Chef Derrick Markland started down his path to becoming a chef when a teacher who knew he was interested in the culinary business introduced him to Chef Niels Kjeldsen who was at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto at that time. After Markland was finished school, he started his apprenticeship with Kjeldsen and hasn’t looked back since.
Canada's Chefs: Derrick Markland, Toronto ON
Chef Derrick Markland combines his classical French training with the food of the American South at Roux in Toronto.
Trio Plate: Beet salad, salmon puff pastry and coconut salad.
Along with Niels Kjeldsen, he cites Chef John Higgins as a major influence on him. Markland says, “He was one of the chefs who encouraged me to stay focused on what I wanted to do. He’s an excellent chef and he has been a big influence on me.”
Cooking what he enjoys to eat is what drives Markland’s cuisine. He’s never had an interest in doing trendy food and he adds, “Things become muddled when you’re only doing what other people like. If you’re not true to what you’re cooking, I think you have a problem right there.”
His current cuisine is based in Creole cooking and other cuisines from America’s deep South with his own unique touches. Markland is focusing on creating dishes in that context and learning more about that particular style of food. He adds that he’s “skimming the layers” of what he finds interesting in the culinary world.
While Markland does like to focus on comfort food, he still elevates the level of quality and execution. He ensures that what he puts out isn’t something that his customers could easily replicate at home with the level of technique that he applies to his dishes.
Creating new dishes starts with a central ingredient that inspires Markland. He focuses on that one ingredient and keeps it within the context of Creole or Southern cuisine. For example, he’ll do a play on the traditional dish of shrimp and grits by substituting scallops for the shrimp. Markland then treats the grits more like risotto in order to give people something with which they’re more familiar.
Another example of Markland’s approach is his treatment of catfish. He explains, “Catfish is another ingredient I like. People used to look at catfish as not a very good fish but catfish is flavourful. I do it with a braised, smoked pork belly. I braise the pork belly for five hours and I smoke it for another three hours after that. It’s another unusual combination.”
Half Roast Chicken with Shimeji Mushrooms
The trend towards local food isn’t one to which Markland completely adheres. While he certainly uses locally sourced ingredients, he also visits Toronto’s Food Terminal to pick up his ingredients every week. He adds, “I don’t advertise that I use exclusively local products or anything because I’m not trying to sway people with it. I’m doing what I like to do, what’s fun for me and I don’t want to pull the wool over people’s eyes.”
Markland was trained as a chef in the traditional way. This meant that things could get rough but the chef still tries to take a regimented approach to teaching younger cooks. He explains, “I try to motivate the young people that are working with me using a little bit of that old school way. I believe that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right. What is the purpose of putting an effort in to do something wrong?”
He continues, “I want them to have high standards and ask themselves, 'Would I eat this? Is it right?' I have had apprentices in the past who have thanked me for being so hard on them because I made sure they didn’t slack off and they learned their business. I want my apprentices to surpass me once they’ve learned from me.”
A willingness to listen and learn are two of the traits that Markland seeks in the cooks that he hires. He’s also looking for loyalty from his cooks. Rather than having someone who stays for a few months and leaves, Markland likes to see his apprentices stay for at least a year. He adds, “ I want someone who will stick with me for at least a year, learn as much as they can and move on. The extra knowledge will earn you that extra dollar down the road.”
Markland is inspired by a desire to see his business succeed and to continue to show people that the classics of cuisine are still to be valued. He adds, “I’m trying to let people know that I don’t have to be trendy to be successful. I think that comfort food is stll something that’s to be desired. That kind of eating is still to be desired.”
Creme Brûlée with Beignets and a Bourbon-Caramel Sauce