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The Quarterly Canadian Restaurant Intelligence Report

In conversation with Chef Hayden Johnston


One of RC Show 2018’s most exciting events was the Garland Canada Culinary Competition.

In front of a live audience, six semi-finalists prepared innovative dishes that can positively impact a menu’s bottom line.

Besides the $5,000 in cash and prizes, it was a fantastic opportunity for these young energetic chefs to showcase their skills and talent to industry leaders from around the world.

The competitors were judged by three culinary professionals known for their experience, acumen and activism throughout North America’s foodservice industry:

  • Joshna Maharaj – Activist, Chef & Speaker
  • Rachel Bies – Culinary Nutritionist & Media Personality
  • Renée Lavallée – Chef & Owner, The Canteen

Following three days of fierce competition, Thunder Bay native and Richmond Station Chef-de-Cuisine Hayden Johnston could not contain his joy when he was awarded first place.


Why did you join #RCShow2018 ’s Garland Competition?

“I am always down for a good competition! I participated to the 2016 San Pellegrino and a 2013 Chopped Canada competition too,” Hayden said modestly.

Hayden is no stranger to competing side-by-side with his peers. By “participated”, Hayden meant he won the cooking competition on his Chopped Canada episode and was a finalist in the San Pellegrino Young Chef competition. He was also a finalist for the Hawksworth Young Chef Scholarship in 2013.

His next competition following the RC Show was P.E.I.’s Shellfish Festival in the fall. “Because I won the Garland Competition, I get to return to my adopted East Coast home province and compete in the Shellfish Festival against the very best our industry has to offer,” he said.


How did you start your career?

“I never had a job that wasn’t in the foodservice industry,” Hayden said laughing.

Starting as a dishwasher at 15, it didn’t take long for him to realize that the foodservice industry was his life’s passion. Three years later he enrolled in the world renowned Culinary Institute of Canada (CIC) in P.E.I.

“I wanted to get into the best culinary school,” he said. “It was important for me to have a solid base so I could build strong skills.”

While attending the CIC, Hayden was always on the lookout for new and exciting opportunities outside of the classroom as well. His hard work and dedication allowed him the opportunity to find and accept a once-in-a-lifetime internship in Italy.

The young chef started working at Tuscany’s Petraia Agriturismo, apprenticing under chef and author Susan McKenna Grant.

While in Tuscany, Hayden seized a second learning opportunity studying under famed Italian butcher Dario Cecchini at Macelleria Cecchini.

“This was important to me,” Hayden continued. “They make everything in-house: the wine, the cheese, the farming, the processing, the cleaning; and I wanted to learn it all.”


What did you do after graduation?

“My goal was to travel while cooking,” he said.

And travel he did. Hayden got a job working aboard the Antarctic expedition ship Akademik Ioffe.

Most surprising about Hayden’s Ioffe voyages wasn’t the material things he returned with, but new skills he learned while on the other side of the world.

“I don’t really get inspired by the flavours from my trips,” he said. “What I want to bring back is the technique,” he said.

Hayden explained that new techniques he learned from different cultures are the most important and valuable lessons he could bring home with him. “The flavour stays locally,” he explained. “See, it’s hard to bring them back since you don’t have access to the exact same ingredients most of the time.”

Hayden is a strong believer that local ingredients make the best dishes. His inspiration comes from what’s growing around him and using the techniques he learned throughout the years to extract all the flavours he can.


Where’s your kitchen now?

Six years ago, Hayden moved to Toronto and started working at the modern and eclectic Marben, located in the downtown core.

Just a year later, Hayden followed Marben’s owner Carl Heinrich when he opened Richmond Station, where he has been the Chef-de-Cuisine for almost six years now.

“Carl’s philosophy was mine,” Hayden recalls. He takes great pride by providing his customers healthy sustainable and nutritious ingredients.

Hayden is proud to say that the restaurant has its own organic garden where they produce food for their menu.

For products they can’t grow themselves, he and his team work with suppliers who have become his friends over the years. They use only what’s available and in stock, but have a lot of fun changing the menu to keep it as fresh as possible.

For example, the reason why Richmond Station doesn’t have steak on its menu is because: “We buy full animals and butcher them in-house,” he said. “This helps us to be sustainable and cost effective. But since we use every part of the cow or pig, we only have so many steaks. We prefer to make ground meat so our menu doesn’t have to change every time we run out of steaks which would take only a few days.”

Hayden said he and his team are very excited about a new project they have just launched: “Station Events is Richmond Station out on the open road.” He added: “Richmond Station in Nicaragua is our first foray into international travel.” Guests were able to spend a week shoulder to shoulder with his team, experiencing new foods, trying new cooking techniques, taking on new challenges and embracing a new culture.

Before we parted ways I wanted to congratulate him again on his victory at the RC Show, but his modesty quickly resurfaced: “My dad is a better cook than I am,” he said smiling. “Cooking is fun, but I like to eat — so this is the best job in the world; I get to eat all day!”


To see his Garland Canada Culinary Competition winning recipe, click here.

And if you want to see all the RC Show winning recipes, download our e-cookbook below.

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The Quarterly Canadian Restaurant Intelligence Report