Chef Q&A: J.P. Challet

Get To Know an ACF Ambassador Chef: J.P. Challet 

Throughout our Love Food Give Food campaign (October 16-30), Action Against Hunger will be speaking to our ACF Ambassador Chefs – the culinary all-stars who are teaming up with ACF Canada – about their careers in cuisine, their love of food, and why they are joining the fight against malnutrition.

When did you discover your calling as a chef?

More than thirty years ago. I came late into cooking, but I just loved to eat. One day I decided I wanted to learn how to cook, so I read some books and [at first] I didn’t have much success on my own. I saw an ad for cooking school, so I applied. I was about twenty years old.

You began your career in France. What bought you to Canada?

My dad had a vision for me to be in Canada a long time ago, in the Eighties. He thought it would be a great thing for me to be here. We came here on vacation for two weeks together and started to make some contacts. I fell in love with the country, and I’ve never left.

You’ve been described as a culinary jack-of-all-trades – chef, baker, sommelier, etc.  Is this part of an all-encompassing philosophy about cuisine?

What makes me happy is to learn, and with cooking you’re always learning. It was always important for me to learn [about wine], and I thought I knew a lot about wine. But when I started to go to school I realized that aside from French wine, I didn’t know much about it. This opened my eyes. Most French cooks know about pastry, and I graduated as a pastry cook. After that came chocolate, and I am an ambassador for a chocolate company. I always did my own bread, but I never really had the proper training. The thing is, when you are experienced in cook, it’s much easier for me to understand the chemistry. People thing bread is easy because it’s water and flour, but it’s more than that. Everything is about passion and learning, and I have to keep learning.

What do you believe you’re doing differently with French cuisine?

French cuisine is something that I love, but it has somewhat of a bad image. People think it’s mainly a heavy cuisine. But when it’s properly done it never has to be. Sure, some dishes are naturally heavy because of the time of the year, or the produce is not light (duck fat, foie gras, etc.). But too many people don’t cook it properly, because the idea is to make these ingredients seem lighter. Good French cuisine, when it’s made the right way is lighter, but it keeps the flavour. Making French cuisine lighter is also about making it more modern. 

What is your favourite dish to make for people?

All of the dishes on the menu [at Ici Bistro] are ones that I love to eat, but I definitely enjoy the braised beef, the lobster and the duck confit. I always search for the best produce, to keep those flavours. For me, I have to have the flavour first, and then I work around the presentation.

What made you decide to team up with Action Against Hunger’s Love Food Give Food Campaign?

That’s very easy. Kids and elderly people represent innocence, and they didn’t choose to be in certain positions. And it’s our duty to help them, and for me that’s just normal. Kids come into the world and don’t have enough to eat, and we have to help them. Of course, there are many other good causes, but when it comes to charity it’s always a priority for me to help causes that in turn help children and elderly people.

As someone in the food business, how much does the issue of hunger and malnutrition matter to you?

We have to make sure we don’t waste things, and there is too much waste. And it’s not about being cheap, but when we look at all those children who have no food, we have to make sure we don’t waste food, and we have to make sure we help those who have none. 

Jean-Pierre “J.P.” Challet has been a happy chef for the past 30 years and, more recently has earned the stripe of Professional Sommelier. J.P. was born and raised in Lyon, France, and studied Culinary Arts at the respected École Hotelière in Nice before migrating to Canada to hone his craft at grand hotels in Quebec City and Montreal before opening his own signature Toronto “boîte”, Ici Bistro. The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Gourmet and a host of Canadian publications, including Toronto Life, have lavishly praised Chef Challet’s creative interpretation of French Cuisine. Included in J.P.’s many proud accomplishments is his contribution to the development of the French Culinary Program at George Brown College in Toronto. J.P. lectures frequently and appears regularly as a guest chef on radio and TV.    


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