Heman Lee on running two kitchens at once
With super-human work ethic and restaurant chops in this veins, the chef/co-owner has big plans for what’s next.
Having successfully started one restaurant, opening El Chino was less daunting. It helped that the two had already experienced failure, when they had to close Robie Street Express, the cafe that used to occupy El Chino’s space.
Like the seafood restaurant that wasn’t meant to be, El Chino was also inspired by time the duo spent in California, working at Lee’s aunt’s Chinese restaurant. Lots of the kitchen staff there were from Mexico and South America, working together with Chinese people. For staff meals, both groups cooked their own food and shared.
“We’d be eating like tacos and noodles,” Lee says. “It just worked.”
So El Chino was born, and Lee hasn’t stopped since. On days off he catches up on daily life—walking his two Samoyeds, cleaning the house, paying bills, date nights. Cooking takes a back seat, replaced by fast food and instant noodles.
Lee says he learned to work hard from his dad, and was even set to take over the family restaurant in Toronto. Then he moved to Nova Scotia instead.
“We have a good relationship,” he says of his father. “I just didn’t want somebody peering over my shoulders every day and telling me what to do.”
Yet it seems his dad’s hands-on style and high standards are qualities Lee also inherited, and are both a blessing and a curse in the kitchen.
“If I see somebody doing something slowly it’s like, ‘I can do this twice as fast as you can, why am I paying you to do this?’” he says. “I take on too much and I try to do everything myself.”
Despite this desire to be in charge, he hopes that someday El Chino will run itself without him—not so he can go on vacation, but so that he can open a Chinese barbecue joint.
“That’s just our lifestyle,” he says. “It’s like, ‘Oh we have free time, let’s fill it up with more work.’”
assessment processes to identify systemic problems before major incidents occur. That recommendation is consistent with the federal government’s