When Jiju Paul was a boy growing up on a family farm in India, his dad would wake him every day at 5 a.m.
His dad, a former military man, believed in precision. And getting work done. So both Paul and his brother would do chores around the farm.
“I was smart, I got my brother to do the heavy lifting,” he says.
Paul often milked the cows. He remembers the aroma of peppers, cardamom, cocoa and cinnamon that all grew on the farm. And it’s that passion for farm-fresh fare that drives him as he takes over as the executive chef at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald.
He says the changes he will make the menu will reflect a “bold and simple” philosophy. But, wait, isn’t that contradictory? It doesn’t have to be. The hotel won’t shy from classics, but looks for bold twists on those dishes, maybe some spices or ingredients you might not immediately expect.
And he wants to increase the use of Alberta’s produce.
“We want to use a lot of ingredients that are made in Edmonton, that are made in Alberta,” he says.
Paul was executive chef at the Edmonton Expo Centre for two years, and he understands that local producers have really stepped up in terms of what they can offer local chefs. He says that herbs, lettuce and microgreens don’t need to be brought across a border.
“Farm to fork, that’s a big part of my philosophy,” he says.
Paul has also worked in the United Arab Emirates, India and Vancouver. But, when he first came to Edmonton he knew that this was the place where his family would establish their roots. And that’s the plan — to remain in Edmonton.
“When my kids [two daughters] and my wife are happy, it makes a difference,” he says. “You spend a lot of time away from them, so when they are happy it makes things a lot easier. Even when I went away to Dubai, I knew I wanted to come back to Edmonton.”
Right now, with provincial health restrictions, the hotel is limited to offering meals through curbside pick-up service. Over Christmas, nearly 800 meals were made for pick-up over the holiday. The word is that, even if restrictions ease somewhat in the weeks to come, curbside pick-up will remain a service the hotel provides until we’re back to restaurants and hotels being back to full capacity. So, expect to see pick-up services for months to come, at least.