Apr 7, 2009

Meet CheeseB's new in-house chef: Juan!

Cheese Boutique has a new member of the family, in-house chef Juan Salinas. So we decided we should take the time to get to know him.

When did you first fall in love with food?

All my life I’ve been in love with food. Have you seen Like Water for Chocolate? I grew up with all those sounds, smells, colours, textures; that’s exactly the story of my life. 

How did this love of food transfer to a career?

In Mexico we don’t call them “careers”. In Mexico we look for skills, something that you have in your nature, not something that you only want to be, it is something that you can do. Normally your parents have that eye for you, though obviously you have your input too. So my father, when I was 14, took me down to a hotel in Mexico City. My father talked to chef and said, “Well, this is my son Juan, he’s 14-year-old, but now he’s in your hands.” That used to be the tradition; where that person became your godfather, and that’s the way you started. I decided when I was exposed to this magnificent hotel, the Prado, everything was white marble, a fantastic old style hotel in the downtown core of Mexico City. It was when I saw the cooking that I realized it was something different, that I could be a professional. And I saw all these men in uniforms, such neat white jackets. That was incredibly glamorous. I fell in love immediately with the profession and doing what I liked to do: cooking and being around food.

While a familiar beginning for many chefs is beginning as a dishwasher, Juan began his journey as a coffee boy. After about two years the chef told him, “ok, you’re ready, you’re going to come into the kitchen”…

They opened the doors, those two doors were just like getting into heaven. You see all this craziness, smells, smoke, everything at the same time. Then he goes, “you’re not going there, you’re coming here.” He turns around and there’s the loading dock. And he said, “you’re going to learn how to store everything, how to receive the vegetables, how to check, everything.” I did that for a year and then they passed me into vegetables, to clean up vegetables. That was my introduction into professional cooking.

That’s was Juan’s intro to professional cooking, but, like he said earlier, he was familiarized with food from very early on.

The introduction of cooking into my life was as a baby from my mother; we were nine kids, four brothers and four sisters… My dad made this table, solid mahogany, and it seats 14 people. Just imagine the volume. My mom and my aunt, they had to prepare everything for at least 20, 25 people, three courses every day…. But you program yourself and they did it and they loved doing it. And it bridges here. Today is my day off and I’m here prepping because I know what they’re going to need. So I’m the mom right now.

When did you come to Canada?

The first time I came [to Canada] was in 1992. I came to take some courses at George Brown. There were these master chefs in Chinese cuisine. I had this incredible attraction to learn how to cook Chinese. I had a good friend in Mexico who was Chinese and opened a restaurant, and I always asked him, “can you please teach me?” But he never did. He actually brought all his cooks from China. It was very interesting because in Mexico we don’t have China Town as it is here. But when you got into the kitchen of this restaurant it was China Town… The community in that kitchen was incredible. Every time I went in there I felt really, really good. So that was where I learned the philosophy at work. These people came from the other side of the world to a country where the language is totally different, the culture is totally different, they stick together, the work together, and they accomplish fantastic things together. So that is the confirmation from what I learned, things are done together, not by one’s self… The elements of community that I saw in that kitchen, are elements I saw in my family. That’s why when I tell you if you want a good reference for me, when you see the movie Like Water for Chocolate, that is exactly what it is.

Have you found a sense of community here at Cheese Boutique?

That’s why I accepted the job. That’s why I applied. Before I came here, I did some work with Pristine on the TV show, we had them as guests, so I get to know them. Then we were invited here one day when they had celebrity chef cooking. I came over and it was fantastic. I can see the family sense in here. I don’t know who is family and who is not… It is not a normal traditional professional kitchen. That’s why I’m telling you I feel like a mother preparing everything for my child. It’s my day off. But it’s the same thing with my mom. Even if we were to go out for dinner somewhere, she would give us something to eat in case the dinner wasn’t that great, or she would have food in her purse in case there wasn’t enough food at the dinner. She was always thinking. That’s me. It’s not that I’m worried, it’s that I’m prepared.

Are there any themes we can expect from your cooking?

My cooking is not complicated; it’s very simple, very natural. What you see is what it is. There are no themes, what I’m trying to do is to satisfy people with my cooking. Their needs? I don’t really know, but I’m sure their needs are like everyone’s needs: something healthy, freshly made every day, good looking, tasty, and that is what you have. Do I have a menu for this? I don’t. Look at this store. How can I have a menu? Personally, I think I could make a menu with a thousand dishes, just today. If I think more, maybe tomorrow I come up with another thousand items. It’s endless. Endless! I have everything. I’m in paradise; I’m in heaven. It’s abundance, and this is part of my childhood too. I was born in a very beautiful land. The land where chocolate was made, the land where the god in the evening came down from the stars to bring the cocoa bean and left it in Mexico. The name of the town I was born was Paradiso, which means paradise. On the way to school my mother would say, “make sure you grab an orange and a banana.” Not from home, you go walking on the street and oranges and bananas grow wild. When I tell those stories to people they think I’m joking. But it’s not a joke. So here, when I’m cooking, I can hear my mom in the back of my head. Here I can grab whatever I want and all that is there. Good quality meat - we have fantastic meats - we have fantastic produce, preserves and everything, I couldn’t ask for more.


  1. Anonymous11:36 AM

    So great to finally know where Juan is after CC Live ... we miss seeing you everyday Juan! Now we know where to come taste your yummy creations! Thanks for the great interview and for hiring him Cheese B!

  2. You're family has been blessed with its new addition! Juan is wonderful!

  3. So great to know where Juan is now! He was the best part of CC live.

  4. WOW! This looks really good. I'm starving now... hahaha

  5. The dishes are looking very great.What a chef he is.