Monday, February 2, 2009

Dylan McLay serves local menu to 250 Torontonians

Dylan McLay, executive chef at The Epicurean is photographed in one 
of the kitchens of the Niagara-on-the-Lake restaurant.
Standard staff photo by Julie Jocsak

Here is a story about my friend Dylan McLay that was in the St.Catharines Standard. We're proud of you.

Teen chef unofficial ambassador for Niagara cuisine

Posted 7 hours ago


Standard Staff

Chef Dylan McLay will walk into a downtown Toronto hotel this week and serve more than 900 locally sourced appetizers to a large crowd of senior politicians and economic development officers from around the province.

Preparing food for a crowd that size is stressful for the most experienced chef.

McLay, who prepares fare at the Epicurean Cafe and Grill in Niagara-on-the-Lake, is just 19.

On Wednesday evening, he’ll serve red wine-cured venison hind, Niagara rutabaga butter and Greaves Damson plum jam to showcase the region’s local foods at the Economic Development Council of Ontario’s “Taste of Ontario” reception at the Toronto Marriott Downtown Eaton Centre.

The Epicurean is a member of the Niagara Culinary Trail, which has teamed up with Savour Muskoka, Norfolk County and the Wine Council of Ontario to show off the province’s best at the reception.

But the high profile job of feeding more than 250 hungry provincial and federal government officials and acting as unofficial ambassador for Niagara cuisine doesn’t seem to faze young McLay.

“I’m feeling good about it,” said McLay, who focuses on using local products in his cooking.

“I always feel good about things.

After all, he’s been cooking since he was a mere 13.

The Niagara-on-the-Lake native got his start at the Epicurean, under the tutelage of former executive chef John Woods.

A few years later, McLay “walked away” from his Grade 10 studies at Niagara District Secondary School to dedicate himself to his career. He later got his high school diploma through correspondence.

He eventually left Niagara and got a job cooking at the Stonefield Castle Hotel on the west coast of Scotland, and later returned to work at Wellington Court in St. Catharines, and Toronto’s Alice’s Restaurant, which is owned by Woods.

Last June, McLay went back to the Epicurean to become top chef at the 17-year-old French cuisine-inspired cafe on Queen Street, an eatery acclaimed by dozens of newspapers.

“I’ve been around a little bit for a 19-year-old,” McLay said with a laugh.

McLay has four chefs who work under him right now, but will have a staff of 15 to 20 in the summer.

He’s done a few large-scale events since returning to the cafe, always with confidence.

“You have to be. At this age in this industry in this position, if you show weakness you tend not to do well.”

McLay came up with the Toronto reception menu with the help of Greaves Jams & Marmalades in Niagara-on the-Lake and Lake Land Meats in St. Catharines — both Niagara Culinary Trail members.

Magdalena Kaiser-Smit, director of marketing and communications for the culinary organization, said it’s wonderful to see producers and restaurants working together to showcase the province’s best cuisine.

Niagara food producers need to come together as a united front and sell themselves outside the region, Kaiser-Smit said.

“We’re trying to send the key message that we all need to invest in the treasures that we have in our province,” she said.

“We think the message is important for that particular audience because they’re planning economic development.”

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