by Andrew Fleming
Chef Matthew Stowe, the season three winner of the reality TV series Top Chef Canada, will never forget his first day of work after graduating from New York’s famed Culinary Institute of America. But then neither will anyone else who was alive that day.
The former Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary student was about to board a train from Connecticut to Manhattan to start a five-month internship at renowned French restaurant Lutèce when police stopped him.
“The day I was supposed to start my internship was 9/11,” Stowe told the Leader. “I had no idea what was going on and they told me to go check a TV. I stared getting all these calls and texts from friends and family because they knew I was supposed to be starting that day.”
Stowe said he learned a lot during his intense stint working at Lutèce, which no less of an authority than Julia Child once declared the best restaurant in America, but it closed down shortly afterward due to anti-French sentiment that swept the nation when France chose not to invade Iraq alongside U.S. troops.
“It was an interesting experience because it was during that whole time of freedom fries and everything French was supposedly bad,” said Stowe. “There were a bunch of old school, super-fine French restaurants that closed down and it was kind of the last of them. In New York, where the rents are extremely high, regardless of your reputation, if you are slow for a couple of months, it can do a real number on your solvency.”
He hopes the first day of his opening his own restaurant in the Fraser Valley will be memorable for very different reasons. The 34-year-old married father of two will be bringing his chops in the kitchen to the Surrey-based Joseph Richard Group (JRG) as the growing food and beverage company’s new director of culinary operations and plans to partner with the company to open his own chef-driven concept in 2017.
Stowe was the oldest child in a family of eight and first fell in love with cooking while helping his mother out in the kitchen. After leaving the Big Apple, he moved back to B.C. to become the executive chef of Sonora Resort, where he played a major role in the remote island resort in the Discovery Passage earning a prestigious Relais & Châteaux designation. While there, he also co-wrote The Tastes of Sonora Resort cookbook, which highlighted his signature dishes at the high-end hotspot that used local ingredients. He said that while using fresh local foods and ingredients rather than importing them from the U.S. or overseas has become a big deal at top restaurants in Vancouver, there is a need for more of this kind of dining in the Fraser Valley.
“I didn’t know a lot about local products when I went away but when I came back, I realize it made sense to show off what we have to offer. Out in Cloverdale and the Fraser Valley where I grew up, there was a sense that we don’t know the ingredients in our own backyard. On the way to work on or on the way to school, you’d pass all these farms and I always thought it would be really cool to do a chef-driven restaurant out here and celebrate what we have out here.”
Stowe beat out fifteen other culinary artists, including fellow Metro Vancouver-based chefs Clement Chan (Torafuku) and Caity Hall (The Canyon), on the Food Network Canada series in 2013, earning a cool $100,000 and more than double that in prizes.
But he won’t be the only reality TV star plying his trade in a JRG restaurant, which already has MasterChef Canada’s season two winner David Jorge working in the S+L Kitchen & Bar in Langley.
JRG was created by childhood friends Andre “Joseph” Bourque and Ryan “Richard” Moreno, who first worked together as bartenders and launched their business in 2011. They now have more that 18 pubs, restaurants, night clubs and liquor stores in Western Canada, including Edith + Arthur Public House in Fleetwood, Cloverdale’s Henry Public House and Clover Crossing Liquor Store, Hemingway Public House in White Rock, and the eponymous Joseph Richard nightclub on downtown Vancouver’s Granville Street entertainment district.
“I’m excited to join the Joseph Richard Group with its growing range of pub and restaurant concepts,” said Stowe. “The variety of operations means there’s plenty of room for creativity, something I want us to excel at going forward.”
Moreno said the addition of Stowe will raise the bar at their various establishments, many of which have only recently opened their doors to the public. Four new ones are in the planning stage.
“Matthew’s experience, creativity and skill in the kitchen add depth and another dimension to our growing JRG team,” said Moreno. “When you see him cook, create a menu or run a kitchen, it’s easy to see why he won Top Chef Canada, and why we want him leading our culinary team across the company.”
Moreno added that while Stowe will work across all of JRG’s operations, his immediate focus will be on refining the menu and leading the team at all S+L Kitchen & Bar locations, which includes upcoming locations in Abbotsford and South Surrey.