Chuck Hughes is the co-owner and executive chef of Montreal hot-spot Garde Manger. He is also the star of several successful foodie shows such as Chuck’s Day Off, Chuck’s Week Off, Chuck’s Eat The Street and Chuck & Danny’s Road Trip. He has also appeared on The Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs, as well as joining an all-star panel of judges on Chopped Canada. The restauranteur is also a celebrated cookbook author and the owner of a memorable product line called My Kitchen Staples. We caught up with celebrity chef and dad of two sons, Henri and Charles, to talk about all things parenting, career, food and more as he heads into production on the third season of Chuck and the First Peoples’ Kitchen for APTN.
What is your idea of the perfect day?
It’s very seasonal but most of the time it features sports and having a good time with my family. A perfect day would be a bit like today, why not take today? It was snowing so that was amazing. I love skiing, I love winter, I love snow. I’m on my way to play hockey and then just hanging out with my kids, playing outside, enjoying dinner together. But really, as a parent right now, my perfect day is to be able to mix me having fun with having fun with my kids.
Why did you choose your career?
It’s funny because when I was in high school and I did all those aptitude tests, “chef” would always come up. And I was always like, “I don’t want to be a chef, I want a real job. I want to be like an architect or a business owner.” But being a chef is a high-paced job, it’s creative, you’re always on the move, and those were the things that I was looking for. As a teenager, I just didn’t know cooking could be that. And when I started cooking at the age of 17 I fell in love with it right away. More importantly I thought is this an actual real job and I don’t have to be sitting down at a desk or a computer. That’s really what made it for me. Plus, I really love food, so that helped.
What do you love most about what you do in your job?
My career has changed. I started cooking more than 25 years ago. What I appreciate most about it now is that it’s evolved into so many other things. I still have a restaurant where I’m in the cooking world, but I also do TV and I travel and I do events and I do interviews. All of these things make for a really interesting career. There’s always something different.
What has been the hardest part of building your career?
The world is very different than it was 20 years ago when I was growing up in kitchens. We didn’t really have a quality of life, we didn’t really make money, there wasn’t much respect. It was always work, work, work. In those early years, I was so lost in my career that I didn’t even notice. The hardest parts were those those 15 to 20 years of hustling non-stop and working almost every day for almost no money. Those were the hard days but personally, I was loving every minute of it because I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know that I was allowed to have a weekend off or buy a new pair of shoes. That’s probably the hardest part of this career: the hours that you need to put in to prep, to cook, to hone your skills.
Who was/is your mentor?
My two mentors in life are my two dads. My biological father died when I was 10 years old but I’m basically an exact copy of him—physically and the whole wanting to have fun part. He probably died so young because he was having too much fun, so I do have a little bit of that. And then I have my stepdad who recently passed away but who was the complete opposite. He was a lawyer, a real kind of textbook of that generation. He was 74 years old, a hard worker, great guy, super ethical, and I think I’m really a mix of both those men. Now that I have kids, I realize the world of being a parent and how hard it can be, and how hard I was. I wasn’t easy. Those guys are definitely my heroes.
Who is your favourite Canadian?
My friend, Cezin Nottoway, who is an Indigenous chef. She’s my age but she had kids really young, and she and her husband were going down a bad path. They changed their lives around, but to see the hardships of what Indigenous people have gone through with residential schools is eye-opening. To see the resilience and to see how she is today. Her husband is now a doctor. She’s probably one of the best moms that I’ve ever met. Her kids are 20 and 18 now, and when I see her parenting I hope that when my kids are that age, I can have really close relationships like that. She’s been an inspiration to me. She’s opened my eyes to a lot of things that are going on in this country that I was ignorant about.
And obviously Carey Price, but he everybody’s favourite Canadian.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“Let me ask you a question,” “dude” and “brush your teeth, wash your hands, don’t touch that.”
Which words or phrases do you dislike when other people overuse?
“I hate this.”
Who or what is the greatest love of your life?
Family and caramel. It’s a toss-up.
When and where were you happiest?
I am pretty lucky that I’m happy a lot. I think being happy is a state of mind that you can tap into. My happiest as it relates to my life is probably with my family in Mexico. Surfing, eating tacos and just pure vacation. My kids are young and I don’t want to go on vacation without them. I’m still enjoying them.
Which talent would you most like to have?
The ability to play a musical instrument.
Who are your heroes in real life?
I quit drinking 15 years ago and it’s been the best thing I’ve ever done in my whole life. I wouldn’t have kids or my restaurant. My heroes in general are the people that can find it within themselves to overcome their addictions and find a sober path to really enjoy life. For me, that’s really the most important thing because without my sobriety, I can’t be a good dad, I can’t be a good boss, I can’t be a good chef.
What is your motto?
What do you always have in your fridge?
Hot sauces, yogurt and puff pastry.
How would you describe yourself as a parent?
I’m fun and hands-on.
What is your parenting superpower?
Is yelling a superpower? I think my superpower is that I really love sports and hockey. Want to learn how to skate? Let’s go. Want to learn how to ski? Let’s go. Want to surf? Let’s go. I’m not an expert at anything but I just love sports and activities.
What is your favourite memory of your own parents?
Summers in Maine. I still keep the tradition alive with my kids.
What is a tradition from your childhood that you’ve carried on with your own kids?
Most holiday traditions. I grew up with Christmas but now my kids are also Jewish. It’s really a melting pot of all those traditions. We do it all.
What do you love most about being a parent, and what do you dislike most?
I love staying young and playing. I don’t like being the one in charge and breaking the fun.
What has surprised you most about being a parent that you weren’t expecting?
My sensitive side. Not that it wasn’t there before, but it has been elevated.
Favourite family vacation and why?
Because of the pandemic, weirdly enough Toronto. We had a week so we decided to go to Toronto, which is something we probably wouldn’t have done (because we have been many times!). We ate at one of our favourite Chinese restaurants and had a big mountain of crab and lobster. We didn’t have any agenda, which made it more fun. We were just lazy and lived the hotel life for a couple of days. Because of the situation in the world, we hadn’t had that in a long time. It was a well-deserved and well-needed vacation.
What one trait or value are you most trying to instil in your children?
What one trait are you hoping to avoid?
To not have such a quick fuse.
Favourite family summer activity?
Being on the lake.
Favourite family winter activity?