Not just turkey and stuffing: how Ian Dowsett learns about cooking, from grandmothers.

by Kirsten Parucha

19 November 2009

If indeed you are what you eat, then chef Ian Dowsett would be a festive turkey dinner prepared by an Asian grandmother.

Dowsett is a chef from Barrie, Ontario, who has had his taste palette awakened by the diverse food choices he experiences in Toronto.

For the sixth straight year, Dowsett has returned to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, held in the beginning of November, to showcase his culinary expertise in front of a live audience on the Entertaining At Home Stage. After one of his presentations, Thursday, Dowsett explained how the city has drastically altered his personal way of cooking and eating.

“I work with people from all over the world who share their food ideas,” Dowsett says. “I get influenced by them because I grew up in a very conservative, traditional, Canadian home where we didn’t have any exotic food whatsoever.”

Dowsett, 46, commutes to Ontario’s capital city to work. Compared to Barrie, Dowsett considers Toronto a landmark for multiculturalism especially in the food industry.

Listen to the interview with Ian Dowsett here.

“It’s hard not to want to work in Toronto because there’s such a diverse background,” Dowsett says. “You got the best hotels, the best restaurants, the best manufacturers – everything’s here so it’s easy to find work.”

Since graduating from the apprenticeship training program at George Brown College in 1984, Dowsett has been working in Toronto’s food industry. He is currently a meat vendor, a chef in the Culinary Studio at the George Brown Chef School and on the side, contributes to Sobeys’ food magazine, Inspired.

Since Dowsett grew up in a household that lacked a variety of flavours and traditions from around the globe, he considers it highly important when cooking to benefit from the backgrounds of the people he works with.  Dowsett goes home with them in order to gain the first-hand experience of cultural home-cooking. Dowsett particularly prefers the flavours of Asia for their spice-filled dishes.

“I love heat. I’m very much into Asian and South Asian food; nice and spicy, really creative ingredients,” Dowsett says. “ I like to go to people [for inspiration], especially people’s moms or grandmothers. Grandmothers are always the best cooks. “

Dowsett’s current apprentice at George Brown, Alexandra Gaponovitch, 23, has acquired Dowsett’s mindset of cooking.

“I definitely want to be more creative and do interesting recipes. I want to explore; I don’t want to do the traditional cooking,” says the graduate from George Brown’s culinary management program.

It was a shock to hear that both chefs are looking forward to the traditional, festive turkey dinner with their families for this upcoming holiday season.

“This year I’m going to make a turkey but a healthier version,” Gaponovitch explains. “Something that’s more interesting with a twist, like a squash stuffing.”

Dowsett admits he isn’t ready to abandon his own traditions altogether.

“I like big dinners,” Dowsett says. “I like the big picture – the whole turkey dinner with the gravy, the dressing and a couple of vegetables. That’s what I like to concentrate on.”