Adrian McKague is a private chef based out of Toronto, Ontario in Canada. From an early age, Adrian was enamoured with all things related to food, including its preparation, presentation, and consumption, often helping his parents prepare the family’s nightly meal. In high school, he volunteered to help out the workers in the cafeteria, even going so far as to suggest new recipes for them to use. The consensus among his peers at school was almost universal; he had drastically improved the menu.
After graduation, Adrian McKague attended a chef’s college in the metropolitan Toronto area, receiving high marks and praise for his innovative use of cooking techniques and his unique blending of ingredients to produce interesting flavours. He earned his chef’s trade certification and Red Seal endorsement not long thereafter, followed by his Chef de cuisine certification, as administered by the Canadian Culinary Institute of the Canadian Federation of Chefs and Cooks. Ever the adventurer, Adrian then took six months off to tour the European continent—primarily France, Belgium, and Italy—in order to taste the local cuisine and gain inspiration for his forthcoming career as a gourmet chef.
Upon entering the professional world, Adrian worked at a number of Canada’s most prestigious restaurants, fine-dining spots, and boîtes, eventually rising through the ranks to be made the head chef of one such establishment. However, the experience left him somewhat disillusioned with the industry, and he decided to change the trajectory of his career. In the early 2010’s, Adrian McKague began to offer his services to individuals as a private chef. He accepted a position with a wealthy, Toronto-area couple which he happily holds to this day.
When not working, Adrian likes to spend his time exercising, watching classic movies, and collecting vintage cookware, utensils, and cooking appliances.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
I have always loved food—not simply eating it, but preparing and presenting it, as well. Even as a child, I was labelled a gourmet by those around me. I would spend hours in the kitchen, perfecting recipes and composing elaborate layouts. Becoming a professional chef was simply a logical extension of this passion that I have always had. There was never a doubt in my mind what I would do for a living.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My typical day begins with a healthy and well put-together breakfast for myself. I often eat eggs Florentine, or a bagel with smoked salmon, cream cheese, and capers. After going for a relaxing walk and thinking through my upcoming tasks for the day, I head to the residence of my employers and set to work preparing their meals. Usually, it’s just for the two of them, but every once in awhile they will throw a soirée, and I’ll have to prepare a much larger spread. Although, since the onset of COVID-19 and the accompanying restrictions on gatherings, these events have been few and far-between.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Ah, my creative inspiration remains a mystery—even to me! It usually takes the form of a ‘Eureka moment’ of supreme clarity, and then the steps I need to take to realize the vision in my mind present themselves to me. That is for the preparation of feasts or special occasions, such as Christmas dinner or a similar celebration. For mundane, day-to-day food preparations, I keep a notebook of staples containing my own unique recipes that I reference quite often.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Chefs the world over are finally renouncing the overuse of cilantro. I can’t tell you how excited that makes me. Cilantro has ruined many a fine meal over the past decade and a half.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I am fastidious about kitchen cleanliness. For a professional gourmet chef, very few things are more important than a spic-and-span area in which to operate and create.
What advice would you give your younger self?
If I could go back in time and counsel my younger self, I would tell him not to bother working in restaurants, no matter how fancy they purport to be. It is a waste of your time and talent.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Despite the prevailing public consensus about its effects on health, there is no product that can be adequately substituted for real butter. The flavour will always suffer.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Experiment! That is the best path to finding exciting, new creations.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I remember the moment that I had the realization that changed my career. It was this: stop trying to feed the general public under the umbrella of an institution that belongs to someone else—i.e., a restaurant—and start offering your expert services to a narrow audience who will appreciate your efforts. Once I made this mental leap, my strategy to implement it was to offer my services in a very select few upscale periodicals. After that, it was simply a matter of screening prospective employers to find the right fit. I eventually found a wonderful couple to work for, and cannot underscore how happy I am as a result.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Once again, my answer has to be working in the commercial food service industry. It was not a failure from the standpoint of those who ate my food (they were always provided with an excellent meal) and those who employed me (who profited from my talents), but from the standpoint of my own personal fulfillment. To put it simply, I was not happy. I overcame the problem by learning to value my talents appropriately and making a conscious decision to alter my professional situation for the better.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Disregarding my personal opinions about them, food trucks seem to be doing quite well, of late.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I bought a certain utensil; a knife that was once used in the Astor family household during the Gilded Age. It was an indulgence, I’ll grant, but my hobby is collecting vintage cookware and utensils. I do not regret the purchase in any way whatsoever.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Although I don’t use much in the way of technology, I do keep track of expenditures for work with spreadsheet software. I have a deal with my employers to be reimbursed for any expenses incurred during the course of my duties.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 1 by the visionary Julia Child. The lessons it contains are invaluable.
What is your favorite quote?
“A recipe has no soul. You, as the cook, must bring soul to the recipe.” — Thomas Keller
- The food service industry is no place for a well-trained gourmet chef. Seek private employment as a much-preferable alternative.
- Kitchen cleanliness is paramount to proper food preparation.
- Cilantro weakens any recipe, while real butter strengthens any recipe.
- Experiment! And never stop experimenting!
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.