Next in our series: we sat down with Chef Taylor McMeekin, the executive chef from The Chase in Toronto. The Chase is known for being a fine dining establishment focused on fish and seafood, however, they have made a sustainability commitment and their restaurant menu is now 25% plant based!
Like all our other ambassadors, Chef Taylor has a long history working with 100km Foods as distribution partner. Taylor joined the team at the Chase just over a year and a half ago, but before that he was working at the Air Canada Centre. For the many years as a chef at various establishments, Taylor has worked with 100km Foods.
Why local food?
Taylor’s commitment for local food stems partly from his rural upbringing. He has many great memories as a kid of hiking and exploring Grey County with his parents. Some of Taylor’s fondest memories include foraging with his parents and cooking what they found in the bush, and Taylor still enjoys foraging to this day! He also spent a lot of time on farms, as most of his family members and community were farmers. Taylor started working in kitchens when he was 13 years old as a dishwasher. He loved the intense energy of the kitchen right from the start, and has stayed working in kitchens ever since! One of the things that has kept him going all these years is the fantastic people he has met in the restaurant industry. As Taylor says, ‘the passion that surrounds you keeps the passion within.’
Taylor’s rural roots is a huge factor into why he has pushed for a commitment to sourcing local food wherever he has worked. Growing up in Grey County, he learned plenty about produce. When he was in his late teens, Taylor moved to Bruce County for work, where he learned about animal husbandry. It was always important to him to support the local, rural economy through the purchasing power of restaurants in the city. For him, it’s a way to ‘come full circle.’ Of the different distributors Taylor has worked with, he says ‘100km has always been the most reliable. Always gave us the best information, always good working with them.’
When we asked Taylor about advice for other chefs to plan a seasonal menu and source local, he joked and said ‘work harder to get it done!’ Jokes aside, being strategic about planning your menu does take some effort. But the payoff is certainly worth it, since ‘it’s going to be closer to you and tasting better and going to be fresher, you’re also reducing your carbon footprint through transportation and supporting the local economy. It’s really a ‘no brainer’ for a sustainable choice.
Another thing Taylor swears by: using the Seasonality Calendar available through the 100km Foods website, calling it ‘one of the greatest tools ever made.’ Taylor says it’s very in-depth, and though as a chef he feels its important to have a general idea of seasonality, when you’re sitting down in the middle of February to plan the spring/summer menus, it helps to be able to pull it up and refresh your memory! He also appreciates the ongoing conversation 100km Foods provides around how the season is progressing, especially when the weather can be deeply unpredictable. We chatted about a spring a few years past where there were so many torrential downpours which affected availability. Taylor remembers that spring keenly, recalling a foraging trip with his uncle to find ramps and losing not one, but both of his rubber boots and finishing their trek barefoot!
We turned next to discussing Taylor’s favourite products to source through 100km. He is a big fan of Mark Hayhoe from k2 Milling, saying he goes through ‘a ton of different products,’ and that they are ‘doing a fantastic job!’ He also loves all the Fogo Island Fish products. The honey vinegars from Ontario Honey Creations are another of his staple products, and all of the oils from Pristine Gourmet. The Chase also gets all their dairy from Hewitts and use the Golden Dawn butter from Alliston Creamery on their menus.
We asked Taylor what his favourite dish to cook was, and he said he didn’t have an answer. He loves everything he gets to cook and never fails to enjoy the satisfaction he gets from having all the different components of a dish come together. So, we asked him then, what are some of his favourite foods to eat? He (unsurprisingly, since he’s the executive chef at a seafood restaurant) said he loves to eat fish and seafood. However – his ‘desert island’ choice would probably be all the varieties of onions and farm-fresh eggs. You can’t go wrong with that choice!
We turned next to discussing who he’d want to have dinner with. He said his ‘chef’ answer is definitely the late Anthony Bourdain, but other people he’d love to chat with include the authors William S. Burroughs and Hunter S. Thompson.
And if he wasn’t a chef? Taylor thinks he’d go right back to his roots and be a farmer. He loves the physicality of the job and needing to be consistent and on top of things – he thinks it’s a very close fit to what he treasures about being a chef.
At the end of the day, Taylor wants to continue to innovate how restaurants source and plan menus to prioritize sustainability. He thinks often about the impact human society is having on the planet and would love to, some day, be involved with more programs that are focused on sustainability.
We loved chatting with Taylor and were very spoiled when he cooked us a delicious plant-based lunch afterwards. Taylor is such a warm, kind and funny person whose culinary talent and commitment to local food and sustainability shines through in everything he does. We feel so lucky to be able to include him as an ambassador for 100km Foods!
Written By: Genrys Goodchild
Photos By: Sara May