The Gentlemen’s Expo (November 10-12, 2016)
I can’t even describe how excited I am for The Gentlemen’s Expo! There will be something there for everyone, especially foodies! The line-up of celebrities and entertainment (from the culinary world and otherwise) seems endless. Perhaps one of their biggest attractions will be the Underground Chef Company (UCC) Battle and industry panel discussion. I had the privilege of interviewing the founder of UCC, Chef Joe Friday.
So if you like food, drinks, fashion, technology, sports, music, cars, DIY, health, sex, gaming, and/or entrepreneurship, be sure to check out The Gentlemen’s Expo this weekend! Tickets are on sale online here. Use the promotion code BEBETTER to save $5 on the ticket price.
Underground Chef Company (UCC)
The Underground Chef Co. (UCC) was founded less than 3 years ago to promote the culinary community. They have collaborations with trendy restaurants, top food brands, and acclaimed chefs and celebrities. They bring UCC Chef Battles to restaurants in Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa, where undiscovered chefs compete by using secret ingredients to create several dishes in less than an hour. What sets the UCC Chef Battles apart from other reality cooking competitions is how they take place live in local restaurants. Besides watching an intense battle and seeing celebrity chef judges, the audience also gets to discover a new restaurant, experience a chef’s life in the kitchen, and network with people from the culinary community.
The UCC at The Gentlemen’s Expo
At The Gentlemen’s Expo, UCC will be hosting an industry panel discussion and a special edition battle between celebrity chefs, Chef Ted Reader (The Godfather of the Grill) and Chef Jeff Dueck (Executive Chef at 2ndFloor Events). Chef Joe Friday (founder of UCC, internationally acclaimed chef) and Chef Mike Ward (former editor-in-chief of Canadian Living magazine) will host the live competition as well as the industry panel discussion.
The judges and panelists will include: Kevin Brauch (host of The Thirsty Traveler and floor reporter for Iron Chef America), Krista Faist (publisher of Foodism Toronto), Master Baker Marcus Mariathas (ACE Bakery), Matt Jones (bartending and whiskey expert), Chef Alexandra Feswick (The Drake Hotel), Chef Rob Rainford (host of Licence to Grill on Food Network Canada), and Chef Amanda Ray (Biff’s Bistro).
Interview with Chef Joe Friday
I had the opportunity to interview Chef Joe Friday, the founder of UCC. He has been cooking internationally for 17 years and is always the hardest worker. He managed to figure out how to get recognition for his talent and craft in the highly competitive food industry. He credits learning opportunities from marketing people and his sister and brother. He started the UCC to help other chefs get the attention and opportunities that they deserve. It was truly a pleasure speaking with him. He was real, down-to-earth, and earnest.
Question 1: What are some of the major challenges that chefs face when trying to get that big break? How does UCC help them gain more visibility?
Chef Joe Friday talked about how a big break for a chef often comes in the form of a write-up or a review of a restaurant. However, not all restaurants and chefs get the media coverage that they deserve. Too often, talented chefs work hard and cook amazing food, but go unacknowledged by the media and general public. This includes the chefs that aren’t as active in social media and the chefs that make magic in smaller, lesser-known, or even longstanding restaurants.
UCC finds undiscovered talent and showcases their skills by inviting them to compete in cooking battles. Many of these chefs get their first write-up after competing for the UCC. More importantly, these events allow the chefs to network with the right people from the culinary and marketing industries. Since the UCC started hosting their battles, 8 of the competing chefs are now running their own restaurants, making appearances on TV, and/or rated one of Canada’s top chefs.
The Chef also talked about the significance behind using international secret ingredients in the UCC Chef Battles. You see, another major challenge to chefs is the accessibility to food. The location of a restaurant not only determines the fresh ingredients that a chef can use, but also defines the amount that a chef can charge for a plate. In order to work within such restrictions, chefs need to be creative by using different ingredients and flavour combinations. This is how the best chefs really stand out. Winning a UCC Chef Battle puts undiscovered chefs in touch with the people that can open the right doors for them – meaning the investors, restaurant owners, writers, and PR teams that appreciate originality and creativity. Being able to cook true to yourself is very important to Chef Joe Friday. From his own career, he is happiest when he has the freedom to be as creative as he wants.
Question 2: You’re clearly very well experienced in fusion cooking, but do you personally prefer traditional or fusion flavour combinations?
Answer 2: He said that he actually prefers traditional dishes. His training makes him perfect for fusion cooking, but when he cooks for himself, he always sticks to authentic, traditional foods. (I loved hearing this, because I, too, prefer traditional recipes.)
Question 3: How did your career get started in Toronto?
He has worked internationally in countries including Japan, Norway, England, and Hawaii. When he moved to Toronto, nobody knew who he was. So for the first year, he did catering. He gave away 10 free caterings and dropped off food for people in Richmond Hill and around the city. This led to orders for food at office buildings. He also started doing restaurant pop-ups, including, but not limited to, a ramen noodle pop-up and a Southern food pop-up. He then looked into running his own restaurant. He did tastings and found potential investors that helped him get to where he is today.
Question 4: How often do you cook for yourself at home?
Answer 4: About once a week, he picks up fresh ingredients after work and cooks dinner at home. The night before the interview, he made a traditional bolognese sauce and fresh pasta.
Question 5: The language that’s used in the battle kitchen – is it family-friendly or similar to Chef Gordon Ramsey’s?
Answer 5: The Chef said, with a chuckle, that the language used during the battles is more like what you would hear in Chef Gordon Ramsey’s kitchen. However, they are always mindful and accommodating when children are among the audience. So, the UCC Chef Battles are definitely fun for the whole family. (Personally, I love the language that Chef Gordon Ramsey uses.)
Question 6: What new projects are you currently working on?
Chef Friday wasn’t able to reveal too many details, but he did say that we can expect a Canada wide tour of the UCC Chef Battle with a focus on foods from Canadian history and culture.
He’s also working on opening a new restaurant towards the end of the summer in 2017. The focus will be on sophisticated simplicity. He plans to use traditional recipes that have withstood the test of time, being as old as 60 to 100 years. The restaurant will offer a new style of cuisine that adopts the Japanese and Italian philosophy of using simple and high quality ingredients.