By Sandra Eagle
Growing up in the then-rural community of Salmon Arm B.C., executive chef Murray Hall learned at a very early age the joys of eating and preserving the bountiful produce of the Okanagan Valley. He was practicing the local food philosophy way before it became a buzz word.
Now, as executive chef of the BMO Institute for Learning in Toronto, operated by Dolce Hotels and Resorts, his mandate is to maintain a high level of culinary creativity and help keep the centre’s clients focused and ready to learn.
Hall started his culinary career straight out of high school. “I always loved to cook with my Mom, and we would always preserve and can whatever was in season,” he says. “We always used whatever produce was freshest. You really appreciated what you had and how you utilized it.”
After obtaining his Red Seal certification, he worked in two small hotels in Ontario before landing at the Marriott Hotel Group working kitchens in Bermuda, Hawaii and Toronto. During his time in Toronto, he completed the Chef de Cuisine program at Humber College and still teaches part-time there to this day.
Chef Hall loves cooking soul food, but says he also has gone back to basics in his culinary style. “It’s going back to proper cooking techniques, having fun with food, but not over manipulating it. Think about serving the best chicken breast with the proper seasoning and cooking technique and serving it at its freshest.”
As part of the Dolce Hotel and Resorts Group, Hall is an active member of the Dolce International Culinary Council. The council is a collection of chefs that Dolce has asked to represent the culinary arena. “I’m the only Canadian chef on the council but as Dolce expands in the U.S. and overseas, they’ve asked us to come up with a common link that clients can expect from our company,” he says. “So we’ve created signature food items, a style of service and some great food ideas. But all of us have coffee breaks and that is a common guest experience. If guests come for the day, they may or may not experience breakfast, they may have lunch, but all of them will break for coffee.”
So out of those discussions came the idea of nourishment hubs or nutrition centres. Menus for the hubs are changed four times a day, and feature more fruit, make-your-own yogurt granola parfaits, breakfast breads and muffins made with flaxseed or quinoa flour.
“We have tried to lower the glycemic level in a lot of the foods we bake,” he says. “We now have an in-house baker and he is using different sweeteners such as agave syrup, applesauce or bananas to replace the white sugar. We also offer protein choices, such as chicken apple sausages at breakfast, or egg white frittatas with spinach, fennel and Canadian cheese.”
A low glycemic food releases glucose more slowly into the bloodstream and helps to avoid the sugar crash of foods that have a high glycemic level.
In addition to his work at the BMO Centre for Learning, Hall can also lay claim to two Canadian Copper Skillet awards and placed third in the world at the International Copper Skillet Competition for 2011. The Copper Skillet competition is for conference centre chefs, to showcase their culinary creativity and expertise by creating an entrée in 30 minutes on one burner with a mystery basket of food. Hall adds “It showcases the talent and creativity of the culinary team within the conference properties, and the International Association of Conference Centres has in general put a lot of emphasis on food which is great to see.”