Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Celebrity Chef Jonathan Collins: Fulfilling A Lifelong Dream

     “When asked, it's easier for my wife Cynthia and I to just sum it up by saying we've cooked for Prime Ministers, Presidents, Billionaires, Celebrities and Royalty”. This spectacular 'career sum up' is that of Celebrity Chef Jonathan Collins, who I recently had the pleasure of interviewing. The Presidents he mentions casually include Felipe Calderón, the recently incumbent president of Mexico (now former) and the newly re-elected Barack Obama of the United States. The Royalty? The Queen's son and daughter-in-law; Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. Billionaires include the family of Galen Weston and The Honourable Hilary Weston in their Florida estate. Celebrities include actor D. David Morin and CBC's Stephen (Sabados) and Chris (Hyndman). Leaving the official residence of 24 Sussex Drive, where Johnathan Collins worked as chef for our own Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his family.
     Only about eight years ago, Johnathan and his wife had enough of their corporate lifestyle, and decided to start the challenge of fulfilling their long time dream- owning a restaurant. But they wanted the best training around to help them achieve this dream, so Jonathan remembered the training of the famous American chef Julia Child (inspiration for the 2009 film Julie & Julia) and together they applied and attend Le Cordon Bleu, Ottawa Culinary Arts Institute. After a year, they were offered a job in the French Alps, and throughout their early years, cooking sabbaticals were taken in France, Italy and Spain. School also provided him the chance, as mentioned earlier, to work under Chef Oliver Bartsch at the official residence of Stephen Harper. Eventually being able to take over when Oliver was away, then receiving a job himself. This seems the dream job for anyone, well, at least me. But imagine how hard this would be when everywhere you went on this early fast paced career journey you had with you three children. Which is also part of the experience of Jonathan and Cynthia, with them were sons Decota, and Bailey and daughter Blair (later to join the Collins family were now 5 year old Grace and 18-month-old Blake). Jonathan explained how this may not be a good fit for others, but he was and always will be part of a package deal that includes his family. So when he worked for Harper, the family was there too. When he went to Florida to work for the Weston's they all came down as well. Not to mention when he cooked for Charles and Camilla, while he was working in the residence; the family lived in the house next door.
     Having a job where he could work with his family was as Jonathan says, a dream come true. This dream was realized in two instances. First was with the family owned restaurant Shutters on the Beach in Port Bruce, Ontario where they all took a part. The second came from when he was invited to cook on CBC's Stephen and Chris. As soon as he stepped of stage and out of the cameras reach he felt an adrenalin like never before. He wanted a show where he could cook, and be with his family. When reaching out to producers, all they wanted from him was a 'Jersey Shore drama' according to Jonathan. But these run your life, and ruin your family. So he started his own production company, Convergence Pictures. The aim, as the name implies is the idea to converge the power of media with the ability to cook for large numbers of people. Convergence Pictures produces it's own show, shown on Rogers Television called “Hungry For Family” staring the whole Collins Family from Jonathan all the way down to 18-month-old Blake. The show, which can also be seen full on YouTube, follows the family as they travel around Southwestern Ontario exploring the adventures it offers (wine tasting, zip-lining not to mention bee beards!) while they take turns cooking; a new twist on the normal cooking show. But Southwestern Ontario isn't where the family wants to draw the line. Actor, Director and Producer, not to mention a friend of Jonathan's, D. David Morin is currently working in South Africa, where the contrast between some of the families there could not be more extreme in comparison to the Collins family. This contrast is what Jonathan wants to explore, with his dream of taking the show Hungry for Family to the international community in future seasons. Traditional foods from all around the world, stories and histories told by families from their homes in nations abroad, not to mention exploring the adventures and experiences faced in the those countries. As always, this would be (and is) a whole family dream and project.
     From a recent event, comes the show's first foray into the international community. The destruction of Hurricane Sandy, in New York City. Leaving only two weeks after our interview, the whole family will be going on a six day prospecting trip. While here they will clean up the streets, remove rubble, shovel debris, spread photos to help find lost ones, not to mention cook for the other helpers and those who are still living in shelters or on the streets- funded out of their own pocket and donation only. These experiences which will be both streamed live and also made into a one hour special for the show don't want to focus on the bad, which we see every day. They want everyone to see the compelling, true stories of the good everyone is doing for New York, and the good New York is doing for itself. The goal being 'a grassroots Canadian response.'
     The ability to do this, as a Canadian, is how Jonathan wanted me to end. By saying these few final ideas we talked about during our interview. Whether you're attending Laurier as a student from this province, country, or international; there are a lot of amazing opportunities granted to you every day. So go for your dream, if it's cooking for royalty, making a television show or partaking in international aid, because as Chef Jonathan Collins says; “Although there may be opposition, be willing to stand in it. As much as this may sound cliche, stand up for your dreams. It's always worth it.” 

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