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27 MAY 2022

A Conversation with Chef Ryan de Leon!

Senior Men's Captain, Greg Bright, recently caught up with your new Head Chef, Ryan de Leon, to get to know him better.  Prior to joining RattleSnake, Chef Ryan worked at several fine dining establishments in the GTA, including Scaramouche as Chef Tournant, Spencer's At The Waterfront as Sous Chef, and Head Chef at Quatrefoil Restaurant in Dundas, which was recognized by Enroute Magazine as one of Canada's Best Eateries.

Our interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Where were you born and where have you lived?  I've always lived in the GTA.  I was born in Toronto and I grew up in Pickering and Brampton.  For the past twelve years, we've lived in Milton.

Tell me about your family!  My wife, Charisse, owns a stationery/design business and we have two kids.  Aiden is fourteen and Sadie is ten.   We are a sporting family and spend a lot of time juggling between their baseball and softball schedules.

Would you consider yourself a curious person and, if so, what has caught your attention lately?  I would definitely say I'm a curious person and, in this industry, there is always more to learn.  If I don't know something, I'm obsessed with trying to figure it out.  Right now, I have a special interest in pioneer cooking and preserving.

What activities interest you when you're not in the kitchen?  As you may have guessed, we enjoy baseball a lot.  As a family, we're either watching a game or out on the field playing.

What led to your career in the culinary arts?  When I was back in high school, I landed a part time job working in a restaurant.  Right away, I knew this was something I liked because I always looked forward to going to work.

Who or what is your inspiration?  My wife is a great inspiration, she's always been determined and she has a strong belief in her abilities.  My late father was also a role model.  He was unafraid of hard work and worked two jobs as far back as I can remember.  His work ethic has never been matched in my eyes.  Charisse and I have tried to instill these values in our children.

What's the best thing about being a chef?  That's easy, it's the action.  The work is fast paced and every day seems to bring something new.  I also enjoy writing menus and when it comes to talking about food, I can't get enough.

What are the key challenges in your new role as Head Chef?  Being a Head Chef may sound nice but the job is filled with challenges.  I'm constantly having to keep up with trends in the industry and the hours are long, very long.  We have a very active kitchen here at Rattlesnake and are accustomed to hosting large events.  Managing the work/life balance is tough as there are times when the family has to come second to my work demands.


Gordon Ramsey or Jamie Oliver?  I'd say Gordon Ramsey for his culinary background.  But if we're talking TV personality, I'd have to go with Jamie Oliver.  And, if I could meet just one top chef, Thomas Keller would be at the top of my list. 

For a change of pace, do you ever hit any fast food restaurants?  Of course!  When you cook for a living, it's sometimes nice to go the 'fast and easy' route.  We'll often go out for pizza after the kids' ball games.  And we also do Popeyes!

What recent trends in the food industry have caught your attention?  While it's not necessarily a trend, with the price of ingredients these days, utilizing the entire product and repurposing them is critical.  I also believe we're seeing a resurgence in curing, preserving and pickling of ingredients.

What's your favorite dish to prepare?  I don't really have one favourite but I have a strong background in French cooking.  I like to cook what's in season and I enjoy roasting whole meats such as turkey, chicken and beef roasts.

Salty or sweet?  Salty for sure!  I don't have much of a sweet tooth.

What makes a meal memorable for you?  I would definitely have to say the company.    Charisse and I had our first date at Splendido Bar and Grill in Toronto.  I remember we had the 12-course tasting menu.  The Aged Duck Breast with blueberry risotto was incredible.  That's a meal I'll never forget!

What's the craziest experience you've had in the kitchen?  I've had a few over the years but I remember one time when I was working at Spencer's, we ran out of potatoes.  I was hand cutting french fries to order during a very busy lunch rush, while working two other stations, when I discovered we had no more potatoes.  You definitely learn a lot about yourself in moments like that! 

What do you see as the biggest challenges in the coming year at Rattlesnake?  There are a myriad of challenges at kitchens everywhere.  Labour shortages have been a problem throughout the pandemic, and for my cooks this is a seasonal position so turnover is always high.  In addition, the industry has been losing a lot of young cooks in recent years.  It's a tough business.  With product shortages and ingredient costs at all-time levels, it's a balancing act to provide a strong menu at a reasonable price to our members.  But, we'll make it work!

Thanks for spending this time with me today, Ryan.  You're welcome, Greg.  I'm really looking forward to a great year in 2022!