What do President Clinton, Julia Roberts and Tom Cruise have in common? Well, aside from spectacularly toothy grins, they all have one man in common: Mike Ward.
Ward is a chef who has cooked for stars of the screen and of politics. But the true stars in his life are his two daughters.
For the Australian-born, Toronto-based chef, travelling allows him to “almost become somebody else.” Says Ward, “it’s easy to leave certain parts of you back home and become a different version of yourself.” In early 2000, he expanded his creativity to include writing, producing and directing award-winning cooking/travel/ lifestyle TV series that have been seen in more than 120 countries. Ward’s insatiable appetite for food and adventure continues to drive him to explore and create.
We caught up with the busy globetrotter in Toronto.
Tell us where have you just come back from?
My last major trip was to Sydney, Australia. My mouth waters every time I think about it. Sure I grew up there, but I’ve travelled enough now to have lost my biased opinion. I think there are three things that define it as a leading culinary epicenter: Very mixed population, particularly from Southeast Asia and the Mediterranean, phenomenal domestic produce and meats—so much so that virtually nothing needs to be imported, and a population that loves great food and, in turn, supports its restaurant culture. Throw on top of that almost perfect weather all year round and, in my opinion, you have a food scene that’s better than New York or any other major capital.
Where in the world have you felt happiest?
I thrive on newness and chaos so I’m very much at ease travelling to new places. With that said what brings me comfort now is being around my kids. Being a single parent with a busy career qualifies me as world-class juggler, but at the end of the day cuddling with my two girls on the couch puts the biggest smile my face.
Name a place that most lived up to the hype?
I’ve had the good fortune of travelling a tremendous amount. In fact, it’s a shorter answer to tell you where I haven’t been than where I have, but of all places I’d have to say Japan lives up to its hype. In every aspect of what they do it is a cultural anomaly. If you can deal with the idea that they are the most insular culture on earth, it truly is worth the trip.
Which is your favourite place/destination and why?
Many years ago I had a very firm and unwavering list of my top places to travel. But, because of my child-like attention span, that list is now a constantly moving target. For many years I would’ve said New York was at the top, however spending a lot of time there over the last year has scratched that itch. If I was really forced to name a single city, I would revert back to my opening sentence on this interview: Sydney.
Which is your favourite hotel and why?
Two hotels for me share the number one position, and both are polar opposite from each other. One would be the Windsor Manor in Bangalore, India. I travelled a lot to India throughout my 20s and that very colonial, almost slightly uptight old school British left-over hotel experience in the middle of an old Indian city is a magical combination. My second hotel would be Wynn in Las Vegas. Whether you love or loathe Las Vegas the attention to detail, design and service at Wynn is truly mind-blowing.
Confess to one thing you've taken from a hotel from?
I was working on a TV show in Dallas, Texas about a year ago and ordered room service. I was struck by how beautiful the knife and fork were. They had these gorgeous hand-bashed rustic handles. Being a chef who photographs my own food, they came home with me and have ended up on a few shoots. Call me a klepto but they were worth it…
Your own favourite meal ….
I’m often asked what is my favourite meal. For me it’s when I’m cooking for myself. That tends to be seafood dishes, often whole fish. I have a fetish for very fishy tasting fish; give me a whole grilled mackerel roasted with a smear of mustard a squeeze of lemon and a cold beer and I am in heaven.