13 Questions With Chef Jesse Vallins

Triscuits, zombie clowns, and what it’s like to be a chef at one of Toronto’s best brunch spots.
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13 Questions With Chef Jesse Vallins

Jesse Vallins grew up in Scarborough, Ontario, and as it turns out, that’s as good a place as any to get the inspiration you need to become a chef.

“I’d love to have a romantic story about sitting on my grandmother’s knee peeling vegetables or being inspired by a trip to Europe as a child, but I don’t,” says Jesse. “Deep down I’m just a fat kid who likes eating.”

Now the executive chef at Maple Leaf Tavern, Jesse says that if he were to choose a different path, he’d be something “really constructive, like in a Primus cover band.” And – for many reasons – we’re really glad he followed the call of the food-loving kid inside him.

“As long as I can remember, I’ve fallen asleep and woken up thinking about food,” says Jesse. “Making a career in restaurants seemed like the obvious thing to do.”

Here are a few other things he shared with us:

1. What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Life advice: If you want something, you need to work for it.

Cooking advice: Taste, taste, taste.

2. What’s your dream brunch date? Where and with whom?

I work brunch, so my dream brunch date would be my wife and me in a hotel, sleeping in until after 12 noon, and then ordering room service breakfast to eat in bed while drinking Champagne.

3. What’s on your bookshelf?

A lot of cookbooks. Not so much restaurant cookbooks, but a lot of theory related stuff. Plus a ton of books on beer, wine, and cheese.  

4. What does a typical day in your life look like?

It varies a little, but the usual routine is waking up at about 7 a.m., getting breakfast and lunches ready, and getting everyone out the door. I drop my wife off at the subway and my son at school, then I’m running errands before heading to work. My day at the restaurant is a combination of admin and cooking, then running service. I finish up anywhere between 10 p.m. to 12 a.m., all depending on the day.

5. What would people be surprised to know about you?

I really miss the tomato basil flavour of Triscuits.

6. What’s your go-to meal or recipe?

Cheese and a beer after work.

7. What helps you get in your flow or zone?

Sitting down and having a coffee, making a list, and setting my day up before I get started.

8. When do you feel most alive?

In the middle of a good dinner service when everything is going perfectly.

9.  What are your biggest self-care tips?

Ask for help if you need it.

10. How do you handle failure?

By not seeing it as failure, and seeing it instead as not succeeding yet.

11. What’s your biggest success or achievement to date?

Being a dad.

12. What’s the one thing you’d like to achieve before you die?

To travel to as many places as possible to experience their cuisines and culture.

13. What’s the greatest fear you’ve had to overcome to get where you are today?

Zombie clowns.

Try out Jesse’s brunch specials and comfort food dishes at Maple Leaf Tavern, which you can learn more about in our post here – and keep an eye out for the relaunch of their newly-renovated sister restaurant, Port.


If you’re a chef or author and want us to feature you on The Journal, we’d love to hear from you! Email us at hello@booknbrunch.com.


Shannon Hodgen is a lifelong writer, DIY enthusiast, and homebody. She satisfies her need to put pen to paper–or, more accurately, fingertips to keyboard–as an agency copywriter, blog contributor, and freelance editor in Toronto.

Favourite Book: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
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