Celebrity Chef Ezra Title on His TV Show and Favouite Jewish Dish
Shalom Life chats with the “Healthy Gourmet” co-host about local food and why he doesn’t want to open his own restaurant.
Food lovers who’ve visited Toronto’s Evergreen Brick Works will probably recognize Ezra Title from there. The Toronto-based chef loves to interact with customers and local farmers at the trendy environmental centre. But if you watch The Oprah Winfrey Network, you probably know him best as the co-host of OWN’s Healthy Gourmet.
Title chats with Shalom Life about his company, his TV show and his favourite traditional Jewish dish.
You studied at McGill and then got a Business degree. What sparked your transition from business to the food industry?
I completed my MBA after I had been cooking for four years in San Francisco and before I moved to New York to cook. I'm a firm believer in education. I knew that spending a year away from cooking and completing a business degree would only benefit me in the future. I also appreciated the time I spent away from cooking and was able to focus on topics that I am deeply passionate about.
You started off working in well-known restaurants in food hubs like San Francisco and New York. What’s the best advice a fellow chef has given you?
My main mentor is Chef Traci Des Jardins. I love her because she not only has the best palate of any chef I have encountered, she also understands me. I'm not exactly a typical chef who embraces the odd hours and sometimes frenetic lifestyle that comes with the job. When I was struggling with some of these challenges, Traci told me to take care of my personal life and everything else would fall into place. She was right. I have been married for 7 years and I have 2 beautiful children that I adore spending time with. I don't work in restaurants anymore because I just wouldn't be able to sustain a family life.
How did Chezvous Dining come about?
When my wife and I came home from New York, we were a little shell-shocked. The restaurant work culture in New York is extremely intense and it didn't work for us. I accepted a job managing an organic butcher shop (my first day job) and we settled in to Toronto. After a year and a half I had a real urge to cook again but I knew I couldn't go back to restaurants. I started Chezvous Dining so that I could cook my own food and be my own boss. I wanted to control my hours and have the flexibility that is required when children enter the picture. It's been 6 years and I'm really proud of what I have built. I still work a lot of evenings and weekends but it doesn't compare to the lifestyle of a restaurant chef.
How has the company evolved since you started it?
I started Chezvous Dining catering mainly for small dinner parties. 2 to 15 people. The dinners were multi-course extravaganzas and I would cook, serve, pour wine, and wash dishes all by myself. Over time, I evolved into a full caterer cooking for much larger groups and incorporating cocktail parties, weddings, buffets and anything else my clients requested into the service offering. But even with the growth I am proud to say that I have managed to keep the quality of my food at the same level so 150 people are able to enjoy the same caliber of food and service that two people would have experienced six years ago.
A lot of celebrity chefs have opened up restaurants in Toronto recently. Is that something you’d consider?
At this stage in my life I really don't have any interest in opening a restaurant. The commitment that is required is not possible for me right now and I'm really have having the flexibility and balance in my life.
You’ve been involved with the Evergreen Brick Works for a while. How important is local produce for you as a chef?
Local produce is 50 per cent of the equation. I love the relationships I have with all of the local producers at the market and I feel privileged to cook with their products. But I feel an enormous responsibility to treat those ingredients with respect so the other half of the equation is proper technique. I feel like I received incredible training from the talented chefs I trained under. The farmers' ingredients are in safe hands.
Do you have a favourite traditional Jewish dish?
I cook a lot of short ribs for my clients. When I'm cooking for Jewish clients I will introduce them as "flunken". I have even cooked them in Manischewitz wine and they turned out beautifully. I love incorporating my heritage into my cooking. I make really good kishka and I went through a period of using a lot of "greben". And I learned that you don't have to be Jewish to appreciate fried chicken skin.
What’s the best part of doing your TV show, Healthy Gourmet?
I am someone who gets bored very easily so I like to do lots of different things. Healthy Gourmet gave me another focus that was so enjoyable. I love collaborating on projects with people who have different skill sets. Working with a crew of television professionals was an incredible opportunity to witness and be a part of an entirely different industry.
What other TV chef would you love to work with?
I think Anthony Bourdain would be fun to hang out with. I don't think I need to cook with him but I think an evening of eating, drinking and ranting would be pretty memorable. I like people with strong opinions because I tend to be more diplomatic. Being in the presence of strong willed people allows me to relax and state my true feelings.
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
I have gotten into some restaurant consulting which I'm having a lot of fun doing. So I will continue catering and cooking at the Brickworks and I will also look for more opportunities in consulting. I also look forward to tending to my vegetable garden and cooking for my friends and family as often as time permits. My three year old son loves being in the kitchen with me and it's my greatest joy.