Chef La-toya Fagon has multiple claims to fame. A Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) Hospitality Partner, she is also Toronto Raptors’ personal chef to Serge Ibaka and the owner/operator of Twist Catering.
Fagon graduated from George Brown College before entering an apprenticeship in the kitchen of the King Edward Hotel. Of the experience, she says they were a “great set of people, but [it] wasn’t where I felt I was thriving.” She began staging at different restaurants—volunteering for a couple of shifts here and there to determine if she was the right fit. It’s this process, she says, that “earns you the chef title,” one she feels these days is thrown around too easily. In a city such as Toronto with such great talent, Fagon finds it disheartening to see people with the title unearned. “Everybody wakes up these days calling themselves a chef because they do some cooking at home, yet you have no idea what we’ve gone through to earn that title.” Fagon’s journey to becoming a personal chef for the Toronto Raptors started with a friend who asked if she was interested in working with athletes. Fagon didn’t hesitate, and she was soon meeting with the team’s nutritionist, and the director of sports science for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
“It didn’t kick in who I was meeting until I arrived at the Air Canada Centre, I thought I was meeting someone at a condo.” Fagon says that she “played it cool” and was assigned to a couple of different players for the first couple of years until being hired as Serge Ibaka’s personal chef. The job, she explains, is extremely demanding. “The foundation of the work must be passion and love, or else you will crumble under the weight of responsibility.” Working with high-profile celebrities and athletes requires that Fagon is adaptable—be it with last-minute menu changes or additional people to feed on short notice.
Through advice from other athletes, chefs and much self-teaching, today Fagon has it down pat. “Whatever you decide to do in this field, you have to, HAVE TO, love this job. You need to have a passion for it. Stay on your toes, be on point and have a backup chef that understands the importance of the client and the work as they may not be your only client.”
Her athlete clients are, as she puts it, “machines.” Whereas an average person eats 4-6 ounces of protein per meal, they require 8-10. Whereas an average person will choose either rice, potato or pasta, a Raptor player will eat all three in a single serving. Fagon starts the meal planning at the beginning of each week, deciding which food will represent the protein, starch, etc. One of her main challenges is to mix it up and keep it fresh so that her clients don’t grow tired of the dishes.
Another title Fagon wears proudly is TIFF Hospitality Partner. It took over a year to set up a meeting with TIFF, but eventually, she got her break. To have her company, Twist Catering (one of the only female and black-owned catering companies in the country) as one of only five hospitality partners at TIFF is a significant achievement.
“Everybody wakes up these days calling themselves a chef because they do some cooking at home, yet you have no idea what we’ve gone through to earn that title.”
Fagon’s main piece of advice to aspiring personal chefs? “Always understand and know your worth.” And never be afraid to ask for help from others with more experience. Over time, she’s also come to realize the power of her choices, especially in regards to her athletic clients. “You decide their food; you decide what goes into their body, you decide their health.” It’s not something to be taken lightly but she also says it’s liberating. “Once you embrace your position and value, you will have the emotional space to be creative, innovative and fresh.”
Finally, says Fagon, “One should always know their own lane. Meaning know your strength, what you like, what you love and what you can’t do.”
Starting out, Fagon thought her brand would be “the black woman cooking Italian food,” but, as she soon discovered, this would be at the expense of her cultural history and food. Then one day, around five years ago, she had an epiphany. The food she was raised on was amazing, and it was worth exploring its range of tastes. “Caribbean food is every single country in the world moulded into one. We have every single flavour you could think of.” She revisited her heritage and set out to elevate it.
Her flavours—thyme, onion, garlic, pimento, peppers, to name a few. Reinvention is the name of the game.
Her philosophies—stop worrying about other people. Opinions do not pay bills. Believe in your own self-worth and value what your lane is, and work.