He holds a passion for his profession and exudes diligence in all he does.
Pursuing perfection, building relations and taking the time to tend to details is what has defined the past decade of Dale Mackay’s culinary ascent to being crowned Food Network Canada’s inaugural Top Chef.
Never one to rest on either his laurels or laureates – including the distinction of being the youngest Grand Relais & Chateau regarded chef on the planet – Chef Mackay moves indefatigably forward.
With the opening of Ensemble earlier this year, he brings a lifetime of timeless lessons together and to the table. In the Vancouver kitchen, the young veteran is surrounded by a team he knows well and enjoys even more. The secret to great cooking is not only in the ingredients and technique alone; the key is in the company – on both sides of the house. More than credentials and experience, what he looks for primarily is a sense of purpose – something we all prosper from in the kitchen.
“Attitude, work ethic and talent go a long way in any kitchen. I never went to culinary school. I went to work with the best people I could find, and have looked for the same at Ensemble,” says Mackay, who embarked upon his own culinary journey by hopping a plane, landing in London and asking Gordon Ramsay for a job – without a red seal or cent to his name.
A further two years as Daniel Boulud’s brightest light at Lumiere and DB Bistro readied him for two of the greatest challenges of his career: tackling the Top Chef Canada competition and opening a restaurant of his own. The first he handled with now-celebrated aplomb, the second, Ensemble, is where Mackay brings it all together nightly.
Regardless, he continues to find fresh challenges. His latest project has been in development for long enough; shortly, Chef Mackay is releasing a line of six different self-same-branded grinders and blenders, spice mixes and oils aimed directly at the home cook.
“Top Chef brought some great exposure. Before the finale, we were doing well. But since? This is a gift,” he admits.
“The nice thing is the reach of the demographics. People of all ages tuned into the show. I have nine-year-olds coming up to me with so much food knowledge.”
As a single father with an interest in passing on his culinary know-how to a new generation, he takes an active role in the mentoring of the youngest cooks in any kitchen via a school program at Vancouver’s Templeton Secondary.
An undisputed freehand artist in his approach to the plate, aside from The Spice Bible, he has not read a cookbook in years. His inspirations are sourced daily and their manifestations are Ensemble’s strongest suit – aside from the impeccable presentation.
While free-flowing in the approach to any given dish, Mackay remains a firm believer in the finer aesthetics of the simplest dishes.
“It’s all about diligence. I’m a big believer in seeing where it goes, but I like food to be clean and elegant, especially the basics. Doing casual does not have to mean rustic sloppy,” Mackay says with a grin.
“I’m pretty anal about it, but who does not like beautiful?”