Food Services recently had a chance to speak with U of T’s Executive Chef and Director of Culinary Operations, Jaco Lokker. We asked him the top ten food-related questions that have been on our mind for some time. We asked him about his favourite dishes, tools and other food-related preferences. We’re so excited to put a face and name to the highly talented and creative team that brings such fresh and delicious food to our campus on an everyday basis and will be featuring other campus Chefs and Sous Chefs in upcoming editions of Food365.  

Q: Chef Jaco, what is your idea of a perfect meal?

“To me, the perfect meal is a combination of the food and the people and conversation. I really like to be able to interact with people and have good conversation. So the perfect meal for me is sitting at the table, of course with all the foods at their proper temperature. Our family gatherings actually have a lot of tapas type of foods, like pates, cheeses and breads. For me it’s very important to be socializing and having good conversations while you’re having a great meal.

Q: What is your favourite food memory?

“A number of years ago, I had a chance to go to France with a group of chefs, to do a food and walking tour. We traveled down to Lyon and went to Troisgros there. Of course Troisgros is one of the icons of food. The flavours that we tasted there, and even the raw ingredients were absolutely incredible. We had red mullet there with a Sauterne and the combination of those two things, well, the flavours literally just danced on my tongue! That experience was my most memorable food experience to this day.

Q: Do you have a special, secret ingredient that makes everything better?

“Salt. So many people do not use salt! Without salt, a lot of food is really flat. If you hit your food with a bit of salt, and I mean a good salt, like a high quality sea salt, the flavour of the food comes alive.”

Q: Who or what inspired your love of cooking?

“Definitely my grandmother. My mom’s mom had a pastry shop and she was always cooking something. She would also make these wonderful soups and pick the fresh herbs from her garden and add them in. I used to wonder what gave her soups their unique flavour and it turned out that she added lovage, which is like a flat, leafy parsley with almost a celery-like taste. It’s an awesome herb. A few years ago, I actually got a local farmer here in Ontario to cultivate some seedlings for me so that I could use it in my cooking. It’s got a simple, hearty flavour, a little kick, and that’s the kind of food my grandmother cooked-simple ingredients making great flavours. She had a real love for food and for the people she served it to.

Q: If you could have a dinner date with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?

Chef Auguste Escoffier. He was the founder of the classic French culinary method, and his food fundamentals, like his idea of mother sauces, and his kitchen organization philosophy forms the backbone of classic culinary method that are used in the best kitchens of the world up to the present day.

Q: If you could go to any country, live there for a few months and learn its cuisine, what would it be? 

“I’m not sure I would go to a specific country, but I’d want to focus on a particular style, like Mediterranean. I’m really starting to enjoy Mediterranean ingredients, again for their simplicity. Simple ingredients are my passion. It is said that French food is really just simple, regional food done well. For example some French classics like Coq Au Vin-that’s a tough piece of meat that has been tenderized in wine, a simple food done well. So I do like the Mediterranean culturally, and the variety of fresh herbs that it uses, like cilantro, mint. I like the freshness of it also. If you ask me in the winter, I might have a different, heartier answer!

Q: What is your idea of comfort food?

“My favourite comfort food is a Dutch dish called Stamppot. You combine mashed potatoes, fried pork belly, head lettuce and vinegar and make a mash of all the ingredients. It’s pretty much my favourite food ever.”

Q: What is your favourite cooking utensil? The one you cannot live without?

“Definitely my turning knife. I use it for everything, especially for peeling vegetables and shallots, and for cutting. It’s absolutely my favourite utensil.”

Q: What are the top five things that everyone should learn how to cook?

“I’d say an egg (boiled), rice, pasta, vegetables and properly cooked poultry.

Q: If you didn’t cook for a living, what would you do?

“If I wasn’t a Chef I would be a landscaper, definitely. I have always cooked; I started working in a restaurant when I was twelve years old. However, I always have had a passion for landscaping, and I thought that would be my career path and that’s what I was planning to do. I was on that path when I had a chance to take a trip to Lyon on the Chef’s trip that I described earlier and on that trip and I fell back in love with food.”