Each month we feature an International Chef of Chef Works. If you’re a fan of Chef Works gear and are interested in being featured, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Pictured above is our April International CoCW, Chef Morgan Bellis, photographed in his Springfield Chef Coat and Jet Black Berkeley Chef’s Apron.
In retrospect, Toronto-based Chef Morgan Bellis probably thought he was getting some good advice. Like many in the hospitality industry, he started his career in the front of the house, tending bar and waiting tables. That’s when the warnings came.
Stay out of the kitchen, they said. Keep it in the front of the house, they said.
“Every chef friend I had – including some incredible restaurateurs from Barbados and England – were telling me not to go to the kitchen,” Bellis explained. “If you want to survive in hospitality, stay in the FOH.”
Bellis, 44, didn’t abide his friends’ sage-like wisdom. Now he’s the corporate head chef with Iconink, overseeing multiple restaurants around Toronto.
“I have been lucky enough to have worked in some amazing restaurants,” Bellis said. “I spent time at Wish, Jump, Opus and was lucky enough to open Lavelle with Chef Romain Avril as his chef du cuisine, where I really honed my plating. That led to Constantine which led to my current role with Iconink.”
Bellis was born to a Canadian father and an English mother. Because of his father’s work in banking, the family lived in Singapore, Barbados, the Bahamas, England, Northern Ireland and Canada. He was once, as he says “a true surfer dude” with long blond hair who briefly talked like Bill and Ted.
“That really gave us amazing opportunities to see the world and get immersed in different cultures through sights, sounds, smells – both good and bad – and I think that’s really when I started to fall in love with food,” Bellis said. “From the chaotic and adrenaline-fueled trips to the markets in Singapore to eating deep-fried fish from papaya leaves to picking and eating fresh ackee from the tree in the backyard in Barbados.”
Bellis was never formally trained in school. Nor does he come from a rich cooking heritage.
“My mum, in her own words, burnt water,” Bellis said.
But rather it was his ability to soak up all he’s learned from other chefs that has allowed him to navigate his career – crediting chefs like Paul Benallick and Jason Cox for harnessing his talent and teaching him the art of refinement. That’s why he makes it a priority to always make himself available to aspiring chefs so he can be there, as others were there for him.
“I love having the ability to teach and inspire others,” he said. “There’s that moment you see the light go on in a young cook’s eyes when they finally get something or they nail the cook on something or their jaw drops when they get to use something they haven’t used before – that’s what makes every day worthwhile. It is the part of the job I have grown to love the most as my career developed.”
And he’s always soaking up the enthusiasm of everyone around him.
“I’m definitely inspired by the passion of others,” he said. “Whether it’s a producer who can’t stop talking about their products or the raw enthusiasm of a green cook eager to learn, I look for inspiration in everything and everyone around me.”