His mom from Trinidad, his dad from Detroit, Executive Chef Derek Powers Jr grew up in Los Angeles with spirit in the kitchen and a spoon and wisk in his hands. His young culinary career has sent him through San Diego, Houston, Miami, the Bahamas, Atlantic City, LA and now Toronto, where he’s leading the most anticipated fully sustainable kitchens at one of North America’s most esteemed addresses, in what is called “Canada’s coolest neighborhood”. Between a slew of openings and engagements, Chef Derek sat with CW Magazine to talk about his success.
The 1 Toronto concept is astounding in its ambition. Tell us about it.
1 Hotels is a sustainable luxury hospitality brand, that encourages guests to preserve and protect the one world we live in. At the new Toronto property, we’re doing it step by step and the culinary programs play a major role. Our signature restaurant 1 Kitchen Toronto is where you’ll definitely see zero waste dishes. We aim to be as sustainable as possible by sourcing ingredients from small Ontario farms, and we’ve also partnered with local purveyors and producers, incorporating them into our monthly programming to help build a better sense of community.
We are also the only hotel in Toronto to operate an extensive wet-waste compost program. If we end up having an extra few items that we’re not able to add into our dishes, or if a guest doesn’t finish their meal, we add it to our composter, turning that waste into nutrient dense soil that is used to cultivate the 3,300 plants throughout the hotel, and grow our beautiful on-property garden pavilion. We grow a variety of fresh herbs and produce onsite and use the fresh items in our kitchens. It’s a whole circular process.
Can you give us the anatomy of a zero waste dish?
I think a great example is our Harvest Board; it’s literally like a garden. First, we source all items from within a 100km radius and put those items right on your table. You’ll see edible soil made of pumpernickel and greens from our partner farm. Some beautiful seasonal veggies from our garden, farm radishes, heirloom carrots, and three dips that we rotate in: a foraged mushroom pâte, an herb tahini and a romanesco. As I mentioned earlier, what doesn’t get eaten is diverted to our onsite composter, which helps grow our herbs and produce we use for the next harvest board.
How does the focus on plant-based sustainability affect you in terms of your own diet?
Right now, I’m opening three restaurants I have to admit it’s hard. I literally live off espresso and water.
What are your guilty pleasures?
I love sandwiches. My new thing is all dressed chips – which I discovered when I moved to Toronto. I’m not picky. Occasional Thai food here and there, sometimes a burger.
And how does CW support your kitchens?
Honestly, I’ve been working with CW for over 10 years now, from my time in LA. So wherever I’ve been, I always wanted to make sure they are a part of my team and it’s been the same success out here in Toronto. I love the reps, everybody’s been very accommodating. They’re awesome.
You’re from Los Angeles, so your Canada story is also an American one. Can you speak to diversity in the kitchen?
I am very fortunate that growing in the industry, I’ve seen us all come up. It was really cool in New Jersey, we had an all black brigade that just happened out of nowhere. And then the team I inherited here in Toronto, same thing, a very diverse group of talented men and women. We have cultures from the Philippines, India, Bangladesh.
And what are your goals with all this?
With five dining concepts on property, we’re able to cater to a range of guests and palates. 1 Kitchen Toronto and Flora Lounge celebrate the bounty of Ontario. Our rooftop concept, Harriett’s Toronto by The h.wood Group, just opened with a menu that focuses on incredible cocktails and Japanese dishes. Coming soon is Casa Madera, which takes a modern approach to traditional Mexican cuisine. While all of our restaurants offer distinct experience, our goal is to ensure our guests eat mindfully and well.