For David Jorge, the past two years have been a journey into the culinary spotlight that has brought him full circle – back to the table with food, family and friends, albeit on a far larger stage than he had ever previously considered.
It was a lifelong appreciation of that trinity that carried Jorge into the homes and hearts of countless Canadians in his successful bid to become CTV’s season 2 MasterChef.
As the concrete contractor and father of two from Surrey admits, were it not for the encouragement of his sister-in-law, what followed might never have happened. While his passion for cooking had always gone beyond the norm, it was not until they watched the entreaty of MasterChef Canada’s first season together that it struck him: “I can do this.”
Actually, he had been doing it all of his life.
Growing up in a Portuguese family, and living on a five-acre hobby farm in Surrey with his wife and two sons – along with an assortment of steer, poultry and pigs – for Jorge food and family have always been mainstays. That he takes his home hobbyism further than most is a well-grounded given.
Adding a few million fans and friends to the mix has only widened his smile – and appreciation for the lifetime of lessons that preceded his victory and joining the Joseph Richard Group as Corporate Chef to bring his vision to the design and dishes behind their latest project, S+L Kitchen and Bar Langley (located at 8399 200 St.).
That his touch is noticeable in both the finer points of the menu – as well as the 170-seat room’s concrete flourishes – is only fitting; the Concrete Cook is still very much a part of the family business, Avante Concrete, started by his father in 1974.
The most perfect flourish of all, however, lies in synergy between JRG’s CEO Ryan Moreno and Jorge himself – the two have known each other for more than 20 years, from their high school days in Surrey, and could not be more mutually happy with what they have created.
“I had always wanted to be in the industry, but was not sure I wanted to do it alone, so when Ryan and I got to talking it was an obvious go,” explains Jorge. “He’s the most passionate, knowledgeable guy around, and always finds the best, so we have had a lot of fun with the new concept at S+L Langley.”
As for how that reflects on the menu? “It all starts with what I want to eat,” says Jorge with a grin. “And that ties back to years of great meals and food-travel experiences.”
As an operative philosophy, it blended well with the thinking behind the JRG Group and its 17 properties from the start.
“We started with pubs, but the focus for us has always been about creating places we like to go. Back when we started, there was no place to go quite like that, so the vision has always been experience-based,” says Moreno. “Having David on board as our corporate chef lets us move that vision-based experience forward even more.”
A big part of that is sharing the dishes that launched JRG’s Jorge into the stratosphere of home cooks in 2015 – ranging from the miso-mayo dressed sablefish that started it all, together with a side of ‘bourbon bacon cream corn’, to Jorge’s championship plate of fried ‘master chicken’. Canada’s MasterChef has definitively come home, but the experience and vision is even broader at S+L Langley.
From Osso Bucco and bone marrow to Wagyu steaks and patties to porchetta sandwiches and ‘The Frank’– a signature lobster and prawn patty served on a brioche bun with smoked bacon – the menu is an extended expression of Jorge’s own culinary experiences. That the dishes look as good as they taste should come as no surprise to anyone who witnessed the plates he created under full pressure and scrutiny. Now that the pressure is off, Jorge welcomes the scrutiny.
“We all eat with our eyes. It always has to have that balance of taste and visual appeal. Going into the competition, I really wanted to represent B.C. All the attention was weird at first, because I had been inspired by so many others,” shares Jorge, whose dishes did the very same for others – whether celebrating his father’s love of sablefish as a sport fisherman, or turning rabbit about three ways for the casting directors in emulation of local nose-to-tail talent such as chef Robert Belcham. “For me, food has always been fun and a way of making memories.”
Looking to spring, and a year of fresh things with the opening of S+L Kitchen and Bar in January, Jorge has never been busier or happier, whether at home on the farm or perfectly at home with old friends and family at work – be it in concrete or one of 17 kitchens.
While his brother runs the concrete business now, and the newly minted corporate chef/MasterChef handles the administration, bear in mind it is a trade Jorge has been mastering since he was 17 years old. Over the years, he has come to appreciate how close the worlds of concrete and cuisine have become for him.
“Timing is everything in both cases and both are passion-governed processes,” he explains. “You are dealing with perishable products so you only have one chance. That’s what makes both art forms more than a science. In terms of final product though, that is where the satisfaction of great service comes home. Walking through the door of something we built or to a table where we just plated, it’s the same great feeling when you love what you do.”
For all the changes, bright lights and well-earned celebrity, Jorge is unchanged at heart, and all the more inspiring for it.
“It is honestly surreal. To make something like MasterChef a goal, to make it happen, and then have all of this open up? It’s humbling and surreal.”