One of Norris' early mentors was Chef James (Chad) Chatterpaul. Norris says that Chatterpaul was the first good chef he'd worked for and explains, "He knew what was going on and he was very hard to work for. It was good though. You need someone who will push you when you’re younger." Norris adds that he modeled himself after Chatterpaul in terms of his work ethic and his drive.
Another formative experience for the chef was working at Mark MacEwan’s restaurant, Terra, in Toronto. Norris says, “I started out as grill cook and worked myself up to chef de cuisine. It was the first kitchen I’d ever run. That was my most formative experience. It was a crazy high-end restaurant at the time. It was really intense!”
In terms of his approach to cooking, the chef says that he’s started aiming for a more local-ingredient focused approach. He elaborates on his cooking and says, “For a while there, I was really modernizing my approach but I think I’m starting to get back to using simpler techniques rather than being complicated for the sake of being complicated.”
He continues by saying that he’ll still do modernist dishes for special events but that he tries to cook dishes that people understand and keep coming back to eat.
Norris talks about sourcing ingredients and says that he’s still trying to build up a roster of local suppliers since he only started in his current position a year ago. He explains, “This summer I have a sous chef in place so I plan to source as much as I can locally for the fine dining restaurant. Even in the pub we have a local company that we’re sourcing our beef from. We’re doing what we can but it takes time.”
The process of writing a menu starts with his notebook for Norris. He says that he carries the book with him everywhere he goes and is constantly jotting down ideas and flavour combinations that come into his mind. When he’s ready to write a menu, the chef says that he begins to refine the flavours and consider the combinations more carefully.
He adds, “The creative process is a bit different for everyone. Sometimes it isn’t easy when you’re under a lot of stress. It can be hard to come up with good ideas. You also have to look at your staff, your facilities and your customers. Sometimes you might have a bunch of great ideas but they’re just not great for your particular restaurant.”
From Norris’ point of view, the mixture of traits needed to be a good chef includes a strong work ethic, a willingness to learn and a sense of commitment. Norris credits his father and grandfather for instilling him with his strong work ethic and explains, “When you work for your family there aren’t a lot of excuses. It definitely helped shape me and prepare me for the kitchen. if I had started out in the kitchen younger than I did, I don’t know if I would have had the discipline to do it. “
Norris says that his desire to learn came from his late start in the culinary industry and adds, “I’ve always felt like I needed to catch up. I put a lot of pressure on myself to learn. I read anything I could get a hold of and went out to eat at as many restaurants as I could to see what other people were doing.”
As for commitment, Norris points out, “There’s a tremendous amount of sacrifice of your personal life in this business. I tell my apprentices that if you aren’t going to go in with both feet, there’s not much point. You’ve never going to get where you need to be with one foot in it.”
Norris says that he’s looking for open minds and a willingness to learn from his kitchen team. He says, “Just because one chef shows you something doesn’t mean that’s the only way to do it. If you want to come in with the tap turned off, you’re not going to learn. I’ve been doing this seventeen years and I’m still learning every day.”
Finding motivation is a matter of getting back into the kitchen and cooking for Norris. He says that he still thinks there’s value in self-analysis but adds, “You get tired and lose focus sometimes. I find that whenever I start to feel that way I just have to come into the kitchen and start cooking again.”