How To Score A Spot In A Michelin Star Restaurant While You’re Still In Your Teens…
Exclusive Interview With Chef Romain Avril
Working at a Michelin-starred restaurant at any age is impressive — but at 17!? That’s unheard of… well… almost unheard of… Chef Romain Avril is a French-born chef who started cooking up high-quality, impressive dishes at the age of 13 (So, around the same time that I had mastered the art of making an Easy Bake Oven cake with a mountain of frosting and a blanket of sprinkles…).
When Chef Avril was 14, he began his culinary education which eventually led him to earn his position at a Michelin-starred restaurant (at the age of 17)! Since then, he’s perfected molecular gastronomy techniques, appeared on Global Tv’s The Morning Show, competed on Chopped Canada, judged on Top Chef Canada, opened restaurants as Exec Chef (Goldie Bar, Lavelle Restaurant, and Neruda Restaurant), AND now he’s about to publish his very own plant-based cookbook — is there anything this young, talented chef hasn’t done?? Not to mention, Chef Avril continues to inspire up-and-coming chefs by encouraging creativity in the kitchen, inspiring the use of local and sustainable ingredients, and promoting equality within the food industry.
As a leader of the culinary world, Chef Avril has become an incredible role model to all current and aspiring chefs out there. Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with Chef Avril and dive inside his culinary journey — and boy was it a story-and-a-half to hear…
You’d think Chef Avril’s passion and drive for decadent culinary experiences would’ve stemmed from his parents, family, or friends. Nope… Chef Avril’s mother always cooked for the family, but she didn’t really enjoy the process of cooking — it was more of a “chore” — something that had to be done to feed the family and make sure everyone stayed healthy. In fact, Chef Avril rarely ever cooked at home — he’d cook up his culinary masterpieces at school and work, then come home to whatever his mom was whipping up in the kitchen for dinner.
So how did he get his inspiration? Honestly — he doesn’t really know — “I just loved cooking. I don’t know why — I just had a real passion for it.”. Looking back on his experiences, he’s glad that he was able to learn how to cook at such a young age — and he’s proud to have developed such a meaningful appreciation for ingredients and unique foods.
“I was so lucky to have developed my palate at such a young age. I grew up right beside the ocean, and I was exposed to a wide variety of seafood, shellfish, and veggies. My love for wholesome, natural foods allowed my body to grow in a much better way than if i’d been stuffing my face with hamburgers and fries. It’s so important to know what’s on your table and what you’re putting into your body — and when you experiment with different foods from your hometown, you can gain a greater appreciation for your food culture.”
As his appreciation for food grew, Chef Avril began to experiment with new techniques and modern cooking. “I really found myself in molecular gastronomy. Some chefs are rustic, some specialize in French cooking, and some specialize in Italian — but I really found my niche in modern cooking. I love using molecular techniques to transform a meat, or prepare a product in a way that you simply couldn’t without a few molecular tricks. It’s always so cool to see a new cuisine, and to experience something different. The creativity excited my palate, and I found peace with learning how different flavours could come together on the plate. After learning molecular gastronomy in England, I could finally express my own food culture while putting an innovative twist on the ingredients to create an unforgettable experience.”
It’s funny that Chef Avril mentions food culture — because here in Canada, we don’t really have one… Think about it — if there was a restaurant that specialized in “Canadian Cuisine”, what would they sell? (And please don’t say maple syrup…).
Chef Avril says “In Canada, we’re way to quick to import stuff from other countries. We want the cheese from France and the wine from Italy… People don’t understand that Ontario [and Canada] has so many delicious ingredients to offer.”
Unfortunately, the lack of knowledge isn’t so surprising, since the media tends to shed a light on all of the “amazing wondrous foods” from other countries. “It will take a movement from the media, the industry, and the consumers to shine a light on local produce and farmers. Ontario has plenty to offer — in some cases, I can find better ingredients here than I could in France — we just need to raise some awareness about it.”
The lack of knowledge about local farmers is embarrassing… If you look at other cultures from around the would, you can tell exactly where the food is coming from. For example, you know what region of France you’re in when you’re served a dish at a restaurant — each region has a specific cuisine, and they feature the ingredients that are “grown in their backyard”. If you asked someone “what is Canadian cuisine?” — or even better, “what is Ontario cuisine” — I doubt you’d get an answer…
Instead, we rely on packaged foods, imported ingredients, and “food-imposters” (aka chemicals, processed powders, and all those i-can’t-pronounce-any-of-the-ingredients-on-the-list” products).
This hit Chef Avril hard when he first came over to Canada. “I came to Canada for the first time during an exchange program. We went to Quebec, and I attended one of the schools there for two weeks. I’ll never forget going into the cafeteria for the first time and seeing a buffet of pizzas, burgers, and plates of fish and chips… there was NOTHING green! I was in shock! In France, we have dieticians who prepare our meals, and the menu constantly changes based on the season to highlight seasonal, local foods. Here, it was all brown and deep-fried — it was disgusting.”
And so the cycle begins… Consumers demand the processed, fried, “golden-brown-and-delicious” foods, businesses meet the demand by producing those dishes, the media highlights the “successful food businesses”, and farmers sit in the background working their a** off for the little business they get… It’s so sad, because the REAL food (you know, the kind with AMAZING flavours, BEAUTIFUL colours, and MOUTH WATERING textures) is right in our backyard! We’re just too afraid to take a leap of faith and give local Canadian Cuisine a try.
On the bright side, Chef Avril is starting to see a small beam of hope for Canadian cuisine and food culture. “Honestly, after a month of first moving here, I was pretty much ready to go back to France. There was no food culture, no care for fine dining, and no association between food and traditions. But that was ten years ago — and since then, a lot has changed. Every year we are becoming more and more of a food-based-country. There are restaurants like Alo that are popping up and representing our country with pride! I can certainly see more people coming to Canada for food experiences in the future — but it may take a little while to build our reputation.”
So, what exactly IS Canadian Cuisine?? Forget the buckets of poutine, bottles of maple syrup and trays of nanaimo bars — Canadian cuisine is MUCH more.
“Canadian cuisine features ingredients that were used by the indigenous — and it highlights the ancient methods of cooking that we used in the past. It uses the forgotten ingredients like squash, beans, peas, and corn. We kind of got lazy and put them off to the side, but modern Canadian cuisine is bringing them back and highlighting their fresh and unique flavour profiles.”
Honestly — i’m intrigued and excited to try more “Canadian Cuisine”. I’m more than ready to see authentic Canadian restaurants popping up around Canada — who’s with me?? Just imagine… One day maybe there will be “Canadian restaurants” in Italy — hehe, that would be pretty cool!
Apart from the food-side of our culture, there also seems to be a bit of an issue with the socialization-part of our food-culture and dining experiences.
“It’s not that socialization and food has completely vanished from society — but it’s definitely starting to drift away. There’s been a shift in the way we eat- especially with how easy it is nowadays to order in. Back in the day, we would have to actually go to a restaurant, sit down, and eat… Now you can be in your PJs and there’ll be food right in front of you in seconds. It eliminates the social entertainment value of the meal. Honestly, I go to restaurants all the time by myself — and the entertainment value of engaging with the servers and seeing others around elevates the experience.”
Unfortunately, companies like “Uber Eats” make it wayyyy too simple to press a button and get food right to your door — and sometimes a night of Netflix and packaged late-night-fried-take-out food is too good to resist…
It’s funny, because one of the most unique (and, in my opinion, one of the best) things about food is that it can be UNIVERSALLY enjoyed WITH OTHERS.
“There are two things in the world that bring people together: sports and food. My father doesn’t speak anything but French, but when we go on trips to Germany and England, we can still connect through the food that is being served. We can point to the same foods we like, we can sit down and make memories by enjoying a good meal together, and we can show our love and appreciation for each other by sitting around the table and sharing our food.”
Food has no language — and everyone can take part in a food-based experience, regardless of where you’re from, what language you speak, or what background you have.
“Think about when you go on a first date. It’s usually at a restaurant, or somewhere that has food. The food triggers a conversation, and helps you build a relationship with the person you’re with. You don’t need to know them to have a connection through food — it’s something we all have in common — we all eat food!”. It’s so true — we all have love and joy for food — and we can all related through flavours and experiences. We can share memories, describe dishes, and build bonds just by talking and sharing food — and that’s something I truly hope is never lost.
Now, as a soon to be restaurant owner himself, Chef Avril wants to continue the trend and pass along his knowledge — all while ensuring his employees are treated with the utmost of respect. “Inequality is still a big thing in the restaurant industry. It’s getting better, but it certainly isn’t good enough. The thing is — equality isn’t getting a perfectly diverse kitchen — it’s about choosing the best person for the job. Gender, sex, race, age, etc., doesn’t matter — if the person is the best for the job — they’re the one that deserves it.
Unfortunately, the industry (like many others out there) is still heavily male-dominated. Even on TV shows, you’ll generally see male-dominated judging panels, and mostly-male chefs. The change isn’t going to happen by women standing up for their own rights — it will take support from men and the media to make an impact and finally achieve the equality that is deserved.” Amen to that — being an upcoming female in the industry, I am all for equality — and equality DOES NOT mean 50/50 — it means simply choosing the right team to get the job done in the best way (without taking into account anything other than skills and personality traits!).
After working in restaurants, building an appreciation for food, learning from the best-of-the-best, and perfecting his unique craft — Chef Avril is now on to inspiring others in the community to follow their food dreams and support a sustainable future!
“I want to be a teacher, I want to share my food philosophy with others. I want to shine a light on the industry, represent my craft, and be a speaker. I think it’s so fun to be a judge on cooking shows or speak for TV programs because I get to discuss my thoughts and opinions on food, and I can capture the attention of up-and-coming chefs. I want to inspire them to have a great work ethic — and I want them to realize that it takes hard work to achieve your goals — but that it IS possible. I’m not perfect by any means, but I’ve stayed true to my food philosophy and I’ve consistently believed in my values and goals. I’ve always promoted the use of environmentally sustainable foods, encouraged equality in the kitchen, supported food culture and experiences, and ensured to eliminate harassment and violence in the kitchen. I hope to inspire the young generation to follow their dreams, and stand up for their own values and beliefs in the industry.”
As he continues to inspire and motivate young chefs (like me — 100% inspired at this point in our convo!), Chef Avril is working on publishing his very first plant-based cookbook! The goal of the book is to prove to the community that plant-based foods are DELICIOUS! He’s offering up some incredible recipes for appetizers, entrees, snacks, and desserts (YUM!). It’s not about eliminating meat products — but it’s about reducing the amount you eat, and ensuring the meat that you do consume is raised properly.
“The meat that you consume should be raised properly by local farmers.The animals should see the sun and rain, they should run free, and they should be fed properly. That’s the first step towards sustainability.”
The second step??? “The second step is to eat less animal-based protein, and eat more plant-based protein. We eat WAY TOO MUCH animal-based protein, and we need to be conscious about what we are doing to the planet, and what we’re putting into our body. Think about the world you are leaving for your great, great, great, great grandchildren… What do you want for them??”
And, let’s not forget folks — eating sustainably, and incorporating plant-based proteins does NOT mean you’re losing flavour.. In fact, flavours can be BOOSTED by using delicious, locally produced plant-based ingredients!
“Plant-based is not kale and tofu. Plant-based is DELICIOUS — you just need to know the recipes.”
Confession: I am SO EXCITED for his cookbook coming out soon — I got a preview, and oh my WOW do the recipes look AMAZING! (Stay tuned for the release in 2021 — you won’t wanna miss out on this one!)
After our long n’ lovely chat, I was feeling extra motivated and determined to make a change. Chef Avril may be a young chef — but his knowledge, drive, and passion for food is INCREDIBLE! I cannot be more thankful to have had the opportunity to speak with a chef as talented and humble as Chef Avril — and I hope to follow in his footsteps to make a positive difference in the world of food!
What is your favourite food?
“Shellfish — any shellfish!”
What is your favourite dish to make?
“Langoustine” (a lobster dish)
What is your favourite food memory?
“Any meal shared with my family — there’s no particular one, but any meal with them is always a great memory.”
Side Story: The first time Chef Aril cooked for his parents was just ONE year ago (he really made them wait haha). Now, he treats his parents to his delights at every visit — no questions asked!
What are three staple-food items ALWAYS in your home?
“Garlic, chocolate, butter” Couldn’t have said it better myself…
What is your biggest piece of advice for someone just coming out of culinary school?
Alright folks — there you have it! Check out Chef Avril’s website and instagram page to read all about his upcoming projects, and get the latest updates on his new book (I know I’ll be eagerly waiting for the release!).
I want to once again thank Chef Avril for taking the time to speak with me — he’s truly such a humble, kind, and intelligent chef who’s dedicated to making a difference — and I LOVE IT!