Sarnia chef Paresh Thakkar knows how to please local palates – and soon foodies from across the country will see his culinary prowess in action.
The 35-year-old owner of Personal Touch Eatery & Catering will square off against fellow chefs in the third season of “Chopped Canada.” His episode “Duelling over Devilled Eggs” – pre-taped in the “Chopped Canada” studio earlier this year – airs March 5 on The Food Network at 9 p.m.
Each episode features four Canadian chefs battling it out to prepare an appetizer, entree and dessert using mystery baskets of ingredients over the course of three timed rounds.
A panel of food critics judges the dishes based on taste, plating and creativity.
Despite the pressure of working under Chopped Canada’s ticking clock, Thakkar said the experience wasn’t unlike what he faces every day in his kitchen.
“I do cook off the cuff quite a bit at the restaurant,” he said. “That’s how I do my features. Sometimes I don’t decide on them until the morning when I go to the market.”
Born and raised in Sarnia, Thakkar – a chef well-known for his fusion of multicultural flavours with traditional dishes – got his first taste of cooking at home with his East Indian mother and grandmother.
“I always enjoyed being in the kitchen with my mom and my grandma, learning about food and how they cook,” he said. “It was never recipe-based. It was always you just watch and see what’s added and taste it, so it was a lot of cooking with your senses and not recipes.”
After a brief stint in the accounting world – another family tradition – Thakkar realized his passion was in food and so he studied culinary arts at Fanshawe College.
He cut his teeth at London’s Bertoldi’s Trattoria and Bellamere Winery before stints at Sarnia’s Paddy Flaherty’s and Lola’s. He also spent six months working in two kitchens in Canmore, Alta.
In 2011, Thakkar started up Personal Touch Eatery & Catering, a Mitton Village restaurant popular with the lunch-time crowd and also home to his catering business.
His menu of staple dishes is beefed up with weekly features like Wednesday’s Curry Craze and Thursday’s Fiesta focusing on Mexican and Latin American dishes.
“I wanted to incorporate something different in Sarnia,” he said. “I didn’t want to be just a strictly Indian restaurant, but I wanted to bring things to Sarnia that I’ve experienced being around different places whether when I lived in Toronto, lived in Kitchener-Waterloo or in London.”
And he’s finding more people are receptive to trying different types of cuisine in the city.
“I think that Food Network Canada has especially opened eyes because the more and more shows they have available showing different types of cuisine, it’s getting people more interested,” he said.
As news spreads of his “Chopped Canada” appearance – believed to be the first by a born-and-raised Sarnian – Thakkar said he has been overwhelmed by the community’s response.
“That’s the one thing I love about Sarnia – it is a small town – and you’re part of the community. It’s not like you’re in a big city where there’s 10 chefs from this area in it whereas here I’m representing the area, so it feels good and it’s a lot of pressure as well.”
Plans are underway for a screening party March 5. Details of the event haven’t been firmed up yet, but Thakkar hopes it can be a community-wide event that will benefit a local charity.