Spotlight on alumni
A great chef takes risks. He also does the unexpected, and sometimes acts on a whim that may seem impulsive and reckless. When you walk into Bob Arniel’s premises it’s not immediately obvious that risk taker is a label that fits Mr. Arniel to a T. His elegant Victorian house on Barnes Road is inviting, bright and tastefully decorated. The kitchen is a dream. Light spills in through large windows reflecting off the shining strainers, ladles, pots, pens and knives.
Bob Arniel, St. John’s Chef To Go, is a quiet, unassuming man who knows that he got where he is because of the hard work he put into his passion – food. Growing up in a small town in Ontario, Mr. Arniel relished his first exposure to preparing food in a small mom-and-pop diner and decided to pursue his career as a chef. He attended a school in Sault Ste. Marie and than embarked on a cross-Canada odyssey that is typical for a young ambitious chef.
“It’s actually a difficult lifestyle. You work at one place for six months, and than at another for six months and you try to learn as much as you can from each chef,” he said.
Eventually, he made his way to the East Coast and Halifax where he worked with a demanding Frenchman. “He was a brilliant chef,” said Mr. Arniel. He was also a stereotypical caricature of a chef with a temper that could flare up better than a flambé dish. Mr. Arniel remembers having a knife thrown at him. And ducking about 10 inches of sharp steel is no mean feat. “Kitchens are a high-stress environment where everybody is on the edge. Today that has changed a lot,” he explained.
You can’t blame him for eventually deciding that it was time to change surroundings. He was planning to return to his home province, but there was a cheap standby ticket available for St. John’s, so, on an impulse, he decided to head to the Rock. “It was just me with my duffle bag and no plans whatsoever,” he laughed.
He found a good landlady, a kitchen position, and a roommate who was a student at Memorial. The roommate urged him to enrol at the university and so he did. At the time, Memorial offered a program in vocational education that seemed to be a natural fit for Mr. Arniel who eventually graduated and started to teach at the Marine Institute.
He eventually ran the kitchen at the Cabot Club at the old Hotel Newfoundland, but wanted to launch into business of his own. Opening a restaurant is a dicey proposition at the best of times and Mr. Arniel knew that he wanted to do something different that would allow him to combine his love of teaching and exceptional food. So Chef to Go was born.
“I was told it would never work, but you know it was a good time to do it. Newfoundland was growing. There were oil and gas developments. Executives needed to entertain in their homes and the cooking shows were gaining popularity,” he explained.
Chef to Go is a catering business, a cooking school and an exclusive dining experience if you choose to book Mr. Arniel’s premises on Barnes Road.
Today he runs several courses as well as weekend seminars that involve not just learning how to prepare good food, but also time with friends to share it.
Mr. Arniel doesn’t just teach, he is constantly learning, too. His love of travel is an excellent opportunity to get bring home new foods and new ways of preparing the all-time favourites. He has crisscrossed the globe by now and his classes certainly reflect not just his love of food and local ingredients, but also the adventurous spirit that is a hallmark of an exceptional chef.