The Gladstone Hotel is thrilled to introduce our new Executive Chef, Joshna Maharaj! Joshna showed off her talent and food philosophy to guests on at the return of our Harvest Table dinner series.
Joshna beautifully aligns with the Gladstone’s mission, as her practice does not stop at being a chef, it extends into activism, as seen through her background in revitalizing community food programs. Joshna believes that ethically procured and produced food should be accessible for all, and that there is no reason for it to ever be of sub-par quality. Our remarkable executive chef has worked with The Stop, a vital community food centre in Toronto, and has demonstrated the important role that institutions can play in creating social change in her role at Ryerson and Toronto hospitals.
Joshna sat down with us to discuss her role at the Gladstone and her passion for making sustainable and delicious food systems! This was all exemplified in her first Harvest Wednesday’s dinner, which included 4 courses of farm-to-table cuisine, 2 complimentary glasses of wine from Stanners Vineyard, live music from local performers and inspiring speeches!
You’ve been described as an activist chef. How does social justice and sustainability weave into what you do?
Social justice and sustainability are a lens through which I work as a chef. Through my work with communities and in public institutions, I have been trying to rebuild our food system in a way that is inclusive, accessible and fair. I believe that access to good quality food is a basic human right and we cannot build a more sustainable food system that is only available to those who can afford it. Food is our great common denominator as humans and one of our first priorities as a society should be ensuring that everyone is well fed.
(Produce picked just the day before from our longtime partners, and the inspiration behind Harvest Wednesdays–Chick a Biddy Acres CSA Farm!)
Before we were lucky to snag you as our Executive Chef, you made an incredible impact reforming institutional food systems at Ryerson’s campus and hospitals in Toronto. Why was this mission so important to you and how did you transform the current food systems?
I strongly believe that our public institutions are a reflection of who we are as a society. Because of this, I believe that institutions should model examples of innovation, sustainability and wellness in all areas of their functioning, but particularly with food services. Our public institutions should support local small business and agriculture. Reinvesting in institutional food is about rebuilding the culture of food in institutions, and could redefine the way we understand health & wellness, education and even rehabilitation, in the case of prisons. My big focus was to rebuild the human connections in institutions, to value all of the hands involved in moving food from field to kitchen to table. We created menus that were fresh, wholesome, affordable and above all else, delicious.
At the Gladstone, we’re passionate about sustainability, local food and championing food issues. This beautifully aligns with your values. With your background, what are are you dreaming and scheming for the Gladstone?
Yes! This is a pretty beautiful alignment, and it’s one of the reasons I’m so thrilled to have found a home at the Gladstone. I would really like to see us take a position of leadership in supporting and nurturing our local food system, and finding authentic ways for these values to breathe through every aspect of our hotel service. I would like every guest who walks through our door to have a sense of the season, and for our menus to give people the chance to connect to the delights of the season while they’re with us. With our deep commitment to both hospitality and sustainability, the Gladstone is poised to make a really special statement about how a hotel can connect with and nurture its community.
You have meaningful relationships with farmers, chefs, producers, local businesses and organizations. What do you think their role is in nourishing and nurturing communities?
I am fortunate enough to have made some wonderful friends in this food community. We are a committed group of people who have been working together for years to build a more sustainable food system. I think that farmers, chefs, producers and others folks at the grassroots level are key players nourishing communities. They are the hands that grow, cook and serve our food and they are critical.
Ontario is known for our summer harvest but we are impressive in the winter as well! What are you looking forward to cooking with?
Absolutely! Our farmers are doing a fantastic job of extending the season and providing beautiful local food year round. We’ve got a bunch of beautiful winter greens coming in from Chick-a-Biddy farm and I’m also looking forward to making fresh salads out of some crisp radishes and carrots.
What is your food philosophy?
My food philosophy is quite simple. Food should be wholesome, affordable and delicious, made with good ingredients and thoughtful care and attention. I believe that food is more than just physical nourishment and that at the core of it, it’s a way to transmit deep, loving connection from the earth to the table.