Edito Vallier x Auberge Willow Inn

Edito Vallier x Auberge Willow Inn

Danny Smiles has seen all of Canada through his culinary travels with celebrity chef Chuck Hughes on Food Network TV. Up until recently, he was head chef at Le Bremner, a restaurant in Montreal’s Old Port. A few months ago, he embarked on a new adventure: taking on the role of executive chef and manager at the rustic Auberge Willow Inn, in Hudson.

At Vallier, we like to dive deep. So we headed to the Auberge Willow Inn to meet with Danny and talk new projects, social issues close to his heart, and his personal style.

Look closer at society

What are some of your social concerns, and how do they impact your profession?

As a chef, and through running an operation as large as the Auberge, I think our biggest concern is food waste. It can be hard since some things just can't be avoided. But you can make a difference. There's composting, and there's trying to use as much of an ingredient as possible, which you really get to experience by coming out to the Willow Inn. You also get to see the garden here, and being in nature makes me feel a bit more connected with the food. I think a lot of cooks feel that way too. By educating ourselves, educating new cooks, and just educating everybody about food waste, I think we're doing our part too.

Do you still consider yourself a Montrealer even though your Willow Inn is based in Hudson? What do you feel defines the Montreal identity?

The identity of Montreal and its surroundings is very multicultural, you know, it's a melting pot. I think that's really cool. You find a lot of people with mixed backgrounds. My dad's Egyptian, my mom's Italian, so if you link that directly to cooking, it makes for interesting cuisine. Multiculturalism is what makes Montreal so special, and it extends to the surrounding areas too. Hudson is 45 minutes away from the city centre, and you can still see the diversity in the food out here. It's a pretty special place. 

What motivated you to break new ground outside of Montreal? What does being in Hudson bring to you and the community?

I don't think I ever really thought about leaving Montreal, but when you come out here and see a place this spectacular, it’s something that happens naturally. From the beginning, I had a really good connection with the owners, Patricia and David. We had the same vision, and it became a no-brainer for me to come. I had been at the same place for 10 years, and we did a lot in a little basement, but there was only so much we could do. At the Auberge, everything is possible: cooking outside, holding events, using ingredients from our garden. So breaking ground outside of Montreal wasn’t much of a leap for me. There’s been a huge surge of people leaving the city to reconnect with nature during the pandemic, so it was a natural evolution for me too. 

When it comes to bringing something to the community, we're obviously bringing our food, but also our knowledge, and showcasing all of the community’s purveyors. Since coming to Hudson, I try to work with every purveyor that's around here. As a chef, it's fun to find all these purveyors with my team, put them together, and work with all their food. I think it makes a big difference by buying directly from these people. We help the farmer by buying their products directly, since there's no middleman, and it’s great for me too to know exactly where my ingredients are coming from. As a cook, I feel like everybody should step out of the city at least once and work somewhere where they're a bit more connected with the food and the community.

  • Edito Vallier x Auberge Willow Inn

Look closer at fashion

Who is your all-time style icon? 

My all-time style icon Nigel Cabourn. I've been following him and his story for a long time, and he always looks good. And most importantly, he does what he wants. His style is different from everything else. I like the old school military vibe, and the idea of repurposing different styles from the past. 

Describe your style. 

I'm classic, and I like quality pieces that I only have to buy once. I like to research the things I buy and make sure they’re made of good materials. I wear the stuff I own until it disintegrates. I love French brands, Japanese brands, English brands, Italian brands, and Canadian brands too. There are so many great Canadian brands.

What’s your Vallier must-have piece?

The Vallier weekender bag is probably the best bag on the market, and it’s especially great for me because I travel a lot. I also love a roll top bag—it’s a really great feature.

  • Auberge Willow Inn
  • Auberge Willow Inn

Look closer at the person

Who is your biggest influence as a chef?

I'm very influenced by a lot of my peers, you know, the people that are in the same industry as me. But as far as cooking goes, I’ve also been super influenced by my grandparents and my mom. They’ve always had such a beautiful vision for food. I'm lucky to come from two different backgrounds: one side of my family cooked Arabic food, and the other cooked Italian food. 

What’s your goal in life?

I don’t really ask myself that question, because I think I’ve already surpassed everything I was ever supposed to do. I'm happy with myself and everything that's happening right now. And, honestly, I’ve probably never really asked myself that question. I think [the answer] changes almost every 10 years. But for now, I’m 36, I’ve got a kid and another on the way, the Auberge is just getting started, my cookbook is coming out, and a few TV things are coming up. It's super busy - I'm just happy.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Five years is not a long time, so I really want to focus on enjoying being here right now. I just want to try to be a better version of myself every year. I want to make a difference and inspire a lot more kids coming out of cooking school. Helping these kids to learn more about cooking is what brings me the most joy.

It's only been three months since we started at the Auberge, and there's still a lot of work I want to put into this place. But I definitely know that we're on the right path. There's so many things I want to do, and it's hard to want to do them all in the same year. We’re still in a pandemic, so we're mostly operating outdoors. I truly can't wait to see what this place looks like in five years. I'm really really excited for that.

  • Auberge Willow Inn x Vallier
  • Auberge Willow Inn x Vallier
  • Auberge Willow Inn x Vallier