Cooking local

Ross Midgley ('90, '92) combines passions to become one of Ontario's top chefs

Mount Allison alumnus Ross Midgley

By Melissa Lombard

Being a chef was never part of Ross Midgley’s plan. In fact, he chose Mount Allison’s flexible liberal arts environment because he didn’t know exactly what he wanted to study or pursue as a career. He was also attracted to the strong swimming program.

“Going to Mount Allison was one of the best choices of my life,” he says.

He studied history and English and also attained his Bachelor of Education from Mount Allison. With no teaching prospects upon graduation, he spent more than a year at Mount Allison working as a liaison officer and an assistant admissions co-ordinator in the admissions office.

He went to Halifax, where he dabbled as a musician, and then worked in Lennoxville, QC with fellow Allisonian and former bandmate Nick Oldland (‘94) at Hatley before moving on to the banking industry in Toronto. But he still had not found his passion.

“There was just a lack every day and my life didn’t fit who Ross was,” he says.

It was a career counselling session at the YMCA in Toronto that would pique his interest in the culinary world.

“I went through aptitude tests and met with the counsellor,” he says. “The career path that would be a good fit for me was profoundly motivated by entertainment, which wasn’t a surprise, but specifically food and catering as a vehicle.”

Cooking, he says, was not even on his radar. He spent six months knocking on doors in Toronto looking to observe or work for free on weekends to glean what he could about the industry.

“I never thought of it as a career, but I always enjoyed hosting parties and putting together the nitty-gritty details,” he says. “It was important for me to entertain in that way. Truth be told, I made my decision to go into the culinary field hoping to do an academic parallel with the food world or an anthropological or sociological look at food through the ages.”

At 26, Midgley followed the advice of the career counsellor and returned to his hometown in PEI to attend The Culinary Institute of Canada.

“I started in the first weeks of culinary school to really love the physical nature of putting food together, which was a surprise to me. And that has continued ever since.”

Now, two decades later, Midgley has held positions in some of Ontario’s most renowned restaurants, including The Globe Restaurant, Tiara at Queen’s Landing, Hillebrand Estates, and was hired by Canadian food icon Jamie Kennedy to open Windows, continuing his love for Niagara’s seasons in his menus. He then became the executive chef for the Stone Road Grille and for the past few busy seasons has been the executive chef at Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Ravine Vineyard.

Midgley shares a common vision with Ravine, which is to create menus with locally-sourced and organically-inspired ingredients.

“In terms of doing what I do with locally-sourced foods, there are only two possible regions in Canada to do that — Niagara and the Okanagan Valley in BC because of the climate, the length of the growing season, as well as wine-making and eco-tourism.”

With the winding path he took to being a chef, Midgley says that his career nicely fuses together all the things he has done in his life.

“The most rewarding aspect of the job is knowing I started out to become a teacher and, while I’m not in front of a class, I am teaching every day. I am able to pull from different experiences to be not only a chef, but a real ambassador for the Niagara food scene, and be wholly fulfilled by what I do.”