I’m consistently impressed by chefs. By their willingness to work long, gruelling hours, by their stamina as they work through the pain of burns, cuts, and sore feet, and by the fact that they do it all to provide happiness for guests. I’m especially impressed by chefs who have an entrepreneurial mind, who are always looking for their next venture, or chefs who once worked a cushy office job (that’s coming from someone who works a cushy office job), and left it for the kitchen. Chef Jane Tran is both these people (and articulate to boot) so I’m crazy impressed by her.
Chef Jane’s most recent venture is Chau, a ‘nomadic’ restaurant that serves customers exclusively in pop-ups, but also hosts private dinner parties, and workshops. She describes Chau as a melding of Asian and Canadian food heavily influenced by Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine, but really as ‘the shit that I like to eat’.
Chau operates out of a space at King and Niagara in downtown Toronto. During the day, the building is used as a coffee shop but when the shop shuts down, Chau takes over, utilizing what would be an empty space, as their headquarters. It’s a smart idea; Jane believes that the traditional restaurant model is outdated, and this co-funded space spreads the rent cost in a complementary way.
A traditional restaurant space isn’t fully utilized and as Jane puts it, ‘you want the space to be used 24/7’, so this collaboration makes sense for business. Jane often shares the space with up-and-coming chefs who want to put amazing food out there but aren’t able to raise the capital needed for their own space. It’s proved to be a creative solution for chefs to test out new concepts and to showcase their talents to a new audience.
Chef Jane became familiar with this restaurant model during her travels across the globe. Jane spent a year travelling through the United States, Europe, and Asia, taking on apprenticeships under prominent chefs like Daniel Boulud and Alain Ducasse, and Michael Anthony. Not only did her travels expose her to novel ideas when it came to operating restaurants, but it also allowed her to explore a variety of different cuisines and understand both modern and traditional cooking techniques.
Chef Jane points to one circumstance in particular when she took a ‘stage’ at a dumpling restaurant. Coming from a fine-dining background, working at restaurants with multiple Michelin stars, I think it’s safe to say that Jane felt pretty confident that she’d be able to hold her own when making dumplings; but here she was, surrounded by Asian aunties, getting schooled on the art of dumpling making. This humbling experience led to a new appreciation for Asian cuisine. And developing Chau, was in part, a way to turn around the notion that Asian food is that ‘cheap’ n’ cheerful’ go-to.
After her year abroad was finished, Jane decided to take this idea of a ‘nomadic’ restaurant serving up tasty, modern, approachable but high-end Asian fare back to her hometown of Toronto. You can find Chau (and Jane) at numerous festivals and events across the city, or at one of her workshops where she teaches participants how to various Asian foods like dumplings.
Before you head out to the next event to grab one of her delicious baos, get to know her a little better with our rapid-fire one-on-one quiz:
Do you have a lucky charm in the kitchen?
My Kunz spoon, I guess. I’ve had it for over a decade and it’s been all over the world with me.
Your favourite spice?
What makes you “kitchen angry”?
Lack of urgency during service.
Latest flavour combination you discovered?
Trout roe, guava and chili.
What’s your most extravagant kitchen purchase OR what’s your most treasured inexpensive kitchen purchase?
Favourite song in the kitchen? During service, there’s no music, but right now anything by Lizzo is great for prepping.
What’s your comfort food? Dumplings! I’ve always got at least 3 or 4 different kinds in the freezer.
Favourite smell in the kitchen?
What advice would you give for an aspiring chef?
Train under the best in their field, look for mentors who are passionate about what they do and learn from them.
What’s one lesson you took away while ‘staging’ under a Michelin starred chef?
Focus on every detail of each component in a dish in order to ensure consistency.
What’s your bad habit?
Forgetting to eat/drink during a crazy prep day.
What do you admire in other chefs?
Technique, passion and drive.
What or who is your greatest inspiration?
Travelling to new places and eating everything and everywhere from the street stalls to fine dining.
The thing you are the proudest of?
Making a smoked chicken pho that my mom approves of.
What’s your end of the world menu?
Tough question, everything?
Your favourite advice or quote?
Whatever you do, do it with determination and love.