National post, November 2010read entire article
If the James Beard Foundation doles out the Oscars of the food world, chef Chris Mills must be feeling a bit like Wolfgang Puck. While the latter of the two chefs famously prepares nibbles for the Academy's annual awards extravaganza, Mills - the Canadian executive Chef of JOEY Restaurant Group - will be traveling to New York City on Saturday to prepare a five-course menu at the James Beard House. And for a chef, an invitation to cook at JBH is like a little Oscar unto itself.
"I think James Beard House in an under nourished part of our cooking culture," Mills said over drinks and dinner at Joey Toronto location. "I'm a big supporter of what they're doing, and not because they've asked me to come down twice."
Mills received his first invitation to cook for the House in 2006, hot off the heels of his fifth-place finish at the Bocuse D'Or culinary competition in France, a showing that was turned into a James Beard Award-winning documentary. For his 2010 menu, which he designed shortly after receiving the invitation from the House in the spring and previewed earlier this month in Toronto, Mills has drawn upon his love of the local, seasonal offerings of the West Coast.
"James Beard loves a theme, which is a little odd for me, because I've never really cooked with themes," Mills says. "I guess when I was trying to come up with my theme, I wanted something that meant something to me. Being from the West Coast, I started to think, well, what the heck have I been doing for the past 20 years? It's been a lot of travel. I'm fortunate enough to have been through much of Asia, up and down the coast in B.C., and into California. I picked up a lot of ideas and influences, and the menu is somewhat reflective of that travel."
In fact, far from simply being reflective, Mills' James Beard menu is a veritable love letter to the Pacific Rim. The five-course meal includes citrus-cured Haida Gwaii salmon caught by Mills himself of the B.C. coast, matsutake mushrooms harvested by Mills from a "secret mountainside spot" and lavender grown on the chef's own rooftop garden.
"At the preview dinner, it was all local food cooked in Vancouver and executed in Toronto, and that's the process we'll have to go through in New York," Mills says of the impetus behind hosting the Toronto trial-run. "A good dinner like this takes about four days to prepare, so logistically, there's a lot to consider. It's good to give it a bit of a rehearsal."
For Mills, who denies being nervous about the event ("More excited," he says), cooking at James Beard House is certainly an opportunity to flex his creative culinary chops, but the chef takes it slightly more philosophical stance on his trip to New York.
"There's only one effect you're trying to achieve when you cook a meal like this, and that's guest experience," Mills says. "It's an honour (to be invited), certainly, but it's also a change to show people what I'm passionate about, which is bringing people and recipes together, I really think the biggest think I'll be trying to get across is the story behind the food." Rebecca Tucker, National Post