Q: What was your first industry job?
A: I walked into Michael Carlevale’s first 35-seat restaurant in Toronto in 1979 to be a waiter. Instead I was offered an apron and a dishwashing/assistant chef job, and within one year I was the chef. I got my red seal papers at Fenton’s and worked at all the expensive restaurants ending in “o” like Centro, Cibo, Prego, etc., and so was trained on the job that way.
Q: Who has been your mentor?
A: I heard a great expression once, “have many mentors.” I was in at the beginning with Shasha Navazesh of Shasha Bread, proselytizing to consumers about the wonders of bacteria culture sourdough. I also worked with Robert McMillan of Private Stock Sauces, in his early days when he morphed from a caterer to a manufacturer, as I have done. Then in January I met Greg Brooks from Pepperfire Hot Sauces in the CBC studios for Test the Nation. He has been instrumental in R&D and production and now we are working together on export opportunities for our Canadian products.
Q: What was it about food research that drew you into this area of the profession?
A: I guess as a kid I always read the ingredient list on the cereal boxes and wondered how you go about making it. In early 2008 my catering customers insisted that I bottle and sell a ginger-lychee dip. That led to the launch of Chef Jono Pomegranate Balsamic. I was lucky to utilize the fantastic resource of the Toronto Food Business Incubator at exactly the right moment, testing first at four stores, and then selling to 70 locations in just a few weeks’ growth.
Q: How would you describe your culinary philosophy?
A: Bold, simple flavours. Direct, very intense and opinionated, like me. The tricky part is in the balance, so that it includes and embraces people. Then you should know what to expect price wise. Commercial salad dressings are made with a few pennies of food cost; I realized my dressing would have to retail for $9. So far I have encountered zero push back on pricing as the ingredient list reads like a menu, with items such as Canadian organic honey and VQA Baco Noir vinegar.”
Q: What do you love most about your job?
A: Flavour profile combinations. In other words, food day-dreaming. I spent an afternoon with a highly experienced food scientist and we enthusiastically painted flavour concepts all day with our words. No actual food in front of us, but with our different backgrounds we could both imagine and taste exactly what we were creating.
Q: How would you describe your management style?
A: As an entrepreneur, you have to be as eager to learn as any apprentice cook is. Chefs know they always have to be learning, no matter how many years you’ve been at it. However, as a small business owner the missteps cost you dearly. Plenty of cooks have great recipes, but making a go in the food business means facing harsh realities.