Vallier Meets: Danny Smiles

Vallier Meets: Danny Smiles

Danny Smiles has eaten his way across Canada with acclaimed Chef Chuck Hughes for television. He’s done an apprenticeship in Milan, the fashion capital of the world. Up until recently he was Chef de Cuisine at Le Bremner in Montreal’s Old Port—all this to say he’s moved around quite a bit and seen his fair share of kitchens. But like all of us, he’s had to change his plans in 2020. 

In a city like Montreal, known for its nightlife and eclectic mix of eateries, this year has been like no other and restaurant culture has changed entirely. Fine dining establishments have either closed their doors or adapted to the fast-food model of take-out and delivery. Our nights on the town have shifted to evenings at home with family, and cooking has become both a new hobby and a continued source of comfort.  

The native Montrealer found a few minutes to sit with us and talk food, his hometown (we love it too), and his latest business venture, Mise en Place—'the best in-home dining experience in Canada'.

What part of Montreal were you born in, and do you still have close ties to your neighbourhood?

I was Born in St Leonard and my parents moved to ville d’Anjou when I was 2 years old. I lived there until I moved to Old Montreal and I've recently moved to Hochelaga Maisonneuve. I’m loving the neighbourhood. It’s a special place, a great little pocket, with lots of new businesses and new families.

Your father was born in Egypt, your mother was born in Italy. How has your cooking been influenced by the food your parents made when you were a kid?

It really inspires me, one cuisine uses a lot of different spices and the other one uses a lot of fresh herbs. It's really special growing up in a multiethnic household, it really helped me develop my own cooking style 

Was being a chef and running a kitchen always the end goal for you, or did you have other aspirations when you were younger?

I don’t think I have an end goal, I’m so focused on the “now” and just doing and accomplishing my job. Obviously one can dream and I love the fact that food has gotten me to travel, experience and even work abroad. I definitely have plans but right now I’m focused on how to make Mise en Place the best possible food delivery service.

Have you been able to pursue some of these projects while still taking on the full-time responsibilities of being a chef in one of Montreal’s best restaurants?

A Chef is nothing without his team and I’m lucky enough to have built an awesome one. It’s a family—it's easier to accomplish things outside of the restaurant when you trust the people running it when you're gone.

How would you describe Montreal’s culinary landscape, and what kind of role does it play in the food you make?

Montreal is a special place for me, I think growing up in a city that has been known since the ‘70s for its diverse food scene played a huge role for me.

You’ve travelled quite a bit as a chef and TV host; which destination left a lasting impression on you, both personally and professionally?

I think visiting Sri Lanka was extremely special, the people are incredible, the history, the land and the food was outstanding. I got to visit this beautiful country like a local, went fishing, got to eat in someone’s home. I highly recommend visiting Sri Lanka, it’s a special place 

You were planning on opening your own restaurant when the pandemic hit, and instead shifted your attention to Mise en Place, a company that prepares meal kits. How did the idea for that come about?

The main idea was to get food to people’s homes. I kinda felt like the restaurants would be jeopardized for quite some time, so my partners and I got on a call and designed this company over the first lockdown.  Exactly 120 days later, with countless hours of work, Mise en Place was born.

I think the main goal for us was to recreate the restaurant at home, and to support the suppliers that we’ve been working with for many years. For me, it was really important to employ my cooks that were suddenly left without a job.           

How would you describe your style? Is there a difference between what you wear in the kitchen and what you wear day to day?

In the kitchen, I keep it classic. I’m more focused on being comfortable and definitely looking extremely presentable, but comfort wins. 

Outside of the kitchen, I like a broad range of fashion, from streetwear, to workwear, to technical wear, I definitely love it all. My trip to Japan two years ago really refined my style. I love to support Montreal based companies that value long-lasting apparel.