In this edition of 21 questions, we interviewed Santhir Moodley — Baker Street Station’s Head Chef. Since 2012, Baker Street Station has been a food hot spot and craft beer destination in Guelph, Ontario. Learn more about Santhir and what inspires him below…
Where were you born?
I was born in Durban, South Africa.
Where did you grow up?
Moving to Canada when I was 2 my family and I ended up moving around a lot in my first few years. We spent a few years in a tiny village in Saskatchewan called Vanguard and then a few years in Wainwright Alberta, another pastoral town before finally settling in Guelph. My family has been in Guelph for the last twenty-two years.
Your first job?
Similar to most Canadian teens, my first job was at a Tim Horton’s. It was awesome. Got to work with a lot of my best friends in high school. My best friend Ryan was our morning baker, fast forward a decade and he just returned from an advanced pastry program in France. Kinda nice to see how it all came full circle.
My biggest inspiration in cooking has been my mother, ava (grandmother) and aunties. Growing up I was always peaking over their shoulders whenever they were cooking these massive Indian meals. In my adult professional life, I’d have to say Anthony Bourdain, David McMillan (of Joe Beef, Liverpool House) David Chang, Danny Bowien (Mission Chinese), Ivan Orkin (Ivan Ramen) are just a few of the chefs who really got me thinking about food and our experiences with food with a more focused point of view.
Top 3 ingredients in your pantry?
I’m kinda all over the place with my tastes, what I like to eat and cook. However, three ingredients I can never do without — fresh thyme, garam masala, sesame oil.
What do you make for a lazy supper?
I do my best to cook at home regularly but due to my hours and shifts it can be quite a challenge- so every dinner is a lazy dinner. I usually make braised or crispy chicken thighs with a bunch of roasted vegetables.
Favourite vacation spot?
Vacation can sometimes be hard to come by in my industry so I don’t really have one particular spot, but I definitely have favourite places I’ve been to in recent years. I loved New Orleans, New York City has always blown my mind and Montreal is my favourite city in Canada that I’ve travelled to.
Favourite food city?
Favourite food city would have to be Montreal. They have a very unique outlook on food and our relationships with food. They are always nodding to the traditions and techniques of the past but always manage to push their food culture into the future. It’s also just a place where you can do whatever you want with food without dealing with any quick or harsh judgment. It just has a sense of culinary freedom.
Favourite item on your menu?
Not sure if I just have one favourite item but the one I’m most proud of on my current menu is the Tandoori Fried Chicken. But my all-time favourite dish was my Duck Ramen. It took me seven months of testing to get it precisely how I wanted it. Don’t think I’ve ever put so much work into one thing in my life.
Tandoori Fried Chicken at Baker Street Station
What’s the last [Netflix/Television] show you binged?
I am currently binging The Last Man on Earth. Always been a big fan of Will Forte on SNL so I’ve been enjoying.
Favourite Instagram account?
Much like everyone else I tend to aimlessly spend time on Instagram so I don’t really have one that I like more than the others. However, Danny Bowien from Mission Chinese (@dannybowienchinesefood) has some pretty sweet live videos of him working on line in his kitchens. Just love watching his wok technique. He’s also just one of the coolest people I think I’ve ever seen. More local, I love the guys from Sugo Toronto (@sugotoronto). They are everything this industry should be and represent all of the local spots in Toronto that may not usually get a shout out. They are unapologetic, they have fun with their food and in their restaurant, and most importantly they show appreciation to their diehards and staff.
Go-to lunch spot in the area?
I love a lot of different cuisines but on any given day for lunch I’d be either found eating at Pho Saigon, Vienna ( a Guelph breakfast and lunch institution) or 39 Carden Street if I want to feel fancy.
Favourite restaurant to celebrate a special occasion?
Best coffee in the area…
Best coffee? Any coffee that isn’t out of dehydrated crystal. I used to be a huge coffee snob (thanks to my time as a barista) but I’ve changed my tune quite a bit. Also, when I’m entering my twelfth or thirteenth hour the taste, roast or blend of coffee ceases to matter. If it’s hot, it just needs to get in me.
Guelph’s best-kept secret?
Guelph has quite a few which is awesome to see. Not sure it’s a secret anymore due to their long delivery waitlist (they also just make everything from scratch) but Na-ha-Thai’s Kitchen on York Rd. is a must for Thai food in the city. It’s the only place I’d order Thai takeout. A little more hidden still and just whispered about sometimes is Broken English out on Speedvale Ave. East. It’s a great little mom and pop Polish restaurant. Everything is handmade, in-house, and a good sign is that they typically sell out of a lot of their top sellers right after lunch.
What’s your favourite thing to do outside of work?
I used to study English Literature and History at the University of Toronto while simultaneously cutting my teeth in kitchens so I tend to read a lot. If I’m not reading, I’m usually taking care of my knives, watching documentaries, playing board games and my guitar. Something I always love but don’t always have the energy (I’m totally just offering a simple cop-out) for is running. I used to take it pretty seriously but work and just life has taken me away from it. Of course, I love spending time with my parents – they’re the greatest.
What food trend needs to go?
I don’t really have any qualms with any food trends (however if I see a pistachio or any nut crusted salmon on a menu I’m walking out) per se but I think a certain attitude needs to be removed from our industry’s culture. I think there’s a lot of reverence placed on restaurants that use tweezers (I admit I use mine often) flowers, perfectly geometric cuts etc. and although they have their place I just don’t think they need to be more valued than any Vietnamese restaurant that has bottles of Sriracha and Hoisin in a condiment caddy next to the soup spoons and plastic chopsticks.
Name 3 guests at your ideal dinner party?
Ernest Hemingway – for the daiquiris and stories, Frederic Morin (of Joe Beef and Liverpool House) for his incredible collection of dinnerware and vintage apertifs and wine, and the legend himself- Anthony Bourdain.
3 things you’d tell a new chef?
Believe in your own abilities — even if you don’t know how to make something perfectly out of Escoffier or La Rousse- just fake it until you make it. Give yourself time to find your own voice and vision with your cuisine- be patient and forgiving. The last thing would be a few wrapped up in a little package because I’m super OCD and anal about these things- keep your knives clean and sharp, fold your kitchen towels, never put them or your tongs on your cutting board, whenever leaving your station make sure it looks exactly how you’d want it and if your sous chef or head chef asks for something even if its wrong or you disagree with them – the response is yes.
What would be your mediocre superpower?
I’d really just like to be able to add a couple hours to each of my days off. Not sure if that qualifies as mediocre.
Who should we interview next?
I’d highly recommend interviewing Heather Mitchell from 39 Carden Street (I’m a little biased), Brandon Clarke from Royal Electric and Jose from La Reina. All amazingly talented chefs and great people.