Get to Know Chef Ilona | Ilona Daniel
Name: Chef Ilona Daniel
Age: I’ll never tell!
City: Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
Current Restaurant: Chef Professor, Culinary Institute of Canada & Owner of my own events & consulting business
Previous Restaurants: Executive Chef of Fanningbank, the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor
Favorite Hobbies: Painting
Favorite Cookbook: Le Gavroche
Favorite Food to Eat: Real Chinese Food
Favourite Kitchen Gadget: Offset spatula
Chef Q & A
1. Do you have a lucky charm in your kitchen?
Yes. A foam lobster named Larry.
2. Your favourite spice?
Right now I obsessed with prickly ash, aka, Sichuan peppercorn. It’s such a flavourful, tangy spice that leaves your lips tingling and feeling a little numb.
3. What’s the last thing you burned?
My arm! Twice in an hour on a stack oven door while cooking up a breakfast on a farm for 1000 guests. Lesson here is to pay attention even when you’re in a rush! Lesson here is to pay attention even when you’re in a rush!
4. What gets you angry in the kitchen?
I suppose it would be when something cream based like chowder or béchamel gets scorched in the pot. There’s nothing that can be done to correct the taste of scorched dairy. I watch whoever in the kitchen is heating the cream-based dish like a hawk because I hate to see that happen. Also, food waste resulting from not paying attention is also up there.
5. Latest flavor combination you discovered?
Hummus garnished with roasted cherries works surprisingly well. I also love adding melted white chocolate into my baba ganouj.
6. What’s the most expensive purchase in your kitchen?
I would say personally, it would be my knives. I think most cooks would echo the same sentiment.
7. Do you listen to music in the kitchen? What’s your favourite song?
Oh yes! I love listening to music in the kitchen when I’m prepping for an event. I do enjoy the classic kitchen albums including Journey, Wu Tang Clan, Die Antwoord, Arctic Monkeys and Guns n’ Roses. I do however, enjoy some Florence and the Machine, Old School Dancehall and Lykke Li.
I think being able to listen to the music everyone in your crew listens to brings you closer; it’s like a sneak peek into their diary!
8. Favorite comfort food?
This is probably cliché, but whatever. It’s pizza for me. There’s nothing a slice of za can’t cure.
9. Favorite smell in the kitchen?
Seasonal strawberries getting cooked into a jam. It takes me back to my childhood and to my mother’s side.
10. If you could change anything in the food industry what would it be?
I would like to see supports created for those working in the food industry dealing with mental health adversities. We need greater access to crisis care, and financial support for those who become sidelined from the challenges arising from these adversities.
11. What do you admire in other chefs?
I admire a willingness to change and grow. When we start out as cooks we adopt a lot of approaches that are in trend and that taught to us by our chefs. As we begin to mature in the industry, sometimes it becomes challenging for some to adapt to the shifts in the industry. I really admire the chefs that have been around for a few decades that are still open to learning and listening to what their young apprentices are interested in and inspired by. I think that makes for such a dynamic kitchen.
I also really admire those chefs who go out of their way to ensure their kitchens are a positive place and strive for work/life balance for themselves and their employees.
12. Who is your greatest inspiration?
My mom. She taught me to cook with love and care. Even though she’s gone, she continues to inspire me endlessly.
13. What dish are you most proud of?
I don’t know. That’s a tough one. I always think everything can be improved. A mark of success for me is the pleasure I see my guests have while eating what I create. It’s not about serving my ego, my focus is serving people.
14. What ingredient can you not live without?
Let’s keep it simple here, kosher salt, freshly cracked black pepper, good olive oil and butter.
15. Your favorite advice for other aspiring chefs?
Do your research. Simply being on the top of a list doesn’t mean that a certain restaurant is meant for you. Ask yourself: “What brings you the most fulfillment in the kitchen?” Why do you think that is? Now look for a chef who echoes those driving forces. Look for a place you can grow. Be willing to work hard, and be ready for the steep learning curve.
Most importantly, have a notebook close at hand at all times. Write. Everything. Down.