Sydney-born Chef Mike Ward is not afraid to present an honest picture of the food scene. The Toronto resident and food journalist epitomizes the marriage between food and media, writing for various outlets and creating food content in a career he calls a “mixed and unusual bag.”
After high school, Ward had an Eat Pray Love moment, traveling throughout southeast Asia and India and noting that all of his memories from this yearlong trip were “based on stuff that I put in my mouth.” Thus was born a lifelong love of food and Ward cooked in restaurants for the next 10 years. At that point, he moved into a career in media, editing commercials; directing and producing lifestyle series on travel, food and home renovations; and working on sitcoms. But the way to this man’s heart was certainly through his stomach and he longed for a way to get back to his real passion: food.
Ward, who serves as part-time Food Editor-in-Chief for Canadian Living magazine, explains that “a lot of people that are out there in the food space often approach it from a bit of an elitist standpoint and put cooking and the world of food on a pedestal.” He admires chefs like Anthony Bourdain who “speaks what is on his mind.” This kind of honesty is not always easy, especially for restaurant chefs who must advocate using only the best ingredients all the time to attract customers. Ward explains that “what a lot of people aren’t talking about it is that a chef is trained in the accounting of food – how to monetize food and develop a menu so that you’re generating revenue from it.” This is one of the reasons seasonal ingredients are a main staple on many menus; they maximize the restaurant’s food spending.
But chefs also understand “what the reality of food looks like to everybody.” Ward, for instance, says he cannot go to Whole Foods and spend fifty dollars on steaks every night. In his fridge, Ward always has condiments, wine, eggs and fresh herbs. Canned ingredients are also useful when cooking in a pinch. He suggests one easy side dish – a can of beans or chickpeas mixed with herbs and olive oil. Canned salmon or tuna mixed with herbs, beans, olive oil, salt and pepper is another great recipe – a salad that Ward estimates would cost $16.00 in an Italian restaurant and which you can replicate for about $3.00. And Ward has thrilling advice for the most amateur of cooks: “we’re intuitively born to know how to cook. What I mean by that is our taste buds tell us exactly what to do. If it’s not sweet, you add something sweet. If it’s dull, you add acidity.” To be sure, chefs’ training lets them “articulate or translate what our tongue is already telling us” but Ward advocates fearlessness when learning to cook as that’s how you push your boundaries and really learn. He calls his own cooking process surprisingly “unplanned and on the fly.” What becomes clear from talking to Ward is that food is a passion, it’s not fuel and it’s not something that must be stuffy and overly planned.
“People don’t come over for dinner for the food. They come over to your house for dinner to enjoy your company. I think the fondest memories we have in life are not the recollection of what we had for dinner it’s who you were with, it’s how late you stayed up, it’s the music you listened to.”
This warm, low-fuss attitude to hosting and creating is inspiring. Ward laughs “the more you feed them wine, the better the cooking tastes.” With that in mind, dinner’s still in the oven, would you like another glass of wine while we wait?
Photos courtesy of Mike Ward.