With more than 35 years of cooking experience under his apron, the Kitchener, Ontario native is always looking for more opportunities to grow and try new things in and out of the kitchen. Being future-focused and not dwelling on things in the past that can’t be changed have helped him push forward throughout his career.
“Some of the best advice I think I’ve ever received is ‘Don’t look behind you,” he shares. “We all make mistakes. But sometimes those mistakes lead to other doors being opened.”
In the culinary arts, it’s important to continuously be looking to improve, experiment and push boundaries. And when doing so, missteps will definitely occur. But without these errors, it’s challenging to create and then perfect those standout dishes and experiences that keep customers raving well after their meals are finished.
“Nobody sees all the mistakes I make behind the scenes,” he says. “When you see my end product, it’s clean and polished. What you don’t see is when I’m trying to make a new dish and have to redo it three times. Or when the sauce breaks in the middle of service. When these things happen, you fix it and move on. You learn from your mistakes.”
Recommendations from satisfied guests can create real impact for any business, which is why word of mouth is one of the most important forms of marketing. Chef D’s focus on quality and all that time spent in the kitchen learning and fine-tuning processes got people talking locally, which led to new opportunities to expand his clientele to include a bevy of celebrities.
What started with a phone call to cook for legendary blues guitarist B.B. King during a Kitchener tour stop has since grown to see Chef D prepare food for the likes of Michael Bublé, Stuart McLean, Blue Rodeo, Diana Krall, Kenny Rogers, Alice Cooper and even Snoop Dogg.
“It just kind of blew up once people started realizing how good the food was,” he says. “And then our reputation started to proceed us.”
Regardless of who your clientele is, Chef D stresses that everyone should be treated like a star.
“Customer service, and making sure that people have that amazing experience, is my number one priority. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Food has always had the power to bring people together and build a stronger sense of community. This is something that’s becoming increasingly necessary when the norm for so many people has become to go, go, go all day, every day. Work is important, but so is making time to sit down and build real connections with friends, family members, colleagues and even strangers.
“I’m a firm believer that it’s all about the kitchen table,” says Chef D. “We all get really busy with what we do, whether it be our jobs, school, dance club, soccer practice and so many other things. But that’s what makes something like a dinner party so great. You’ll have five different conversations going on and people slow down for a few hours, enjoy each other’s company and recharge over good food.”
Wanting to do his part to bring the community together, Chef D has created The Studio Kitchen. It’s an open concept space where people can watch him cook, hear stories and enjoy a meal prepared with locally grown produce from farmers and artisans within the Waterloo Region.
As all chefs know, anything can happen in the kitchen and it’s important to always stay on your toes. Sometimes, though, no amount of preparation or agility can prevent the unexpected – and Chef D is not immune to life’s unforeseen inconveniences. He learned this firsthand last summer when a broken air conditioner caused water damage in The Studio Kitchen.
“We spent a lot on the space and when I went to go turn on the air conditioner, I saw there was water,” he says. “We have two golden retrievers and at first I thought ‘Oh, man. One of them made a mess.’ But then I realized there was a lot of water. I looked up and saw that it was leaking from the ceiling.”
Thankfully, that’s why we have insurance, right?