Graham MacLennan grew up in Thunder Bay, studied English and History at Queen's University in Kingston and came to Vancouver to attend law school at UBC. Now 41, Graham has used his time to practice law, play the bagpipes with Juno award-winning local band The Paperboys, and chop a lot of vegetables in some of the city’s best kitchens. An avid foodie and aspiring chef, MacLennan has staged – volunteered in kitchens to gain experience – for the last four years. He’s taken his love of cooking and created a unique fundraiser that sees enthusiastic amateurs join culinary professionals to produce one memorable menu for one night in one place in support of Imagine1Day. Now in its third year, dish’ED has spread to other cities.
Q: How did you develop your interest in food?
A: My mother involved me in cooking from the time I was able to see onto the kitchen counter. Since then it's been something I've loved to do.
Q: Law by day, cooking at night, is it true you volunteer your time at John Bishop’s kitchen?
A: I practiced law – civil and administrative litigation – for 12 years and changed early this year into legal recruiting. Both are great but cooking is definitely my passion outside the office. And yes, I'm lucky to volunteer in the fantastic kitchen at Bishop's.
Q: How long have you been doing this?
A: At Bishop's, I've been a stagiaire – someone volunteering to gain experience - for the last four years. Most cooks use a stage position to move into a full-time job, but I've been in the entry-level role happily for years. I do it because I get to work with very talented people and incredible food. I've also been lucky to volunteer at Fuel Restaurant and, on two trips to Las Vegas, at the restaurant Picasso in the Bellagio Hotel.
Q: The biggest thing you’ve discovered working in some of the city’s finest kitchens?
A: That there is a whole lot more for me to learn.
Q: Any cooking tips you've picked up?
A: Thorough preparation is absolutely critical. Even cooking at home, you can get so many dishes prepped to the verge of readiness so they take very little time to finish when you're ready to serve. When searing, I now use a hot, hot pan – even for fish – and resist the urge to move the food around as soon as I've put it in.
Q: Tell us about dish’ED
A: dish'ED is a series of fundraising dinners for the Canadian charity Imagine1Day. On Monday, September 17th, we're holding the third Vancouver dish'ED at Wildebeest in Gastown.
Q: What makes dish’ED unique?
A: I call dish'ED a “pro-am” event because every year we put together a team of industry professionals and enthusiastic amateurs to create one menu, on one amazing night, in one place - something that is never seen again. Once again, I've got incredible support from chef friends on the kitchen team, and they'll be working alongside students from the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts plus at least one enthusiastic amateur.
Q: Understand dish’ED has spread to other cities?
A: People who have been involved with or attended dish'ED in Vancouver are excited to bring the concept to other places. So far our biggest success has been in Calgary where my fellow Imagine1Day supporter Shakeh Dayal puts on an amazing dish'ED event in her home every year. We also have a key dish'ED alumni in California, so stay tuned...
Q: Who will be helping you in the kitchen this year at dish’ED?
A: My friend Andrea Carlson who was the Executive Chef at Bishop's for years is on the dish'ED team again. Andrea gave me my first shot at volunteering in a fine dining kitchen, and I can't wait to work with her again on September 17th. We'll be cooking with Jacob Deacon-Evans, another incredibly talented chef who was formerly Sous Chef at Bishop's and now cooks at Wildebeest. Plus our culinary students, and maybe a surprise cook or two…
Q: Where will the proceeds go?
A: Last year, we raised over $3,000, and my goal is to improve that number this year. The money will all go to fund the cost of a primary school project for a remote rural community in Ethiopia's Oromiya region.
Q: What is Imagine1Day?
A: Imagine1Day is a charity that does incredible work with Ethiopian communities to educate the next generation of leaders in that country. Instead of simply seeking donations, Imagine1Day encourages its supporters to undertake “Creatributions”, to create an event or an idea around something they are passionate about. For me, it’s cooking and dish'ED. It's fantastic that dish'ED supports Imagine1Day, but I also do it simply because I love cooking and the teambuilding involved. Imagine1Day has made a conscious shift away from a “donor-gives-to-recipient” model of charity. Instead, Imagine1Day wants its supporters to be enriched directly by their giving.
Q: Biggest success?
A: The dish'ED events we did in 2010 and 2011.
Q: Biggest setback?
A: Not building on the momentum at the time to spread the concept.
Q: What does success look like?
A: dish'ED becomes a known event on Vancouver's social calendar. It spreads to more cities, has more people talking about it, and raises the profile of Imagine1Day.
Q: If you could cook for anyone, who would it be?
Q: Who would you sit down and have dinner with?
A: Graham Kerr and Julia Child, in the 1970s.
Q: What’s your signature course?
A: Gnocchi. I had what I think are the perfect gnocchi in Italy when I was eighteen. I've been striving to create that lightness and flavour ever since.
Q: Best life lesson you’ve learned?
A: Create your own opportunities.
Q: One lesson you’d love to give others?
A: Don't wait to act.
Q: One thing you could change about the world?
A: Communities lacking opportunity
Q: One thing you hate most about the world?
Q: One thing you wish Vancouverites would stop whining about?
Q: Three words to live by
A: Run, Cook, Learn
Q: Most thankful for
A: Family, friends
Q: A talent you possess that many are not aware of?
A: I can juggle.
Q: One thing you can’t live without?
Q: Last $20 bucks to your name, how would you spend it?
A: Farmers market.
Q: Best place for coffee?
A: JJ Bean at 14th and Main. I go there often with a friend and his six-year old son who loves the cookies.
Q: Best bar/lounge?
A: The Cascade.
Q: Favorite restaurant?
A: If you haven't been to Harvest Community Foods on Union for brunch, go.
Q: Biggest indulgence?
Q: Last book read?
A: Born to Run
Q: All-time favorite movie?
A: Highlander. Yep.
Q: Favourite pastime?
A: Cooking, running, playing the bagpipes
Q: Favourite sports team?
Q: Last place traveled?
A: Thunder Bay, my hometown.
Q: Best thing about this city?
A: Whatever you want – food, music, skiing, running, festivals – is here.
Q: Worst thing about this city?
A: The insecurity that other places do some things better.
Q: Your favourite neighbourhood?
A: Mount Pleasant
Q: What would the perfect day in Vancouver look like for you?
A: Long slow run in the early morning, farmers market in the mid-morning followed by an afternoon of cooking and then dinner with friends.
Q: Community event, festival or gala that you look forward to every year
A: From Farms to Forks, the gala dinner every October that supports Growing Chefs, another favourite non-profit of mine.
Q: The one place you take out-of-town visitors to show off our city?
A: Walking the seawall between the Olympic Village and Granville Island.
Q: Who inspires you?
A: My Mum. She's 76 and just left for two weeks of hiking in Ireland.
Q: Who bugs you?
A: At the moment, it’s me. I'm taking far too long to answer this question.
Q: Local person you most admire?
A: Too many to list…I've met many of them running and volunteering.
Q: Most memorable celebrity encounter?
A: Joe Montana in Rome. Same trip as the gnocchi experience.
Q: If you could be any celebrity?
A: One who could still enjoy anonymity, so probably the guitarist Buckethead.