My Place for Dinner chef Deb Diament on ethnic food and her own heritage

by Ellie Kim

Deb Diament feeds Centennial journalism students at interview class

“My neighbours will pay me to give them this for dinner parties. It’s porcini mushroom cream sauce.”

Toronto chef and trainer Debbie Diament showed the audience a small pan filled with her favourite sauce – and demonstrated her social skills by immediately serving it with crackers so  the  delicious  sauce doesn’t get cold.

Just back from a family vacation to Vancouver and L.A. the day before the interview at Centennial College journalism school, the local celebrity chef brought food to Centennial College’s Advanced Interviewing course.

Her passion for cooking was inseparable from people, because it first bloomed in people.

When she was growing up in Saskatoon, her father was teaching Jewish history at the University of Saskatchewan. The Reform rabbi’s friends were from different  multicultural backgrounds, and this gave his daughter rich memories of global cuisines. She credits the childhood memories with helping her develop recipes marrying different ethnic elements.

Later, she spent time in Israel, living in a kibbutz community, a many Jewish teenagers did in the 70’ and 80’s. She stayed there with her parents beginning in Grade 10.  One of the communal settlement’s jobs was to work in the large kitchen, where she discovered an interest in different Jewish recipes, and she began delving into different cookbooks.

“As a sociologically utopian experience it was fun, and I liked the cooking for people,” she said.

She thought she was going to live in Israel for the rest of her life, even while attending Hebrew University. Her family, however, moved back to North America; her parents to Florida after her father’s retirement, and she moved to Toronto. It led her to whole another chapter of life.

When Diament first began her cooking school, My Place for Dinner, in 1997,  she first ran children’s cooking classes.

“Getting clients was a challenge at the beginning,” she said. So she started showing her work to people and “forcing” her friends to come and eat what she made.

The school has grown larger over the years. It transformed her into a multiplayer: a recipe developer, chef, instructor, and a businesswoman.

“Now it’s a double career. The bigger the business, you end up doing more business than doing the creative side that I like. I really love teaching and talking,” she said.

She added that she didn’t like team teaching at first, starting the corporate classes just as a convenience. “I preferred just the intimacy of teaching small group of people,” she smiled.

But she appreciates her corporate classes more now, telling a story of a management person’s email from years ago as an example of how she has witnessed food warms up relationships between people.

“I see patterns. It’s pretty interesting that [food]’s the best thing to bond [people],” she emphasized. “It naturally happens with food, breaking down the barriers. Nothing is better because you’re working together, hands on.”

She further explained that food makes people cooperate by laughing and forming empathy with each other, as smoking does. She believed one is able to share activities like making food and smoking with his or her boss, transcending hierarchies.

She lastly advised the audience to be involved in the community and do what they can for others.

“My father was very community-oriented, that’s where I get that. He was very giving,” she said.