliers is crucial to what he does as a chef. Hassell has suppliers who will go out of their way to source what he needs. He explains, “For example, I wanted a certain cut of meat and my meat supplier went out of his way to find it for me. My veg suppliers know the type of food I’m into so when there’s something new on the market, I’m the first one to find out about it. Basically, I treat my suppliers as a part of my team.”

Duck ravioli with mascarpone cheese, tomato, and olive oil
Duck ravioli with mascarpone cheese, tomato, and olive oil
Horse Carpaccio: Horse tenderloin with duck yolk and topped with pumpkin seeds
Horse Carpaccio: Horse tenderloin with duck yolk and topped with pumpkin seeds

The traditional hierarchical approach to running a kitchen runs counter to Hassell’s take on managing his team. He treats people with respect and works to build their confidence as opposed to shouting and becoming aggressive with them. He says, “I call my cooks chefs and I don’t ask them to call me chef. On late Saturday nights, we usually go for cold tea downtown Toronto and get some Asian food. Basically I try to make a team out of my staff.”

When Hassell hired his current kitchen team, he sought out people with whom he’d worked in the past. They were people who Hassell knew would be willing to work long hours and get things done no matter what it took. He says, “When I ask my sous chef, Joseph Awad, for something it’s done right away. If I ask my cooks to do something, they do it right away and they’re happy to do it. I’ve created a team of professionals and all we do is pick each other’s brains, come up with good food and have fun doing it.”

Motivation comes from a wide variety of sources for Hassell. He explains, “ I’ll find motivation from the homeless person on the corner, I’ll find motivation from my family or the people I work with. It relates to my food because it pushes me to do what I want to do. It’s important to me that I stick to my guns when it comes to my ideas.”

He adds, “One of the most important inspirations in my life is Rodney Mullen who’s a professional skateboarder who came up with most of the skateboarding tricks we use now. Hearing him speak motivates me.”

 

*The traditional ballotine is made of a thigh of chicken, duck or other poultry that has been boned stuffed. It is in a sausage shape.

H.K. Chicken Leg: Fall sausage stuffed into chicken skin over butternut squash
H.K. Chicken Leg: Fall sausage stuffed into chicken skin over butternut squash

This profile of Danny Hassell is based on an interview conducted via telephone and recorded on Nov. 20, 2015.

Updated: 11/24/2015, Krlmagi
 
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