Chef Les Cooks
By Christopher Clark
As any cook knows, you can never have a big enough kitchen.
Les Kozachuk has worked in kitchens of all sizes over his career, since a dramatic career change took him from figures to figs. He was that close to becoming a chartered accountant when he realized he would much happier as a chef.
So he enrolled at the Stratford Chef School and never looked back. That was 19 years ago.
After graduating, he worked in Toronto, Collingwood and Orillia, honing his craft at every stop. Eight years ago, he and wife Diane came to London to be closer to their extended families. He started working at Sullivan’s Old North Market, a jewel of a food outlet in Old North.
Kozachuk was in charge of the prepared food and bakery section, a popular area of the shop. Over the years, he expanded the roster of items and drew an ever-larger clientele. He also started catering, and two years ago he organized the whole venture under a new name: Chef Les Cooks.
“It was a great arrangement with Nancy and Bob [Sullivan],” Kozachuk, 47, says. “I bought that part of the business from them two years ago and continued operating under their roof. But the catering business has really taken off since then, and it was difficult keeping all the odd hours that catering requires.”
It was time to get his own kitchen.
That was not an easy task, given his requirements. He wanted a commercial kitchen where he could work all hours of the day and night to prep for catering. But he also wanted to continue selling prepared foods in a retail setting, serving his loyal customers in the neighbourhood around Sullivan’s.
“Some friends saw this building on Kijiji. It was close to Sullivan’s and available right away. Plus, it had been a food shop so it was already equipped. It was perfect.”
His experience working in smaller kitchens came in handy because his part of the building, attached to a convenience store around front, measures 600 square feet. He opened in May and already is thinking about knocking down a wall to expand the cooking area. Small as it is, the new spot is exactly what he was looking for.
“If I have a wedding on a Saturday, I can be here very late Friday or early Saturday. I can come and go as needed. It’s working out very well.”
The new location is also drawing new customers who drive by on Adelaide and never knew what he was doing at Sullivan’s. They come in for the wide array of freshly prepared foods, from chicken cacciatore to lasagna, curries to quiche. He and his staff also make soup from scratch, as well as a long list of desserts.
“People are amazed when they come in here to see the variety of dishes we prepare. Some are fresh to be eaten that day, and others we freeze so people can have a fresh, healthy meal anytime they want.”
After two years establishing a unique mixture of retail and catering, understanding the busy seasons for both and earning a reputation for excellence, Kozachuk is thrilled to be taking the next step. Much like a teenager leaving for university, he is excited to have his own place. Unlike most teenagers at school, he knows what he’s doing in a kitchen.