At The Pass With Debbie Dam

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Currently

Sous Chef, Founder Cocktail Bar and Restaurant.

Formerly 

Fisher monger and resident smoker at Hooked, Meat slinger at Rowe Farms, Chef de Partie at Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar, Chef at Hank’s.

Favourite dish to make right now

Pho-Tatoes. It’s pho meets poutine. Its fun and Pho-King delicious! 

Last cookbook bought

The Noma Guide To Fermentation by René Redzepi and David Zilber and Bong Appétit: Mastering the Art of Cooking with Weed by Editors of MUNCHIES.

Have you read it/tried any recipes 

I’ve started to read both. I’m trying to understand the technical aspects before executing any recipes. Because we are talking about fermenting and cannabis, I’m not trying to kill anyone.

Name one dish or ingredient you’d like to see gone from menus 

POORLY done vegan food. Let me explained before the lynching. I appreciate plant-based diets, and I grew up eating many vegan dishes for my parents’ religious observations and love them. I just don’t care for the ones that are trying to mimic meat dishes that we all know and love.

I don’t care why you are a vegan - to each their own. But I went to a vegan restaurant with some friends and felt gross afterwards, like I needed a salad. I might as well have eaten at a terrible pub. It was a terrible way to try and sell me on veganism. I just wish there were better options.

And one dish or ingredient that you’re excited about right now and would like to see more on menus 

I’m excited that its spring again, and that we will soon see many things that aren’t the pantry staples. I think that we should all try to use more ingredients as they come into season and showcase our local bounty.

Biggest influences

My Mom. She held a full-time job, a weekend job and always managed to have dinner on the table for a family of eight. She used to have me in the kitchen with her all time, not because she thought it was cute, but because it was necessary.

As soon as I could hold a spoon, she would have me stir things, or help with adding ingredients. The first thing I ever made was aioli as a toddler. We didn’t own fancy gadgets like a food processor or even a whisk, so I learned to make it with a fork and a shallow bowl. I know cooks/chefs who have a hard time making mayo, and know how to fix a split one.

Growing up in the kitchen with her, definitely laid the ground work for my love for food and work ethics. 

If you could eat at any restaurant in the world

Noma in Copenhagen. I know that it’s probably on most people’s bucket list. I just love what they are doing and contributing to the world of food. It’s so hard not to look at what they are producing and being in awe at the innovation and the cleverness of their dishes.

I also love to travel, so any local fare wherever I am. I like humble dishes and trying new things. Doesn’t have to be anything or anywhere fancy.

The last thing you ate

General Tso’s chicken, fish maw soup, and vegetable chow mein from Swatow

Three must-have ingredients always in your fridge

Mom’s fish sauce, butter, limes.

Guilty pleasure 

Ruffles All Dressed or Sour Cream and Onion (depending on my mood), Coca Cola (my partner would be disappointed that I didn’t say Pepsi), and Kit Kat.

Not all at the same time, but I wouldn’t rule it out, depending on the circumstances.

Top 3 Toronto Restaurants

Edulis, Montgomery’s, and Pho Linh, not in any particular order.

Top 3 Toronto bars 

I don’t really drink much anymore, so if I’m at a bar, chances are it’s because of the food: Founder Cocktail Bar and Restaurant – not being bias, but we have amazing bartenders that carefully craft each cocktail, The Vatican Gift Shop, and Toronto Temperance Society, which I just recently learned is closed. I love the speakeasy vibes.

Go-to drink

Juices (my favourite is apple), Coca-Cola/Pepsi/some sort of root beer or sarsaparilla.

One habit you have in the kitchen that will inspire young chefs

I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty and no task is beneath me. I think it’s important to lead by example. We need more leaders and less ego.

One hidden talent 

My partner says I’m great at turning nothing into something. I could probably survive an apocalypse and eat well with rations.

Best career advice you have ever received

Always carry a notebook. – Chef Bruce Wood

I always do!

Not everything needs pepper. – Tobey Nemeth

She’s right! I very rarely pepper anything anymore.

Worst career advice you ever received

Don’t ask questions. I encountered many cooks/chefs early on in my career that didn’t like when I would ask questions or didn’t want to share/teach. I was treated like a workhorse and just needed to get the job done. Thankfully, I eventually worked at places that were quite the opposite, and met the most amazing people along the way who love what they do and all they want to do is share and teach.

Advice for a young cook starting out in the business

Don’t expect to be a celebrity chef. I love TV and cooking shows and how it’s elevated chefs as a trade and career; But I also don’t like how it’s glamourized the industry. It’s a lot of hard work, long hours and sacrifice (social life, relationships, family, very little pay).

Most of these things I find young cooks don’t realize. It’s really not for everyone.