Top Dino Chef 2012 Competitor Shaun Paton - Man Behind the Knives

Jul 25, 2012

Top Dino Chef 2012 Grande Prairie As we read about him, Shaun Paton, Executive Chef at the Stonebridge Hotel, is sharpening his knives and preparing to go into competition for Top Dino Chef 2012. This year, the Dino Ball will be taking a page from the Food Network’s hit reality show Top Chef; chefs will be expected to use local ingredients - 160 lbs of elk and 10 lbs of Saskatoon berries - per team to create an elegant first course.

Shaun has always considered himself a food critic, constantly prodding his parents with the age old question, "whats for dinner?". “It was always my favourite question, aside from why? How come? Can I have some money? Are we there yet? WHAT’S FOR SUPPER?” At the tender age of 12, Shaun took measures into his own hands.

"I became my own best dining guest, I never complained, I didn’t have menu modifications and was easily impressed. Not difficult when you only eat chicken fingers, French fries and ketchup. Ahhhh the good old days! And although I eventually stopped eating chicken fingers for every meal, I never really stopped being a food critic and never dreamt of being inspired by food for the rest of my life.”

Relocating from his hometown of Vanderhoof, BC, to Nanaimo, BC, in 1997, Shaun started a new chapter in his life. But big city life quickly lost its charms, “I had no idea what to do... I was completely broke and literally starving.” Until what was supposed to be a mere coffee date with an old friend turned into a new perspective on life. “I haven not seen her since, but Twila, thank you, you’ll probably never know it, but you changed my life that day.” Twila had advised him to go to school, get a loan and make some of his own luck.

Enrolling at Malaspina University in March of 1998, Shaun’s career almost took a very different turn, but a three-year-long waiting list in computer science prompted the young scholar to revisit his passion for food.

“I really had no idea what professional cooking meant, nor did I know what a chef was. This was long before Iron chef or Hell’s Kitchen, but within 2 minutes of my first day, the omnipotent presence of the 'executive chef' had me lured in like a fine wine (I don’t really drink wine). I still remember it like it was yesterday. Chef Alex Rennie stood at the front of the room and asked all of the class why in God’s name would we want to be chefs... of course no one answered. 'Is it for the money?' he asked, and again to no answer. 'Well, you won’t make any money doing this, and if that’s a problem, there’s the door.' 'If you’re looking to become a chef, you won’t make it, and if that’s a problem… there’s the door.' Chef explained that out of all the students in the room right now, maybe one would become an executive chef, if they were lucky; again, still not fully understanding what I was getting into, I really wanted to be that one…I was feeling lucky.”

Shaun set out on his culinary journey stacked with large books and a set of very unforgiving razor sharp chef knives. Being taught by a rotation of different chefs, each shared their mastery with the eager students. Taking his first two week work term at the Pan Pacific in Vancouver left the aspiring chef less than inspired.

“This was nothing like school I thought to myself as I sat there and peeled asparagus for a Christmas banquet for 2000 people. Eight hours of nothing but asparagus really made me question whether or not I actually wanted to do this for a living. As the Executive Chef walked by I thought here was my chance to ask a couple questions about the trade, perhaps a different and more fulfilling task for the remainder of my shift. I didn’t even exist to him, completing ignoring my greetings, and it’s not like he couldn’t hear me, he walked right beside me. Completely dumbfounded, insulted and oblivious to the grand scheme of things I finished my asparagus, very bitter. It was clear to me that day, once again, that I wanted to be an Executive Chef.”

Graduating at the top of his class in 1999, Shaun found himself being called into the executive chef's office with offers from the Canadian Pacific Hotels property calendar; what Shaun did not realize at the time was that his next location was predetermined, sending him on the next bus to Jasper.

Shaun would spend almost nine years at the esteemed Jasper Park Lodge working under Executive Chef David Garcelon. “I was not much for words, I was still scared. It was an old school kitchen where hierarchy was followed and pots were still thrown around. Soon after that I applied and was accepted into an apprenticeship program. During my 3 year apprenticeship program I was involved in some really awesome opportunities. I participated in cooking for the Chaine des Rotisseurs, the Queen’s visit and worked side by side with Chef Michael Smith during his demonstrations for the Christmas in November events each year. In 2002 I completed my apprenticeship and obtained my Red Seal and was on my way to becoming a chef.”

The year 2004 opened a new door for Shaun as he left the Jasper Park Lodge for the Pyramid Lake Resort, working under Executive Chef Jason Munn for 18 months before he became Executive Chef for the very first time. “Seven years and seven months from my first day at school, remember when I said I was feeling lucky? I almost think it was close to seven days but I would have to dig through a lot of boxes to find my certificate to find the actual date, but why mess with the sevens?”

After almost 13 years in the Rocky Mountains, Shaun had become an established chef with a wife and a family and was ready to take on new beginnings in Grande Prairie. “Looking back now, moving to Grande Prairie was the best thing we ever did. At the time I was really unsure about it.”

Shaun quickly climbed the ladder in Grande Prairie’s culinary world starting at the Quality Hotel and then accepting a revered position as Executive Chef for the Holiday Inn. Shaun spent 4 years at the Holiday Inn before moving on to the phenomenal Stonebridge Hotel. “Walking into the [Stonebridge] kitchen on the first day felt great, the staff very friendly and welcomed me with open arms. I have been there for almost 4 months now and have really enjoyed the transition.”

Shaun is a remarkable chef whose life changed all over a cup of coffee. “I hope all of you follow me in my quest to win Top Dino Chef, and thank you for reading my story. Stay tuned for the next chapter in my journey.”

Stay tuned on Friday when we catch up with Shaun Paton for an in-depth interview on a few of his food faves and where he likes to eat.

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