Outstanding young chef Paul Moran, winner of the Hawksworth Young Chef Scholarship competition, recently took the reins of the kitchen as Executive Chef at the exclusive resort Nita Lake Lodge in Whistler, British Columbia. Joined by Chef Stephanie Noel who takes the position of Director of Food and Beverage at Nita Lake Lodge.
It was an interesting journey for Moran and Noel that includes extensive training and experience in outstanding hotels and restaurants of Europe.
Moran’s journey to award winning chef started with humble beginnings as a dishwasher in a small Italian restaurant in West Kelowna. By high school graduation Moran knew exactly what career path he would take.
That path took Moran to Vancouver where he intended to enrol in Culinary school while working part time at West Restaurant. However Chef David Hawksworth had other plans as he obviously saw potential in the young man. Chef Hawksworth explained that he would be his culinary instructor and there was no need for Moran to go to culinary school. Moran was to work full time and learn his trade under the watchful eye of Chef Hawksworth.
Taking a step back to introduce another young chef, Chef Stephanie Noel from rural Quebec who had attended Institut de Tourisme et d’Hotellerie du Quebec in Montreal. Wishing to improve her English language skills, Noel came to Vancouver and began working for West Restaurant.
It was at West Restaurant that Chef Moran met Chef Noel.
Moran challenged his first and second exams, attended the compulsory school courses, and having met the amount of required apprenticeship experience, had achieved his Red Seal Certification. It was now time for Moran to take on a new experience.
Still in his early 20’s Moran explored the culinary landscape of Dubai. Securing a position at Jumeirah Beach Hotel’s Marina Restaurant. Moran says the city was beautiful but he found the quality of the cuisine to be inferior to what he was used to in Vancouver so after 5 months he packed his bags and headed home.
During Noel’s time at West Restaurant she enhanced her culinary skills. Noel’s experience served her well and when the time came for Chef Hawksworth to move on in his career Noel became the Acting Executive Chef of West Restaurant and assisted in the transition of Executive Chef Warren Geraghty (formerly of L’Escargot in London).
Moran and Noel were both anxious to explore possibilities in Europe and with working visas in hand set off to look for work in the south of France. Although they had West Restaurant on their resumes they were always asked how many Michelin stars did the restaurant have, no one had heard of Vancouver’s top restaurant. Even though they had four or five years of experience their resumes were basically thrown out the window and they started at the bottom.
Although Moran had almost no French language skills he was the first to secure a position. Thanks to people they met on their way it wasn’t long before both were employed in Michelin starred restaurants.
Moran working at Chantecler a 2 Michelin starred restaurant in the Hotel Negresco in Nice. Noel working as a sous chef at a 2 Michelin starred restaurant La Reserve de Beaulieu in Beaulieu sur Mer.
Moran said of working in the Michelin starred restaurant “In the south of France we both got jobs in Michelin starred hotels on the Cote d’Azur. We each had our job and got into a routine, it was really an awesome spot to live. They were different places but similar in the way they were organized, a really good experience for us to have that. The hotel was over 100 years old with copper pots and linen cloths, there was maybe four or five people to plate a table for just the appetizer. Quite the experience, they were similar but at the same time we were learning completely different things. I don’t think we’ll ever have a chance like that again.”
After their working visas ran out it was back to Canada and working in Montreal. For the next year they worked at Laurie Raphael but in different positions and on different schedules. Noel returned to BC to spend the summer harvesting mushrooms and foraging for wild plants.
Still determined to learn by experience Moran and Noel traveled back to Paris in the fall of 2010.
It had always been Moran’s dream to work at L’Arpege. He was hired but even though he now had Michelin star restaurant experience he was to start over again at the bottom. However fate intervened to postpone this opportunity. L’Arpege was closed because of a fire and Moran would have to wait at least a month to start working at the restaurant where dinner may cost up to 1,000 euros.
The budget was already squeezed so Moran started to look for other work. “During that time when I was looking for a job I eventually ended up at this spot that a friend of a friend had said this place just opened, I went, met the chef, he hired me part time.”
The restaurant, Saturne, in the 17th arrondissement, was owned by 24 year old Chef Sven Chartier, formerly of L’Arpege and Racine, and by sommelier Ewen Lemoigne, also formerly of Racine.
“After about two weeks he (Chartier) offered me a sous chef job there, he really wanted me to stay, talked to me about where he worked before which was where I was going to work.”
Moran was to make one of the biggest decisions of his life. Careful consideration was required. Did Moran want to start at the bottom at his dream restaurant or take a much better position working with young talent in an exciting environment? In his own words:
“One of the toughest decisions I ever had to make was go start at the bottom at this restaurant I had been dreaming about working at for the last five years or start as the sous chef at this restaurant that I now know everything about, that seems really cool but has no secure future, it could close in a month for all I know. You learn from each chef you work under so I decided to stay. I definitely made the right choice. I realized that a year later when he (Chartier) took Stephanie and me for lunch at L’Arpege where I had planned on working originally. He treated us, he was very happy with my work and the way we had been getting along. We were super disappointed with the meal we had there. The food was at a level way below what we were preparing at where I was working as a sous chef so it was a huge relief. I definitely realized at that moment I had made the right choice”
Moran speaks very highly of his time at Saturne. The dinner tasting menu at Saturne was 50 euros, a very reasonable amount given Chef Chartier’s caliber and Michelin star training. The ingredients used were of the highest quality. The restaurant was more laid back, more with the times. The international financial crisis had changed the face of classic French dining. Moran says he had fun and feels really lucky to be part of that culinary revolution in Paris that was just taking off when they were there.
“When the chef opened his restaurant he was 24 and when he hired me I was 24 so it was like two 24 year olds working in the kitchen, really driven, it was a fun experience.”
“In Paris there is a different sense of the restaurants there. We had previously only been for a week but it was less classic and there were bistros, more hip new places opening up. You could go to a Michelin starred restaurant for lunch for 50 euros, not like in the south. That’s why we went to Paris because the vast number of restaurants we could work at. A chance to do something a little more casual, more hip, a little more fun”
Noel spent the first six months working at Medelices in Arceuil Cachan. By spring of 2011 Noel was part of the opening team and a sous chef at Restaurant Septime in the 11th arrondissement.
Noel says: “Chefs of Saturne and Septime had known each other for a long time and opened their restaurants about a year apart. Septime was in a neighbourhood that was not considered very nice and not known for having good restaurants but the owner wanted to open a nice but inexpensive restaurant. A small seat restaurant where soon after opening a reservation had to be made weeks or even months in advance. The restaurant was not pretentious, it was fun to work at a professional level in the kitchen. I learned a lot of skill in a more relaxed way where you get to try your ideas. When you work in a Michelin star restaurant there is no way you have any input. It’s the chef’s menu and you just execute it. At Septime you could have lunch with wine and coffee that is equivalent to a Michelin star restaurant for about 26 euros. To be part of a restaurant opening was a big eye opener. To see chefs our age or a little bit older and being successful at it. It made us think this is what we have to do.”
“When we came back from Paris totally eyes open, we could do anything, we were ready to open our own place. We came back thinking we could do this, plan it, meet with people and just do it. We came back we had a thorough business plan, potential investors, finding a location, going from a to z, budgeting, menu, concept.”
The idea was to renovate an old barn on a farm with a menu that would include food grown on the farm. In the summer guests would eat in the garden and in winter dining in the converted barn. That did not work out so Moran and Noel thought to open a restaurant in Vancouver similar to the one they had worked at in Paris. They had a location on hold and willing investors. Unfortunately the bank felt that they did not have enough capital of their own and their plans were shelved.
It was now onto Plan B. They were approached by the West Coast Fishing Lodge on Haida G’wai. There is a luxury lodge for 50 guests at a time, a 50 guest floating barge for the hard core fisherman with less emphasis on décor, simpler for people who want to fish and an outpost for up to 14 guests.
This was an opportunity to work together, not like in Montreal where they worked different shifts, but this time as the only two chefs in the kitchen. They would be cooking for the 14 guests who reserve the outpost for 4 night stays and also providing all the meals for the staff and fishing guides.
Moran: “The job was to cook for the 14 guests with only two of us in the kitchen it was right up our alley. It worked out perfectly for us we were in the kitchen the entire summer working 100 days straight with no break, napping when we could. The location is very special.”
Noel: “At Haida G’wai we worked together so well because we know each other so well and you don’t have to explain how something has to be done. It was a really good experience and we met some really good friends, along with the other staff they become like family. I know some of them will be friends for life. We are thinking of going back, it is a really good way to save money. You put away your wallet and get it out in August with all the money you have saved. As much as we love the work it is only three months and the rest of the year we have to find other things.The lodge is a good place to meet potential investors also. You make a good connection with people there because you spend so much time with them every day. The guests get to know you very well, what kind of chef you are, what kind of person you are. Many of the guests wanted to know if we had a restaurant and why it wasn’t open yet.”
“While the guests were away during the day we could go kayaking or hiking and we did a lot of foraging. Now if we go back we have a better understanding of things.”
Moran: “We did all our own prep, didn’t even have a dishwasher so we did our own dishes. This was the first time we had ever worked with fishing guides and finding out what that job is all about. It was the first time we had worked with a group of people who were working as hard as we were. In the kitchen you had to work hard everyone else was also working 15 or 16 hour days seven days a week. They were a very professional group of people to work with. It was cool to be a part of a group like that, a very diverse group of Canadians. There is a good chance we will go back this year.”
In September Noel and Moran stayed on and spent a month foraging and picking wild mushrooms. They built a commercial size dehydrator and were able to return home with at least a year’s supply of dried mushrooms. Paul says he was introduced to mushroom picking by his great grandmother and it is a family tradition to forage and preserve their own food. The bounty was good this year with about 250 pounds of salmon and game from friends. Once back home in Oliver they spent three days picking tomatoes, peppers and eggplant which has all been preserved.
As chefs they are interested in preservation and fermentation of food. The quality of food at home and in the places they have worked is a high priority.
Hawksworth Young Chef Scholarship 2013 winner Paul Moran recently completed his international stage at Chef Enrique Olvera’s Restaurante, Pujol, in Mexico City ranked as the 17th best restaurant in the world according to San Pellegrino’s The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Returning home to their new positions at Nita Lake Lodge in Whistler.