As the city prepares for a big reopening, we got the chance to sit down with Eric Chong, winner of Master Chef Canada, co-host of Wok The World and owner of one of our favourite restaurants in Toronto, R&D. Eric's success started very young and he has quickly been making his ascent as one of the top chefs in Canada. While doors have been open and closed over the last two years, Eric has stayed very busy and had lots to talk about. From building a strong team, sharing some cooking secrets, giving his honest opinion on the restaurant industry and his craziest tales from the TV world, this conversation was full of gems. Read and listen below!
A Family Affair
"When we hire people, it's really about how they work with the team than their resume. We really build a family oriented staff. A resume is great but you really have to click with the team because we see each other more than we see our family and friends."
"The only way to earn their respect, is to outwork them. I've been blessed but I've put in the work. Don't ever get complacent. Don't ever get comfortable because you'll only get to the top by pushing."
All About Consistency
"The hardest thing about a restaurant is consistency. If I were to cook you a dish and a cook who was just hired yesterday cooked you a dish, you shouldn't be able to tell the difference and that's a very difficult job to achieve. I have twelve scales in the restaurant...so that everything in the restaurant is exactly the same."
Tips to enhance your wok game...
Understand that the end result will be different at home and at the restaurant.
An open flame is a must! Electric doesn't get hot enough.
Make sure you get that wok smoke!
Never burn your food by keeping things constantly moving.
If you don't have high enough heat, you can use a cast iron.
Eric's 5 Must Haves In The Kitchen
MSG - Adds depth of Umami (one of the key flavour profiles).
Eggs - Used in nearly everything!
Soup noodles - "I've been eating a ton of these. I'll make a big batch of stock and get fancy with my noodles!"
Pasta - "My bolognese slaps [laughs]"
Do people ever just pin you as the "Master Chef guy" and not look at all the other stuff that you're doing?
There was a period in my career where I was a bit frustrated but it's what started me. It's good to have an identity. Like, I'm sure Daniel Radcliffe doesn't just want to be Harry Potter but it's better to be known for something than nothing at all.
"It's always a challenge to find new things to teach them [the staff]. What's beneficial at R&D is anyone who is in the back of house management role doesn't just learn how to cook...they actually learn how to manage a restaurant."
What's the craziest thing that has ever happened to you on TV?
If you want to be a successful restauranteur, your job doesn't end when you clock out. If you're looking for a 9 to 5 job, this ain't it. If you're looking for a job where you have a good work-life balance, this ain't it.
If you actually love cooking and love this industry, prove it! There's no excuse not to know how to make any dish at this point, but how to make it your own is the real challenge.
Make sure to follow Eric on Instagram for news, tips and tricks to help step your kitchen game up, as well as R&D if you're ever in Toronto and keep it locked to Pier Five for more conversations with the coolest entrepreneurs, designers, artists, activists and more out there.