Chef Minds: Chandany Chen

Chef Chandany Chen from Abruzzi Restaurant shared with Forest City Cookbook some insights of what it means to be in the culinary world and what is it that keeps the flame and passion alive!  

Chef Minds: Chandany Chen

What is your idea of a perfect restaurant? 

The perfect restaurant would be a restaurant that’s not afraid to change. I’m always changing and I’d like my food and dining experience to evolve with me. Ideally, a restaurant that can push me out of my comfort zone while still producing food that’s comforting to me.  

What is your biggest fear at work? 

Disappointing my chefs and my team. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I let them down in any way.

Which still working Chef Do you most respect? 

I respect the chefs that I work with on a regular basis! Chef Dave and Chef Vijay are amazing chefs to learn from. They’re always ready to take a few moments out of their busy day to answer any questions I have or to teach me anything I want to know. They’re proud of whatever it is they’re working on and it really shows. I wish I had more of an opportunity to work along side them - I’m usually busy doing my own thing at Abruzzi, but I love that they’re only a holler away when I need to pick their brains. 

I also have major respect for the ladies in the kitchen like Chef Katherine of Growing Chefs! Ontario and Chef/Owner Lauren VanDixhoorn of Solo on Main in Port Stanley. You don’t see too many women running their own kitchens and I admire these two and aspire to make a difference in the community like they have! From educating today’s youth on food education to pushing the culinary limits in Port Stanley, they’ve definitely got my respect!  

What part of work ‘you’ do you most deplore in yourself? 

Well, for the most part work ‘me’ is… me ‘me’. However, I do find that at work I tend to be more of a people pleaser and it’s hard to take customer criticism with a grain of salt. Outside of work, I can give two poops about what anyone else says about me as long as I’m doing me. But I really need to take a step back and realize that I won’t be able to please everyone. We are all different and we all have the right to our own opinions and I have to be able to listen to them, not take it personally, learn and move on.

What would automatically make you fire someone? 

Abuse and disrespect of any kind whether verbal, physical, mental…. Anything that causes harm to oneself or to others is uncalled for.

What was your most extravagant purchase for your restaurant? 

Luckily for Abruzzi I don’t make purchases for the restaurant otherwise we would freeze everything in the kitchen using liquid nitrogen and taking temps of frozen appliances with temperature guns. *Note to self: Ask Dave for temperature guns... and liquid nitrogen*

What is your favourite food journey? 

The one I’m on right now! BUT… if I had to choose a segment from this journey, it would have to be my food experience in Cambodia. Many of their beverages are served from these little clear bags that are tied up with a straw poking out of it! It was how I tried and enjoyed my first freshly juiced sugar cane! I enjoyed fresh coconut water served right from the coconut themselves on the side of the road, eating lotus bulbs and other exotic fruits I’ve never had before. I learned that pho was usually served in the mornings for breakfast over there. I LOVED the deep-fried bananas that you could on get on every corner you turned. They had plantains that they would squish with a panini-like press and then put them in a sesame tempura batter before frying them… it was delicious! Refrigeration doesn’t come easily in many Cambodian households so you would travel to the market each morning for whatever meal you planned to prep for the day. The fish market is unreal over there! I also love how street meat was actual meat being cooked over a large fire on the side of the street with condiments being served off a little cart. Yeah, it doesn’t sound sanitary but it’s Cambodia… I ate it… I’m still here lol 

What words/phrases do you most overuse at work? 

(1) “Sorry” (2) “Do you think that’s enough? I think that’s enough… it should be…right?”

What do you regret most after all your years in the business? 

I wish I found my passion for cooking a lot sooner in life. I can only imagine where I would’ve been by now if I had started sooner. 

What do you love most about this industry? 

I have never been able to find a group of people who would treat you like or even better than family outside of working in the industry. I have been fortunate enough to have always worked alongside a great team of people I call family. These are people you spend so many long hours with and they always have your back in and outside of the kitchen… it’s what I absolutely love about this industry. 

What is your current state of mind? 

I can’t answer this right now… I’m so sick… I have a poopie state of mind right now, but before getting sick I remember being happy and proud of my accomplishments so far and I’m excited for what the future holds for me lol

If you could change anything about the restaurant industry, what would it be? 

I would like people (fellow chefs, cooks, diners) to have more appreciation for those in the industry. I’d like everyone to realize that people in the industry are working super hard with little recognition. We need to help one another and flourish as a city.

What do you consider your most essential ingredient? 

Hmm…. That’s a tough one… So I think I’m just going to cop-out and be that person that says love 

 The work/life balance struggle is real... How good of a juggler are you? Advice? 

I’m pretty good at juggling everything that I have going on right now but it’s only because I found a wonderful partner who is also in the industry himself so he’s really understanding of the demand of the industry. I love bouncing menu ideas off him and getting his input because food is something that we have in common so its easy for him to be a part of what I’m doing and vice versa. My social life consists of friends who are also in the industry so not only is it easier to make plans since we usually have the same days off but they are very forgiving and understanding if you have to cancel plans because you have to work or because you just need a day to do nothing lol No matter how understanding your partner or your friends may be… my advice is to never forget about you and your health. That’s key.

What is your most treasured culinary/kitchen tool? 

The timer. I have so many things on the go that if I don’t have a timer (maybe two) or a watch on me… I’d be screwed.

What do you consider as the lowest depth of misery? 

Not being able to do what I enjoy doing. If I was told tomorrow that I wouldn’t be able to ever create desserts… you would probably find me crawled up in a ball behind the chest freezer. I choose that spot because no one else fits there, trust me… things have fallen there before and I disappear into the abyss to retrieve them lol

When you finally retire, were will you live? 

You can find me living in Elora or Port Stanley. They’re both just so quaint and still rocking in the culinary and tourism scene where it’s comforting and not boring.

What is your most marked characteristic? 

I’m always eager to learn and work and it really shows. I’m the worker bee! I just really enjoy everything that I am doing right now to the point where my work is my hobby and I love it.

What is the quality you most like in a chef? 

Humility. You can be a kick ass chef, but you need to remember that it takes a whole team to make a kitchen/restaurant run effectively. A chef who is humble in their skills and can acknowledge the worth of his/her team is a chef I would go to the ends of the earth working for/with.

What is your greatest inspiration/motivation? 

My mother. She is just an amazing person all around. Hearing all that she has been through with the war and her journey to where she is now pushes me to make the most of the opportunities I am given. In Cambodia cooking isn’t considered a desirable occupation so every dish I create is to convince her otherwise.   

Superman or batman or Wonder Woman? 

I’m going to have to go with Batman…… Batman had Alfred.

What is the first thing you remember cooking? 

Eggs with white rice and a splash of soy sauce… actually, now that I think about it, I think it might have been those packaged ramen noodles!

Neil Young or Tragically Hip? 

Tragically Hip

Favourite kitchen word or phrase?

“Watch your nuts” makes me laugh every time lol


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Chef MindsAlieska Robles