Chef Valerie Jankovich grew up cooking with her grandmother, who was passionate about her garden of vegetables and fruit. She now brings this passion for locally-produced ingredients to her position at the University of Guelph. It’s this dedication to providing fresh, quality ingredients and creating wholesome dishes that has earned University of Guelph the distinction of number one university foodservice in Canada by Maclean’s Magazine this year!
Chef Valerie points to the ‘100 Mile Grille’ in University of Guelph’s Creelman Hall dining room as an example of how U of G works to celebrate local produce. The ‘100 Mile Grille’ uses only ingredients from within 100 miles of campus. In fact, they often use veg or fruit grown on campus.
Chef Valerie also speaks to her visits to the nearby produce auctions, where she actually meets with the farmers that produce the food she cooks up for students and guests. This one-on-one interaction has allowed her to really connect with those that put food on the plates. Being able to fully see and understand where food comes from has informed her menu and dining decisions.
As someone who commuted to university, I don’t have the best idea of what university food should be or is. It conjures up images of a limited diet of pizza, fries, and cup noodles. But Valerie’s menu of risotto, salmon, and trendy but fresh dishes couldn’t be further from that. Valerie specifically highlights the ‘Buddha Bowls’ they created for the vegan and vegetarian counter. The ‘Buddha Bowls’ have been selling like hot cakes, or well, Buddha Bowls in this case.
Hearing Valerie describe the variety of thoughtfully-produced dishes, I wonder if I can enroll at the U of G? Fortunately, Creelman Hall is open to the public – no enrollment needed.
Do you have a lucky charm in the kitchen?
A fresh and clean, neat and tidy uniform. This sets the tone for the day and keeps my teammates and I looking professional.
What’s the last thing you burned?
Croutons; I was drying them out in the oven and set only a mental timer. Unfortunately I got pulled in a different direction and the croutons paid the price.
Your favourite spice?
Paprika; it reminds me of cooking with my grandmother and my Hungarian roots.
What makes you “kitchen angry”?
When someone tells me they can’t find something or we are out of something. I always double check and nine times out of 10, I find it is right in front of them in an obvious location!
Latest flavour combination you discovered?
Spiced popcorn, pickled mushrooms with radish, and arugula with champagne vinaigrette.
What’s your most extravagant purchase?
We recently opened Creelman Bake Shop in the basement here at the University of Guelph. The room was previously bare and used as storage so the walls, ceiling, and floor all had to be finished and all of the equipment to operate bakery had to be purchased.
Favourite song in the kitchen?
Generally at work there isn’t music playing in my kitchens because it makes communication between everyone difficult. However, at home when I am cooking for myself it would be Girl by Maren Morris or anything by The Weeknd.
What’s your comfort food?
Soup most definitely! I would eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
What’s your most essential tool?
If you could change anything in the food industry, what would it be?
How intimidating it can be as a newcomer to the industry. It is getting increasingly more difficult to get people into the foodservice industry and to keep them around.
Favourite smell in the kitchen?
Freshly baked loaves of banana or zucchini bread.
What’s your bad habit?
What do you admire in other chefs?
Patience, creativity, and positive leadership.
What or who is your greatest inspiration?
Going to the Elmira Produce Auction Co-op is a huge source of inspiration for me. Meeting and getting to know the farmers who grow our food and seeing all the fresh produce that differs as the season changes makes me excited about cooking.
The dish you are proudest of?
Last school year I decided to add ‘Buddha Bowls’ to our Nature’s Best counter (which serves vegetarian and vegan option). As a team, we came up with over 20 different themes or flavour combinations. The change to bowls increased the sales on that counter dramatically.
Students, staff, and faculty who had usually consumed meat during their meal periods were now choosing to eat vegan/vegetarian because the food looked and tasted so good.
What’s your end of the world menu? Stone-baked or wood-fired pizza!
Your favourite advice or quote? Begin your day with an “I get to…” mentality instead of a “I have to…” thought process. I GET to go to work, I GET to have a busy day. We often dress our opportunities as stress, but they are in fact blessings.
What is the one ingredient that you would never buy if it is not produced locally?
What is your favourite local drink?
If alcoholic, anything from Royal City Brewing and for a non-alcoholic option, Live Kombucha, made right here in Guelph by a University of Guelph grad.
What is Canadian food to you?
Culturally-diverse food that differs from coast to coast. Lots of fusion cooking that results in new exciting flavours. Passionate people getting together to create and enjoy really good food.
What makes you proud of the Canadian terroir?
Its abundance and ability to produce a wide variety of top notch produce, wine, craft beer, and animal products.
Why do you participate in Food Day Canada?
Because I am proud to be Canadian and I am an advocate for Canadian food. We have so many incredible farmers, growers and producers working in this country, their bounty deserve to be in the spotlight.