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You could say that it’s an example of one kind of heat being substituted for another: Darryl Haus came to professional cooking through a high school welding class. For that transition, the Kitchener-born restaurant entrepreneur has former Kitchener Collegiate Institute teacher Malcolm Hendren to thank.
“Hendren started a culinary program at KCI and convinced all the guys in the welding program to go take the cooking classes so it would run. I joined, and I just loved it. That was what turned me on to cooking which until then hadn’t been on my radar,” says Haus.
Fast forward many years to today, and Haus is now a full-time Conestoga College instructor and owner of Grand Truck Saloon and Grand Surf Lounge in downtown Kitchener. It makes for long days, he’s quick to acknowledge, but each role supports the other, he says. It’s a blend of theory and practice: just as playing a sport can make you a better coach, at the same time coaching makes you more reflective about how you play the sport.
Appointed as maître d’ at Conestoga College’s restaurant, Bloom at Conestoga, Haus takes on that classic role that oversees the dining room operations for the restaurant and sees to guest satisfaction. It was at those grand hotels (think of Canada’s railway hotels like Quebec City’s Château Frontenac) of another era that the maître d’hôtel would provide table-side service including boning whole cooked fish or flambéing a dish such as the Steak Diane of the 1950s.
While he may not be serving fish or flambéing tableside in this day and age, in the academic setting of a college restaurant, Haus is responsible for teaching and ensuring that culinary students understand and apply a high level of customer service at Bloom and providing feedback to them and grading their work.
His approach to teaching is asking the “why questions,” he says. “I’ve seen over time in the industry that we do certain things and don’t ask ourselves why. The way we answer is to say, ‘That’s just the way we do it.’ Here, we want to develop critical thinking skills to take into the workplace as well as understand why things are done they way they are.” Students working in Bloom can make mistakes in an educational environment that is the dining room and learn from it, he adds. “Many of them need to learn what a good service feels like and what a bad service feels like. Then they can head off into the industry with that understanding – and not make the mistakes.”
Red Seal chef
A certified chef under the Red Seal Program, Haus attended Humber College in the mid-2000s. He has worked at a Greek family-style restaurant and the former Times Square in Uptown Waterloo, as well as a stint at Peel Street Bistro in New Hamburg. “The highlight, though, was working at Peter Martin’s in downtown Kitchener (now Rich Uncle Tavern), but before that I had worked at the Concordia Club for about three years. That was fun, and there were some great people there to work with.”
The latter experience helped Haus learn about cooking in volume and preparing food for hundreds of people. It’s a sort of rite-of-passage as a cook learns the many aspects of the trade, he says. “We made everything by hand, too, including making sausages and things you don’t always get a chance to do. That was formative for me.”
Two things Haus misses most about the nuts and bolts of being a restaurant cook is butchery and making bread. But as well, the switch from working 16 hours a day in a restaurant to working in scholastic setting at Bloom has been a learning curve for Haus, who has only ever worked in a professional kitchen. “Here, listening to questions, answering questions, asking questions and engaging with students is difficult,” he says. “It’s was an adjustment for me, but I really like the new challenge.”
In a restaurant, the focus is on the customers solely, for both front-of-house and back-of-house, while in the setting of the educational restaurant, there’s an added layer of complexity because there is also the focus on the students as they learn. “It’s nice to look out into the dining room and see guests enjoying themselves, but the students are my focus too,” says Haus. (The spring prix fixe menu at Bloom is $19 and $24 for a two- and three-course lunch and $21 and $25 for a two- and three-course dinner. The menus are based on the curriculum taught in food and theory classes.)
Downtown Kitchener entrepreneur
Haus has worked in restaurants almost exclusively since he was 14. “Eventually, you run out of places that you want to work and you have to build a place of your own that you’d like to work at and a company that you’d like to work for. I feel like that’s what I’ve done in the last couple of years.” At one point during his career, he spent a few months in New Orleans – it sparked his desire to own a restaurant – and that’s what he did. He took over the wildly successful Hog Tails BBQ in Waterloo from Lancaster Smokehouse owner Chris Corrigan and ran it for about six years.
He put his own mark on Hog Tails with some Louisiana inspiration before selling it and opening the Grand Trunk Saloon in the former Marisol location on Ontario Street in downtown Kitchener about three years ago. “I was absorbing the culture,” he says of his brief sojourn in the southern United States. The “soul food and cocktails” restaurant that is Grand Trunk includes fried okra, frogs’ legs and jambalaya along with other southern U.S. dishes. His recently opened Grand Surf Lounge is an even more relaxed and casual cocktail bar done up tiki-style. “Sometimes you need to have fun jobs and go and have a good time and not take yourself so seriously,” says Haus with a laugh.
Find the substance over the style
When he looks at the industry around him, Haus has a suggestion for budding restaurant entrepreneurs: it has to do with substance winning out over style. “I want to see more cooks honing their craft in their own way and worrying less about aesthetics. It should be about the food,” he says. At the same time he’ll be working with Conestoga students as Bloom maitre d’ and sharing with them his years of industry experience, Haus will be simmering concepts in the back of his mind about his next food and beverage venture: it will likely be something that will be a response to changes he sees in the restaurant landscape.
“The next project that we do will be cool and completely different as things in the industry change and evolve,” says Haus. “There’s lots I still want to do with restaurants.”
23 Questions for Darryl Haus
WREats: Best thing you’ve ever eaten?
Darryl Haus: Pan-fried bear heart.
Other career you could have pursued?
Haus: I could have been Waterloo Region’s best dishwasher. But I fell for the money and the fame.
Beverage that once just about killed you?
Haus: Creek water.
Best footwear (for the kitchen or otherwise)?
Favourite “international” food in Waterloo Region?
What scares you in a kitchen?
Greatest failed recipe?
Haus: Every single time I try making dessert.
Something that gives you great pleasure?
Haus: Being outdoors.
Do you ride a bike?
A moment in your life you’d like to have back?
Haus: Zero regrets. Except for one time I tried that keto thing for, like, three hours.
Who would you like to cook for?
Haus: People I care about.
Go-to late-night snack?
Haus: Potato chips.
Best thing about being a chef?
Haus: Actually, I’m not a real chef anymore. I just wander around eating stuff that people who work much harder than me prepare. Shout out to Zac, Jared, Alex and Rich. The Real Heroes.
Most dumbest purchase you’ve ever made?
Haus: 1970 Winnebago Brave. Still: no regrets.
Haus: New Orleans.
TV chefs who annoy you?
Haus: I don’t have a TV. But I do miss “Wok with Yan.”