Chef Nick Liu says that his whole life has revolved around food. He points out that his dad and his grandparents are all great cooks. He says that he only came to this realization when he did a job shadow at 360 in the CN Tower with Chef Brad Long. Liu explains, “He got me a summer job and I just ended up taking to cooking. I loved it and that inspired me to go to culinary school at George Brown College."
Canadian Chefs in Conversation: Nick Liu, Toronto
Chef Nick Liu combines his family's Chinese heritage with his French culinary training to produce unique dishes at DaiLo in Toronto.
Chef Nick Liu at work
When he discusses the chefs that have influenced his career, Liu mentions Chef Keith Froggatt. He says that Froggatt was a big influence on him. He says that he graduated George Brown and the chef hired him on at Scaramouche where he stayed for nine years. He also mentions Heston Blumenthal and Fergus Henderson as people who influenced his thinking on food and cooking.
In terms of his approach, the chef explains that his approach is to, “take things that I grew up with and put them on the plate as an experience” and says that he combines his Chinese background with his French training. He elaborates, “My whole approach is to take a lot of the techniques and flavours that I was taught by my family and combine them with some of the French techniques and platings that I've learned."
When it comes to creating a new dish, Liu says that he starts with a dish that he’s familiar with because, as he points out, “If you as a chef feel nostalgic towards that thing, people will feel that nostalgia when they eat it.” He adds that even if they don’t understand the ingredients or the dish, subconsciously, they understand the concept behind it.
Sustainability and local growing are concepts that Liu firmly supports. He says that he uses Ontario based suppliers with whom he’s had long-term connections that provide high quality, local products. The chef adds that he’s trying to get more Asian ingredients grown locally since there aren’t many local sources for them.
Big Boss Bao
Bird's Nest Salad
Creating the right environment is important to Liu as a chef. He explains that he’s worked in a lot of kitchens and had challenging experiences or, as he puts it, “I've gotten my ass kicked a lot.” Instead, Liu says that he wants to inspire people to be good to each other generally. The mission statement he uses is, “The front of the house keeps the back of the house hydrated and the back of the house keeps the front of the house full.”
He adds that when he was younger, he used to be hot-headed but now he is “stern” when necessary but doesn’t believe in shouting at his staff. He explains, “I've been humbled through my career and humbled when I was trying to get this restaurant opened.”
Part of creating the right kitchen environment is having the right staff. The primary factor that Liu looks for is a staff that has a good attitude. He adds that people who can store lots of information and stay calm while still learning. He adds that, in terms of skills, “speed's also important for me so that people can learn quickly and do their prep quickly as well. My restaurant's heavy on the prep."
As for his inspirations, the chef says that he gets inspired by food in general as well as the restaurant industry. He says, “I love everything about my industry. I get inspired by what other people are doing, books, and just talking to other chefs. I get inspired by going to farmer's markets, Chinese markets and I even get inspired by fast food sometimes."
Whole Crispy Rainbow Trout