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Quick Bites

James Walt, Head Chef, Araxi



Text and photo by Maureen Provencal

PQ: Why did you go to Italy?

JW: For the experience. I always wanted to live in Italy and it was hard to get a visa, so this made it all possible.

PQ: Who were you working for there?

JW: Robert Fowler, the Canadian ambassador in Rome (formerly ambassador to the U.N.) He wanted a Canadian chef. It is the only place doing Canadian cuisine. All the others do Italian.

PQ: What sort of facility did you work in?

JW: Out of the ambassador’s residence. The residence sits on 7 acres in the middle of Rome. It is one of the nicest residences in the world.

PQ: How did you get this position?

JW: Through a friend at Blue Water. He was a Sous Chef and had met the ambassador while working in Ontario. He did the job for one year and passed it along to me. I did a test run for the Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson (at the time), and they loved it.

PQ: Who did you serve primarily?

JW: The ambassador and his wife as well as all dignitaries who came through the embassy. I served from 8 to 200 people at functions.

PQ: Who were some of the dignitaries that came through?

JW: Two Governor Generals, Kofi Annan, all the Canadian ministers who came through and all the ambassadors of the Commonwealth met once a month there.

PQ: Were there any special events?

JW: The Governor General visits were very big.

PQ: How is an Italian kitchen run in comparison to a Canadian kitchen?

JW: It’s different in the sense that things are a bit more loose; “ a la minute ”. There is less pre-meal prep.

PQ: How does European cuisine compare to Canadian cuisine?

JW: It’s very, very regional. Menus are very seasonal and ingredient driven.

PQ: Are the foods spiced differently? What are the differences in ingredients?

JW: Foods are always specifically spiced: set dishes. Certain dishes are served on certain days.

PQ: What is the most important principle in cooking?

JW: Ingredients: knowing ingredients. Product knowledge: know what you are using and why. Cook seasonally.

PQ: What sort of cuisine did you serve?

JW: Similar to what we do at Araxi’s. I couldn’t get all the products there but I did what I could. I brought in Canadian ingredients whenever possible.

PQ: Did you have any problems getting your supplies for your recipes?

JW: Certain things, yes. For example baking powder, corn syrup, maple syrup and Asian supplies.