Since the age of 15 I have been working in professional kitchens. I began working at a local pub and was thrown immediately into the life of the restaurant industry. Working in food service is not easy. You are in your feet anywhere from 12-15 hours a day, the pay is very little and you are put through incredible amounts of stress.
I was taught very young how to butcher, saute, steam, fry, and poach meat and use every form of dairy. Working on a busy line each piece of meat is a means to make money for the owner of the business; in return you are given a paycheck for your work.
As the years went by I developed bad habits, as almost every cook does, and began to drink, smoke and abuse my body. This kind of practice was something that was normal by nature and embraced by virtually every employee I would ever come in contact with.
By the age of 21 my weight had peaked somewhere in the 270 pound mark. This was due in part to eating French fries, chicken fingers, pizza, processed carbohydrates and refined sugars. In cooking school I was never taught about the power of quinoa, kale or nutrient dense food. Instead, for my tuition, I was shown how to bread and fry veal, add cream, butter and serve this to customers.
I was working at a very well established restaurant in downtown Toronto. It was a Saturday night and like usual, the staff had gathered for our ritual of going out to drink until we couldn’t handle anymore. There was something brewing in me and I needed to change. I was given a talent to create beautiful food but had this monster inside of me preventing from letting it shine through. I woke up one morning with a hangover and was unable to remember how I got home from the night before. It was this day that I decided to change my life. I felt awakened and was determined to become the chef that I knew I could be.
I signed up for a gym and began to workout. I was lifting weights, walking on a treadmill and doing my best to lose weight. One thing I did not change was my diet. A few months went by and I lost a few pounds. Again, it was time for a change.
One evening I was shown an undercover video by PETA called Meet Your Meat and was horrified by the images on the screen. I witnessed pigs being tortured, calves taken away from their mothers still in newborn state. This was enough to instantly turn me partly vegetarian. I still ate fish for a few months. During this transitional period I was working the grill on a steakhouse cooking anywhere from 150-250 pieces of meat a day. After roughly 6 more months, the weight began to peel off and I felt incredible. It was at this point that I decided to become vegan. Unbeknownst to me this would be the best decision I would ever make.
I spent the next couple of years traveling back and forth to New York and eating at all the vegan restaurants there. I took what I saw and learned in Manhattan and began to slowly apply the new ingredients and techniques here in Toronto. I quit my meat cooking job, a big fat paycheque, a nice title, and decided to work my way up through the ranks, again.
Because of my previous training, it was easy and natural to apply my knowledge to healthy, ethical cuisine. After working at a vegan cafe I took a managerial role that not only allowed me to create, but also helped instill in me the values and the drive of what it took to be a professional chef in a big city.
It was at this point that I learned the art of raw organic vegan cuisine. I fell in love with the flavors, textures, spices, and most of all, the nutrition. With all of the knowledge I acquired I felt the need for a change, and accepted an executive chef job at a Raw Vegan restaurant just outside of the city.
Over the course of the last year I have held teaching workshops, been on local TV a few times, collected a catalogue of 250 raw recipes (that is still growing) and am currently in the process of writing a raw food cookbook to be released in spring of 2012 under Robert Rose publications. In March of this year I will be holding cooking demonstrations and talks in the islands of Maui and Honolulu.
The future is bright for this type of cuisine and lifestyle. I feel blessed to be given the talents that I posses. I am happy that I made that change one day to stop eating meat and am able to share my experiences not only with customers in the establishments I work, but online communities such as The Vegan Voice.
Chef Doug – January 2011
Chef Doug’s culinary creations are currently available at Aura Organic Cuisine.