On a Tuesday afternoon at two o'clock, the dining room…
“We used to go to the Atwater Market quite often,” Grant Holdbrook says of the 85-year-old Montreal icon.
It seems that the Montreal-born chef at TWH Social in the historic Walper Hotel has had a long interest in the professional side of food.
From a young age, Holdbrook, whose family left Montreal when he was 10, seems to have gotten a good sense of the food culture of the St. Henri and Little Burgundy neighbourhoods, where the great Joe Beef and Liverpool House restaurants reside.
“Food was always something I loved, but it wasn’t until about the beginning of high school that I thought of food more seriously,” Holdbrook says. “I started off in Skills Canada competitions and did quite well, but I still didn’t know. I liked the rush of cooking but was a bit reluctant. Once I developed more skills and started to understand flavour profiles and how ingredients work together, that gave me a new appreciation.”
Holdbrook, 24, arrived in Waterloo Region in 2010 and eventually attended Kitchener’s Resurrection High School. There, he loved football and culinary; he played defensive back and started cooking in restaurant kitchens when he was 15-years-old.
“Cooking isn’t easy. You have to be devoted and have a passion for cooking. If you don’t, you’re not going to be able to put in those 10 or 12 hour days and get something satisfying out of it.”
— Grant Holdbrook
He worked under Terry Salmond when he was at the Walper Hotel a few years ago. “I learned a lot here with Terry. I have to stress that. But also Tyrone Miller at Resurrection too. He coached me through Skills Canada along with another instructor and former chef at the Easy Pour Wine Bar Tekin Guroluk.”
He also spent some time at Langdon Hall in Jason Bangerter’s kitchen and says he learned a lot there. “That was a definite learning curve. And I had to learn it quick,” he says. “You have to be efficient and move fast while making beautiful food. I also learned a lot about where the food came from and respecting the ingredients.”
Holdbrook got some additional experience in the field when Salmond and the Walper transformed the Rum Runner Pub into its current iteration, TWH Social. “We went through various menus and that kind of got me thinking about doing the apprenticeship, so I dove right into school.”
Heading into Conestoga College in 2012, he says the experience brought him fundamentals and a honing of his existing knowledge of the industry. “I really learned a lot things but especially in pastry and baking — areas I didn’t have a lot of training in. But also on the admin side and food costing. It think that is really important and hard to learn in the industry. It’s a whole other beast you have to know. I really learned about the logistics of food at Conestoga. Overall, I very much enjoyed my time there.”
Holdbrook says that students new to cooking school and the kitchen need focus and a good work ethic. “Cooking isn’t easy,” he says. “You have to be devoted and have a passion for cooking. If you don’t, you’re not going to be able to put in those 10 or 12 hour days and get something satisfying out of it.”
In his current position at TWH, he shares chef duties with Kitchener chef Carlo Atienza. “It’s a unique arrangement,” Holdbrook says. “We share the responsibilities of crafting menus and run the kitchen, but he’s a very different kind of cook than I am. We fuse French techniques with Japanese flavours and try to blend the two together.
“We’ve focussed on the shareables on the menu and want guests to really experience them. We want to make food that is fundamentally sound but that’s delicious and ties in with the season,” says Holdbrook adding that the kitchen is dedicated to continuing to boost the presence of food and beverage downstairs at The Walper.
“I want to see TWH Social really grow. It’s a hidden gem, and we want to highlight it.”
WREats: Best thing you’ve ever eaten?
Grant Holdbrook: Foie gras stew with pain au lait, Restaurant Alo (Toronto).
WREats: Other career you could have pursued?
Holdbrook: Football. But, weird enough, I also love astronomy.
WREats: Favourite beverage?
Holdbrook: Broadhead Blueberry.
WREats: Beverage that once just about killed you?
WREats: Chef you’d most like to meet?
Holdbrook: David Kinch and Eric Ripert.
WREats: Best footwear (for the kitchen or otherwise)?
WREats: Favourite “international” food in Waterloo Region?
Holdbrook: Muya Restaurant for Ethiopian.
WREats: Greatest failed recipe?
Holdbrook: Took me a while to get this one right: chicken liver pâté.
WREats: Something that gives you great pleasure?
Holdbrook: Enjoying a bottle of wine and a great restaurant with my wife.
WREats: A favourite teacher you’ve had?
Holdbrook: Evelyn McManus at Conestoga College
WREats: Do you ride a bike?
WREats: Favourite band?
Holdbrook: Anything 70’s.
WREats: Who would you like to cook for?
Holdbrook: My mother.
WREats: Go-to late-night snack?
WREats: Best thing about being a chef?
Holdbrook: Creating and sharing your passion with your guests.
WREats: Dumbest purchase you’ve ever made?
Holdbrook: According to my wife, most of them.
WREats: Favourite city?
WREats: TV chefs who annoy you?
Holdbrook: Jamie Oliver.
WREats: Would you describe yourself as sweet or savoury?