Everyone wants a happy ending. Although most storybooks share the same conclusion – prince saves princess from doom, cue happily ever after – the trick to living a fairy tale in real life is understanding what that looks like for you. Chef Chad Stewart had no idea what he wanted to do with the rest of his life the day he sat down with his high school guidance counselor at the age of 17. But one simple question changed all of that and put into motion his happily ever after.
“She asked me, ‘Do you like to cook?’ And I said yeah, I love it. I cook for my friends all the time,” says Stewart. That early love of cooking and that one simple question were all it took to put Stewart on track to become one of London’s most in-demand chefs.
After his first year in the Culinary Management program at Fanshawe College (he would graduate with three diplomas two years later), Stewart was chosen to work under Executive Chef David Rosen at the London Hunt Club during an LPGA Tour stop. “I remember it being so challenging,” Stewart recalls. “It was my first real cooking job, and it was such a busy place, and I was responsible for so much.” After the tournament concluded, Chef Rosen was so impressed that he hired Stewart as a line cook.
Following graduation, Stewart got a call from his sister who was working at a restaurant in Vancouver. The city was preparing for the 2010 Winter Olympics, and her restaurant was in the process of transforming into an all-access dining experience in anticipation of the thousands of people that would need to eat. They needed more staff, which was an opportunity Stewart couldn’t pass up – even though it meant moving across the country. “I remember sometimes doing 15-hour days. We had a trailer in the parking lot so if you needed to take a quick snooze in between your shifts, you could. I know I used it a couple of times.”
Stewart was living the dream of a young chef: cooking his heart out in the kitchen for guests including Wayne Gretzky and Sarah McLaughlin – not to mention some of the top athletes and coaches in the world. When the Olympics were over, he was kept on staff but decided to take a chance on a restaurant just down the street from his apartment. “I wanted to pursue something a little more refined. So, I stopped and looked at their menu, and immediately knew this was a place I wanted to work.” Rain City Grill was the first farm-to-table restaurant in Vancouver and was known for their 100-mile ingredient radius. Stewart got hired as a line cook and was working in a kitchen that sourced exclusively local ingredients. “That’s where I really learned to cook. I worked with some very experienced chefs. I’d work a minimum of 12 hours, then go home and look up recipes and go back to work the next day two hours early to try them out. That was my life at that time.”
Stewart knew that as a chef, he was doing what he was meant to do. However, the pull to come home to Ontario was too strong after realizing how much he missed his family and friends. “I wanted to share what I’d learned, what I’d done, and how I’d grown in that short time, but I wanted to do it back home,” says Stewart. At that time, Chef Wade Fitzgerald was running the kitchen at Garlics of London, but had also worked with Stewart during his time at the Hunt Club. “Wade knew me but hadn’t seen me in a couple of years, so he gave me a few tasks, and I hammered them out. He said, ‘Okay, you start tomorrow.’”
Stewart would spend the next five and a half years at Garlics. “I poured everything I had into that place. We had honeybees on the roof and a beekeeper who took care of them so we could harvest our own honey. In 2013, I was promoted to Executive Chef and continued to run the kitchen for another two years but also ended up doing a lot with the honeybees.” The owner, Edo Pehilj, mentored Stewart to the point where he attributes much of his knowledge and success to his time there. So, it was a difficult decision when Stewart did the unthinkable and moved on. “After all my years at Garlics and everything we did together, all the back to back Christmases and New Years, special events, Londonlicious … I was running dry. So, I gave my six weeks notice – even though I had no idea what I was going to do afterwards.”
Except he sort of did.
Chef Chad confided in his mentor an idea for a private chef business that would use only locally sourced, organic ingredients.
He knew it would be an uphill battle but was so passionate about the idea that he had to try. In May of 2015, Stewart finished at Garlics and moved right into building his business. By July, he registered his business and officially became known as Field to Fork Catering by Chef Chad Stewart. That September, he also applied and was hired for a technician position with Fanshawe College’s Culinary Management program. By mid-fall, Chef Chad was booked to cook almost every weekend with Field to Fork. And he hasn’t looked back since.
“My very first dinner party was the result of a fundraiser; dinner cooked by me was the top prize. So, I went in and cooked for the client in their home using ingredients sourced locally. They were so blown away that they asked if they could do another dinner party with me. Every dinner I’ve done has been on referral. I’ll have at least one client at one dinner that leads to another dinner then to another and another.”
Shopping for ingredients and creating recipes and menus for his clients has become somewhat of an art for Stewart, who frequents the Covent Garden Market and their Farmer’s Market on Thursdays and Sundays. “I base my menus off what the farmer has at that time of year. If I can’t get something that week from my guys, then it’s not on the menu. When I pick up ingredients, I don’t know what I’m going to do with them yet. It inspires me to become a better cook. It’s really fun.”
This past spring, Stewart wanted to learn more about honeybees, farming, and agriculture so he began visiting the farms he sources from, learning all he could from the farmers. “I have great relationships with my farmers. I’m networking with other restaurants to get them to source ingredients from local farmers. But I’m also explaining to each dinner party how valuable these farmers are to us and how hard they work. I have a lot of thanks for all the hard-working farmers out there.” He also teamed up with Arcane, a digital marketing company and frequent client, to put a honeybee apiary on the roof of their building. He now has his own brand of honey with help from Munro Honey in Alvinston.
When asked about what inspires him – other than his wife and newborn son – Chef Chad references the greatness of the already great. “Chef Allan Pissard is really opening my eyes and inspiring me right now. He has changed my game over the last couple of months. It’s so great to see these chefs who are at the top of their game but still using local farmers and thinking about sustainability. Those are the chefs that inspire me to be better.”
As for what the future holds for this young chef, anything is possible – but not necessarily everything. “I’ve learned to say no. I’m focusing on my dinner parties and cooking classes, things I feel comfortable with and that the clients are going to get the best experience from. I’m still part time at Fanshawe. And I’m liking food photography right now. But if I were to start a restaurant, it would be something London hasn’t seen before. I am going to build things up first, the business and me as a person. Then we’ll see.”
It seems that Chef Chad Stewart truly understands – and is living – his very own happily ever after.
Written by Jess Campbell