Get To Know an ACF Ambassador Chef: Maggie McKeown
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.
You’ve had an interesting and diverse career in food, including an education at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Did you always have a passion for food?
MM: My father was a successful restaurateur in Toronto when we were growing up. He would take us on food adventures inside and outside the house. I am sure I didn’t always have a passion for cooking, but I was always passionate about food. As a little girl it seemed normal to eat pickled herring, make pear jam, and visit Chinatown all in one day!
How has being a mother of twin boys changed how you think about food?
MM: I have always been someone who is really focused on ingredients and their stories. As a chef, I’ve always tried to make great tasting meals that happen to have healthy ingredients. In my own life, though, too often I’ve taken shortcuts and indulged in foods that aren’t healthy. Having kids has refocused my priorities, and made me start stocking the home kitchen with the same local, fresh ingredients I used in the restaurant kitchen. Just last night, one of my sons asked me for, “more beets please”, which is definitely a step in the right direction.
You’ve worn many different hats in the food industry, including recipe developer, cooking school chef, and TV personality! What can home cooks learn from professionals in the industry?
MM: There are a lot of things that we are taught in chef school, like how to make a roux or bake a soufflé, but the most enduring lessons have been about how I organize my time in the kitchen. I have a plan, I gather my ingredients and tools (my “mise en place”) before I start to cook, and I ‘work clean’, tidying up as I go. This is the only approach that works in a busy restaurant where you are trying to prepare 300 or more dinners a night, but they also make for better cooking at home. Even my husband – who used to think getting the ingredients together before starting was a waste of time – has come around to this approach, with only a little coaching.
What are some of the most memorable doughnuts you’ve tasted on Donut Showdown – good or bad?
MM: We got to try lots of delicious doughnuts. The ones that stood out for me were: a pancetta and pineapple fritter with cilantro (it worked and was delicious), a Bismarck filled with passion fruit curd and topped with meringue, and lastly, a Fluffernutter from a donut maker in California – to die for!
Doughnuts have had a renaissance lately. What do you think are the next big food trend(s) that are about to hit?
MM: I think the big trends we’re still seeing today include farm to table (eating locally grown/raised foods), doughnuts, and new spins on traditional cuisines, including high-end Mexican and Greek restaurants with modern hip twists on their traditional themes. Moving forward, the big trends are good food everywhere with mobile food trucks (including some enterprising chefs who are now using portable containers – think food trucks without the truck, such as pop-up restaurants). The food truck isn’t what it used to be, and that’s a great thing, as you’ll know if you’ve visited with Thundering Thelma, the Southern Smoke Truck, or any of the other great food trucks around the Golden Horseshoe.
Chefs and people in the food industry in general are frequently known for their generosity and support of charities. Why do you think this is?
MM: Whenever you feed someone you are sharing a bit of yourself with them. When you welcome someone into your restaurant it is like you are welcoming them into your home. The job is all about nurturing and being hospitable – generosity is a bi-product!
Why does the issue of hunger matter to you?
MM: It is a basic human right. No one should go hungry, or have to deal with malnutrition. This is a big problem that we can each make real progress to solve.
What in particular resonates with you about Action Against Hunger?
MM: What appeals to me is that they are active in ridding the world of [malnutrition]. They know how to solve the problem and are actively doing it!
ACF Canada Ambassador Chef Maggie McKeown is an alumnus of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, successful restaurateur, and former National Spokesperson for Kraft Canada. She has a unique edge as both a food and marketing expert and real world chef. Her outgoing personality and clever wit make her a natural fit for television where she has appeared as an expert on City TV’s Cityline, as a host on W Network’s The Right Fit, and as a culinary mentor on the Food Network’s hit series, Recipe to Riches. Chef Maggie is currently a judge on the Food Network Canada’s Donut Shutdown, which airs throughout the US. Chef Maggie owns C is for Clean, the all-natural, artisanal cleaning product company, created from age-old recipes using ingredients straight out of the kitchen cupboard. Maggie is passionate about reviving grand old traditions with a modern ﬂair.