Culinary Calling: Andrew Nelson, Delta Meadowvale, Quest Restaurant and Bar

Chef Andrew Nelson, Delta Meadowvale, Quest Restaurant and BarHe may have initially had his eye on the front of the house, but it wasn’t until he opened up the kitchen door that Chef Andrew Nelson was able to find his true culinary calling.

As an ambitious high school student back in 1988, Nelson approached the owner of the Glenerin Inn in his hometown of Mississauga, Ontario, for a job as a server, only to be told that there were no vacancies. As luck would have it, though, there was a dishwashing slot up for grabs.

“Of course, as the vast majority of chefs do, I started out as a dishwasher,” Nelson recalls with a laugh. “But once I moved over to the salad station, picked up a pair of tongs and tossed my first Caesar salad, I was hooked.”

It’s a culinary love affair that has lasted more than 20 years. As Executive Chef of the Delta Meadowvale Hotel and Conference Centre in Mississauga, Ontario, Nelson has come a long way from those early pot-scrubbing days. A graduate of the Chef Program at George Brown College in Toronto, Nelson began honing his culinary skills at a number of venues including the Radisson Suites Hotel, Living Arts Centre, Thyme Restaurant and Bar and Starwood Hotels. He later joined the Delta family as the Executive Sous Chef at the Delta Chelsea before moving into his current role.

When he hasn’t been plying his trade in restaurant and hotel kitchens, Nelson has also become a familiar face on the international competitive scene, helping the Canadian Culinary Team capture the bronze medal at the 2010 Expogast – Villeroy and Boch Culinary World Cup in Luxembourg. More recently, Nelson won Barilla’s Calling All Chefs pasta recipe challenge in 2011, a distinction which also earned him a five-day culinary immersion tour of Italy.

Nelson credits many influences on his career, notably reknowned chefs such as Mark McEwan for his food style and business acumen and Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Joel Robuchon for their contributions to international cuisine. Superstar chefs aside, Nelson believes the influence of Sri Lankan culture and cuisine has also had a pronounced effect on his recipes, techniques and competition results.

“My wife is from Sri Lanka, so I have been exposed to a whole new culinary adventure, seeing all of the different dishes being prepared with both great flavours and colour – eggplant brinjahl pahi and beet curry among my favourites. Plus, at Expogast, we were actually partnered with a Sri Lankan team and had a couple of Sri Lankan members on the Canadian team. What impresses me most about all of those people is the amount of time they spend practicing and perfecting their technique. They are incredibly talented, doing a lot of fine, intricate work, especially a lot of pastry work. That kind of dedication rubs off on you as a competitor.”

Between competitions, however, Nelson has managed to find time to take on some significant projects outside of his regular executive chef duties, including the revamp of the Delta Meadowvale’s Quest Restaurant and Bar in 2011.

“We wanted to take the restaurant in a totally different direction from what we had previously. It’s completely open, it’s new and it’s stylish. My challenge was coming up with a menu, coming up with different plate designs and making it all fit together. Since the re-opening, the response has been really positive.”

When it comes to preparing a unique menu for meeting and event diners, Nelson says he takes a two-pronged approach. “First is the menu, which I work directly with the client to present them with some options that are new and fresh – Oyster and Cranberry Vodka Shooters, Petite Black Seame Savoury Cones with Chicken Mousse and Olive Oil, or Carved Bison Tenderloin. The second part is presentation. I almost take an interior designer’s point of view to make the dishes unique and appealing using a combination of individual tasting plates and platters that are a bit different.”

Nelson says that when it comes to preferred cooking techniques, there is a clear winner. “For larger cuts of meat such as prime ribs, beef striploins and beef tenderloin, nothing compares to slow roasting. Also braised or roasted vegetables – the flavours seem to blend together so nicely when you have olive oil, garlic and fresh herbs.”

Another of Nelson’s creations popular with restaurant and banquet patrons alike is a Pacific Halibut Sous Vide style with sage and garlic wild mushroom risotto. “This dish is so full of flavor because of the ingredients that are sealed in the vacuum pack bag. I have also used this dish many times for banquets and also for receptions’ tasting plates by cutting the halibut into smaller bite-size portions. The halibut is so tender is just melts in your mouth.”

Although his dishwashing days are long behind him, Andrew Nelson is sure glad he didn’t get that first job as a server – he believes it would have cheated him from the passion of being in the kitchen.

“I love the fact that every day is different. There are days when everything runs smoothly and you have a great feeling of accomplishment. There are days when challenges come up and you need to think quickly to resolve them, making sure that customers aren’t aware of them. Guest satisfaction is a big part of what we do as chefs and to be able to come up with new recipes and different presentations to achieve that is so rewarding and keeps me coming into the kitchen every day. I absolutely love the hospitality industry.”

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