Taking the road less travelled to a lauded culinary career, NL native and Raymonds’ chef Ross Larkin tests his chops on the all-new season of Top Chef Canada
If you had to ask a younger version of Ross Larkin if he would be competing on a world-renowned culinary challenge with some of the nation’s best and brightest, well, he might accuse you of mistaking him with someone else.
Indeed, Larkin was not your typical kitchen prodigy. Despite growing up in a restaurant background, a life-wheeling and dealing edible delights was far from the forefront of Larkin’s mind when originally mapping out a career path.
“My family had a fish and chips restaurant on Merrymetting Road,” Larkin shared with The Herald. “I grew up in and around that restaurant. Ever since I was six years old I was in peeling potatoes with my grandfather and buttering fresh bread as it comes out of the oven. It was kind of one of those things that I was born into and sort of resented as I got older. My family had a restaurant so it was like, I don’t want to cook or cook for a living.”
RELATED: FOOD Meals on Wheels with Johnny & Mae's Foodtruck Aaron McInnis: Man vs. Cake Todd Perrin – For the Love of Food
‘IN LOVE WITH FOOD’
Resiting an obvious path is natural for many who are immersed in a lifestyle they may be hesitant to call their own. But somehow, as if by serendipity, Larkin found his calling in the kitchen.
“I took a couple of different avenues and it just wasn’t what I wanted to do,” he says. “I realized that I really do like being in kitchens and cooking. I moved to the west coast and lived in Vancouver and that’s where I really fell in love with food and realized that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
After relocating to Saskatoon and working alongside inaugural Top Chef Canada winner Dale MacKay, Larkin by chance found himself offered an opportunity to return home to St. John’s and work alongside Chef Jeremy Charles at Raymonds, universally accepted as one of the finest eateries in Canada. It was an offer too good to refuse. That was three and a half years ago, with the experience of honing his craft around some of the finest culinary masters this side of the pond proving invaluable leading to his stint on this season of Top Chef Canada.
“It’s been pretty surreal, just being associated with the restaurant, with Jeremy Charles and Jeremy Bonia and everything we do here,” he says. “That’s been great in itself. Competing on Top Chef Canada, there’s nothing that can compare to that, for sure.”
ELITE OF THE FOOD WORLD
Vying for the Top Chef Canada title alongside 10 other chefs, as well as rubbing shoulders with the elite of the food world may be daunting to some. Larkin aimed to enter the experience without expectations and let his experience and cool demeanour lead the way.
“I didn’t go into it thinking anything. I knew that it would be one of those situations that there is nothing that you could practice or train for,” he shares. “That’s just the nature of the beast with something like this from watching previous seasons. You’re not going to try to guess what you’re going to do – there’s just no point. It’s not going to work that way.
“Moreso than anything it was very terrifying at first, meeting all of these heavy hitters,” he admits. “Taking their critique is very important and being able to turn it into something good and being able to listen to what they say and their criticisms. They’re telling you all of these things for a reason, not just because they want to hear themselves speak. They’ve been in similar situations themselves in front of chefs. Being able to take that and turn it into a beautiful plate of food is one thing.”
Of course, being from Newfoundland, where resourcefulness and innovation are more a requirement than helpful trait, certainly paid dividends in the competition.
“You can definitely look at ingredients and food in a different way and we do at Raymonds and a lot of people do in Newfoundland,” Larkin says. “It’s always been a way of life here. You go hunting in the fall, fill your freezer with moose or rabbit and that’s how you sustain through the winter. You have a root-cellar and you have a garden. We have inspiration from isolation here, so to speak, and that really helps in everyday life and certainly Top Chef.”
While friends and anxious viewers eagerly await the season premiere on April 8th, Larkin shares that he wouldn’t change his experience for anything – better or worse. While there is smoke to go along with the heat of the Top Chef kitchen, he feels the experience is an invaluable one, and the chef that stepped through the other side, was one more polished than the one who entered.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and experience and I encourage everybody to put themselves out there and try something like this,” he says. “It is definitely not for the faint of heart but you’ll come out of it, for better or for worse, a better person I think.”