As the multitude of guests begins making its weekly pilgrimage to Winnipeg’s historic Fort Garry Hotel to partake of its epic Sunday brunch, Richard Warren is busy rallying his brigade of talented pastry chefs who will soon be serving their delectable creations to hundreds of hungry diners in search of the perfect dessert.
As daunting a challenge as that may seem to the culinary peasantry, Warren takes it all in stride. After all, it is days like this that keep him energized and passionate about his job and his food.
“What I love about my job is being given the chance to be creative and being part of an industry which is constantly discovering new techniques that keep me thinking outside the box,” says Warren, head pastry chef at the Winnipeg landmark for the past 18 months. “It is very hard work as you give evenings and weekends, but that’s the service industry. It’s a nice feeling to know that so many memories are linked to food. So when you make something that sticks out in someone mind, that’s a flattering feeling.”
Like many others in his profession, Warren’s early experience consisted of working as a dishwasher for Earl’s Restaurant right after graduating from high school. He then enrolled in Red River Community College to earn his diploma in commercial cooking. After graduation, he worked briefly at the Fort Garry Hotel before moving on to pay his culinary dues at a number of local restaurants and cafes.
Eye on the prize
Although Warren experienced considerable success in the various sectors of kitchen service, his first love was always pastry. Knowing that Fort Garry already had someone at the helm in the pastry kitchen, Warren decided to further hone both his cooking and leadership skills by becoming chef at a small restaurant café on the University of Manitoba campus.
“The challenge there was not only to be creative and fresh, but to do it on a shoestring budget. I was, after all, feeding students and they don’t have a lot of money.”
In working with a tight budget while keeping an eye on innovation, Warren learned the valuable skills he would eventually need as pastry chef at the Inn at the Forks, a small hotel where he alone was responsible for the dessert menu. Five years later the long-coveted position of pastry chef at the Fort Garry became available and he hasn’t looked back since.
Having worked in a wide variety of foodservice environments, Warren has a keen understanding of the unique demands of catering to meeting and event guests.
Something for everyone
“There are definite differences between event diners and restaurant diners, but at the Fort Garry we look at every customer as a customer so if an event wants something special we will certainly try to accommodate, no matter what the size of event. We have a strong catering team to help guide the customer to what they want. We also have a large and diverse menu to choose from to appeal to any request or taste.”
Citing French and Italian cuisine as his major culinary influences, Warren also turns to unique flavours and techniques when developing his sweet sensations.
“One of my favorite techniques is infusing flavour into things. It’s such a great way to bring a lot of flavor to your product without much energy; time does all the work for you – from crème brulée infused with lemongrass or fresh basil, to infusing cream with Earl Grey, cinnamon or ginger for a ganache. I really like things flavoured with lemon and certainly with ingredients like lemongrass and lemon verbena you get the lemon but it’s more refreshing and subtle than with straight lemon juice.”
Although Warren has definitely proven his leadership and cooking skills during his many years in the kitchen, it is his continued dedication to innovation and experimentation that will likely keep the hungry pilgrims coming back for more offerings from a true king of desserts.
“We take a lot of care in what we do. Maybe because dessert is the last course, it’s the last chance we have from a kitchen point of view to make an impression on the guest.”