Q + A: Chefs from L’Abattoir + Fuel/Refuel

Vanmag: How did you get your starts?

Mark Taylor: I was working as a dishwasher in Manitoba. 18. I’d just moved out with a couple of buddies, and my friend was a waiter. He’d come home every night with all this cash, and our dealer only took cash so…

Jane Cornborough: I was always front-of-house, a server. I wanted to be a restaurant manager when I grew up. But I thought I should go to cooking school so I’d know the back as well as the front — then I never came back. It was all an accident, but 12 years later, here I am and I love it.

MT: Not a lot of people have the chops to do the kitchen after the front of the house.

JC: Sometimes I do miss the other side, but if I can still cook and get it down and chat at the same time, it’s a perfect mix for me.

Vanmag: Who influenced you early on?

MT: I worked years ago for Erwin Doebeli, owner of the William Tell way back when, and he was a brilliant restaurateur. He could work a room. He could talk to every table and have something interesting to say besides just “How was your dinner?” If he just met you once and then you came in six months later, he would remember the conversation he had with you, your name, your daughter’s name. I’ve never seen anything like it.

JC: I worked for Robert Belcham off and on for five years. I remember shucking my first oyster at C Restaurant, and him showing me how to cook my first piece of fish. Standing beside this man who can be pretty, you know, intimidating with his tattoos, and I’m this little girl and I’m shaking. But he inspired me in so many ways, just with ingredients and teaching me to travel and learn overseas.

MT: Everyone in our industry needs to travel. Go to food areas, wine regions — it opens your eyes and gives you authentic tastes.

Vanmag: Favourite food towns?

JC: New York for me. I was lucky to be there for three years, so I got to eat at all kinds of restaurants…

MT: For me, I like Italy, France… Smaller towns more than big cities — that’s how I like to hunt. Especially in Italy, when they cook the same food in the city and the country, it’s more authentic in a smaller town.

Vanmag: How does that food scene differ from ours?

MT: In Europe, you go to a restaurant to see what they do, because what they do is great. Here, after a couple decades of Food Network and all the magazines, everyone thinks they know everything about everything. It’s a bit too much sometimes. Can I go on a tirade?

Vanmag: Please do.

MT: Bless foodies for spending their money in restaurants, but they can be a pain in the ass sometimes. It’s all about, “I want this thing and that sauce and can you turn that over?” They want to dictate your menu, and it gets annoying. Sometimes. Because we’re supposed to be the professionals.

Vanmag: Well, we all have our bad habits. What’s one of yours?

JC: If we’re talking guilty pleasures, I think my go-to is chips. I’ve never found a kind I don’t like. Put it in front of me, and I’ll eat the bag. I’ll get a bag and I’ll eat half and then I’ll throw it away.

MT: Like throwing out half a pack of cigarettes.

JC: It is! It’s addictive.

MT: Years ago in my Volkswagen van, travelling down the coast of North America, I discovered Sun Chips. You know Sun Chips?

JC: Yeah!

MT: Before they were here. I thought I was going to bring them back to Canada and import them and be a millionaire. It didn’t happen. Another plan: I still want to open a restaurant where the gratuity’s part of the menu, right? Where you order your level of service at the beginning. Ten percent is take the order, bring the food. Fifteen is you get a little description if you need information. Twenty is more personable. I’ll tell a joke. So, if they ask you a question — “Sorry, what’s in Mornay sauce again?” — you can say, “Oh, I’m sorry. Would you like to upgrade to the 15 percent?”