Nigel Didcock is executive chef and food and beverage team leader at the Granite Club in Toronto, Canada. He has set up a scholarship enabling British and French chefs to work in Canada. Janet Harmer spoke to him
Can you describe the style and setting of the Granite Club?
Granite Club is a city club that is considered an extension of our members’ homes. We have almost 11,000 members, with a three- year waiting list. As it is regarded as the premier family, social, athletic club in North America, we must regularly meet and exceed members’ expectations.
What encouraged you to work overseas in the first place? And why Canada?
At the age of nine, I was inspired by my grandfather to become a chef, but I’ve also always had the desire to travel. I believe it’s been the best form of education for me – working as a chef has allowed me to travel abroad. Canada happened to be on my wish list of places to work.
How did you get earlier jobs in France and then your subsequent jobs in Canada?
Michel Bourdin, who I trained under at the Connaught hotel, guided me by placing me in some great restaurants in France such as Petit Nice and Troisgros. Through these positions, I was appointed executive chef of Langdon Hall, just outside of Toronto, where we reached the Relais & Châteaux status within the first year.
What have been the highlights of working in Canada?
Canada has provided me the ability to chase my dreams in many aspects of my personal and professional life: I’ve developed a great network of professionals, had the opportunity to open a prestigious Relais & Châteaux property, enjoyed the birth of my son Sebastién; published two cookbooks and an currently involved in improving the food and beverage at the Granite Club.
What have been the difficulties?
Moving to any country involves some adaptation, however we have to remember it is for us to adapt and contribute to a new country, we cannot change the country or the people. It was hard to leave behind the hospitality profession in Europe which is immersed in culture and history.
Tell me about the scholarship you have set up for European chefs to work in Canada?
I set up Club des Amis Canada (CDA) – with the aim of offering a scholarship to a British chef to work and study in Canada for at least two years – inspired by the original Club des Amis launched by Michel Bourdin more than 25 years ago. I feel fortunate that I had wonderful training and wanted to provide a similar experience for young inspiring chefs.
Martin Hendrie, who originally worked at 1 Lombard Street in London, was the test scholar and he is now coming into his fourth year in Canada, working at the Granite Club, with David Legget of Boodle’s Club being named the first official winner of the CDA scholarship. He returned home after two years in Canada.
We’ve extended the scholarship to France and Paul Mariel from La Marine hotel in Normandy is this year’s winner.
How do young chefs apply for the scholarship?
Any young chef between 20 and 25 with the Academy of Culinary Arts Diploma in Professional Cookery can apply via www.clubdesamis.ca, with the next selection taking place in October 2012.
What are the benefits for young chefs to work for a spell in Canada?
Culinary experience is not the soul benefit – young chefs who come here from the UK on the scholarship will also gain life experience. They are exposed to a network of professionals across many world-class establishments who will provide the young chefs with an on-going education.
Do you have a family with you in Canada?
Yes, my wife is from France, with a significant background in Relais & Châteaux. We came over here together to open Langdon Hall. We have all settled in really well and now call Canada home.
Would you return to work in the UK?
Currently, I am challenged to make a difference in Canada every way I can for young people by passing on my knowledge. However, they say opportunity knocks very softly, so you never know what other exciting opportunities lie ahead, which makes our industry so fascinating. Challenge and change is a great motto!
CV NIGEL DIDCOCK
● Trained at Bournemouth & Poole Catering College
● 1982-85 Connaught hotel, London
● 1982-85 Worked in France at Le Petit Nice, Troisgros and La Marine Normandy
● 1989-93 Langdon Hall, Cambridge, Ontario, Canada
● 1993-03 Sutton Place hotel, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
● 2003-present Granite Club, Toronto, Ontario, Canada