Chef Name: Jason Bangerter
Title: Executive Chef, Langdon Hall Hotel & Spa – a Relais & Châteaux property in Ontario, Canada.
Recent notable accolades include:
- Top 100 Best Vegetables Restaurants 2020, We’re Smart Green Guide. Awarded #1 in Canada and #57 in the world
- Awards of Excellence 2020, Outstanding Chef Category, Dine and Destinations Magazine
- World’s 50 Best, Discovery List 2019
- Slow Food Hero Award, Canada 2019
- Ranked #4 by Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants
- Best Farm to Table Chef, Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants 2017
- Ontario Hostelry Institute, Chef Gold Award 2017
- Foodservice and Hospitality Pinnacle Award for Chef of the Year 2017
- Rising Chef Award in Paris, France by Relais & Châteaux 2015
How old were you when you started cooking professionally?
I started working in the kitchen as a pot washer at the age of 16. I admired the cooks and the electric bond they had during service. A few years later I enrolled in culinary school, and was employed in my first professional position as a chef apprentice at the age of 20.
What’s your earliest and fondest first memory of food?
There are so many early memories I have around food, and they all revolve around family gatherings. As a child, I spent my holidays between my grandparents in Ontario – hunting, fishing, foraging wild berries, and enjoying cottage and forest-life cooking, and across the country in Nova Scotia – on the ocean digging clams, visiting the lobster boats and baking bread with my Acadian grandparents.
Food was always a topic of conversation and always a highlight of these family gatherings. My Auntie Jan is the gourmand in the family and I remember early on, around age 5, smelling garlicky baked escargot and hearing the pop of champagne while enjoying her culinary creations, and asking many questions about the new food experiences I shared with her.
Which chefs inspire you most and why?
I can honestly say that every individual I have worked with throughout all the kitchens I have entered has had some form of impact on me, and influenced my development as a chef. I am inspired by many chefs from many types of cuisine from across the globe.
The ones that I have worked with directly, through their mentorship, are John Higgins, Anton Mosimann and Michael Bonacini. However, many have influenced me and have inspired me to be what I am in the kitchen today. As for today, my team constantly inspires me through their energy and passion for knowledge and growth.
As a young cook coming up through the ranks, these are some of the chefs that were an indirect inspiration:
What are your two favourite cookbooks and why?
I have always had a passion for cookbooks. When I first started cooking I didn’t have a car so I had to take public transit to the city to get to work. I travelled an hour each way so I was always studying recipes, new techniques, different cuisines and reading cookbooks. Some of my favourites at the time were: Soup, Beautiful Soup by Felipe Rojas-Lombardi, Charlie Trotter’s collection, and Alfred Portale’s Gotham Bar and Grill. These books were some of my first introductions to the industry and a reference to life as a chef through their stories and recipes.
More recently, I have enjoyed Grand Livre de Cuisine by Alain Ducasse and I am fond of David Kinch’s Manresa: An Edible Reflection. My first chef de cuisine position was at Auberge du Pommier, a French restaurant in Toronto. I studied and read the books of many great French chefs to develop my cuisine. Manresa was my first 3-star Michelin dining experience and I really connected to David’s food. He is a colleague and incredible chef and I was very inspired by his cookbook; I think maybe because my philosophy is similar to his. David’s new cookbook, At Home in the Kitchen, is also a recent favourite as it is all the foods I love to eat in a casual setting.
Which two ingredients could you not live without?
That is a really tough question… Truffle and onion are two I really use a lot and love to eat.
What is your favourite comfort food to cook at home?
Pasta pasta pasta. I could eat pasta every day; simple and delicious. Pizza is close behind.
If you could eat at any Michelin star restaurant in the world today, where would it be and why?
It has been 19 years since I lived and worked in London with my partner. I would love to return there with her for a visit. I am so inspired and intrigued by the success and journey of Chef Clare Smyth and her restaurant Core. I would be thrilled to visit her and enjoy a meal in her newly awarded 3-star dining room. In North America, I would visit Dominique Crenn in San Francisco. I love her energy, ethos and passion. She is an #incrennible human and the experience would surely be a night to remember.
And who would you take as your guest?
My wife Stacey.
What do you look for in a good chef?
Honesty and respect for others, the ingredients, our work environment and the processes within. I look for individuals with a passion and drive to learn and grow, attitude is everything. Talent isn’t the first item I check on my list; talent can be taught and nurtured. I want to add quality humans to the team and continue to grow the culture we have created. One where all can learn together and feel safe, equal, and that they are valuable contributors to something extraordinary.
What advice would you give to chefs starting their career paths now?
You become as great – or not as great – as you allow yourself to be… it is all depending on you. Push yourself always. You will face challenges, but don’t let them slow you down. Get back up and push forward. Surround yourself with creative passionate people, find a great mentor, and learn all you can from them. It is a wonderful profession, BUT it takes hard work and dedication. It is more than simply a job, it is a lifestyle, it never really shuts off. Know you love it; you have to if you want to enjoy it and be successful at it.
How has the pandemic affected your restaurant? And how did you adapt and evolve throughout?
There are always challenges. Challenge is part of what drives change, develops character and creates great leaders. The biggest challenge ever was upon us with this pandemic and like the rest of the planet, we were forced to close our doors and find a way to survive.
As a team we stayed connected through group chats and messenger boards, sharing recipes and stories of life in quarantine. We stayed connected to guests and community by creating an online provisions store and a weekly take-out family meal, as well as through cooking videos and social media. And I was even able to continue to engage in world and local forums through speaking engagements on panels in collaboration with international and local chefs, Relais & Châteaux, United Nations, Oceanic Global, Slow Food Nations, Ethic Ocean, The New Travel, and others, to continue spreading messages about sustainability and the importance of supporting local businesses, good food, and biodiversity in our communities.
After being closed for three months, on June 19th 2020 we excitedly reopened with only outdoor dining allowed. We transformed our green spaces into a land of al fresco dining. The terrace, gardens and property treeline became a dining room. Guests enjoyed their experience safely while surrounded by the gardens and the Carolinian forest, and overlooking the lily pond. It was a stunning setting and very successful. However, with restaurants being closed, supplies diminished and product was not easy to obtain. I had to work even more closely with local farmers to support our community and ensure we would have the products to use. We were extremely grateful to be back with our team providing the true spirit of hospitality.
Can you share any wisdom from the experience so far with others? Have you changed? Has your cooking changed?
This pandemic has changed everyone’s lives, but for all the heartbreak, fear and turmoil that Covid-19 unleashed, it is so important that we embrace the successes, both big and small, that we as family, team and industry have achieved.
From a culinary perspective, the restricted guest numbers and tighter controlled reservation systems actually improved and focused our service when we were able to reopen. The restaurant was super focused – with me not travelling and being pulled around the property or the globe to do special events, the cuisine at Langdon Hall was the most focused and polished it may have ever been. It has opened my eyes to some things to which I simply did not pay enough attention. The silver linings include: the whole world seemed to be cooking together, sitting as a family in their homes, supporting local farms and small businesses. Many people planted and cared for gardens, studied new areas of cooking techniques or even new trades, interests and hobbies. I read books that had nothing to do with cooking, it’s been years since that has happened. I made dinner for my family every night (when not supporting restaurants still offering takeout) while in lockdown, and spent hours with my children –reading at bedtime, cooking together, playing, laughing and bonding, with more time than I have ever had available to do so. Pre-Covid I was very rarely home at dinner time or bedtime. I gained much in this regard. I focused on my own physical and mental health, started eating better and exercising daily. I am in the best physical and mental shape of my life and I think I am a better person from this experience. I am more aware of what is happening around me and I am more aware of the wellbeing and safety of those in my life, both at home and in the workplace.
Chef Jason Bangerter is Executive Chef at Langdon Hall Hotel & Spa
Address: 1 Langdon Drive, Cambridge, Ontario
Telephone: +1 519-740-2100