Justin Leboe originally hails from Vancouver, B.C, where he started on the road of his culinary journey. Starting at Umberto’s when he was only 13 years old, to eventually become one of the original cooks to open the restaurant “C” in downtown Vancouver in 1997, Justin has a natural talent when it comes to the culinary industry. He furthered his career by working under some the most talented chefs in the world including Daniel in NYC, French Laundry in California, Waterloo House in Bermuda, Inn at Little Washington in Virginia, The Peninsula in Beverly Hills, and Est, Est, Est in Melbourne, Australia.
He moved to Calgary in 2007 to help open the most highly anticipated restaurant in Calgary at the time – Rush, a very formal fine dining establishment. Justin moved on to open Model Milk in September of 2011. The cuisine can be described as elevated comfort food, and has forever changed the Calgary dining scene – now making it a contender for culinary capitals of Canada.
Apart from being a restaurateur, Leboe runs marathons to raise money for charity and is a contributor to Brown Bagging For Calgary’s Kids Society. He is one of a group of local chefs who last year gathered enough funds to pay for 10,000 school lunches.
He was awarded Most Innovative Chef by Canada’s 100 Best in 2016.
You have been referred to as a creative chef trapped in a design director’s body. How did this combo jumpstart your culinary journey?
My background as a creative director has been an asset to me both in the kitchen and at concept level with the development of all my brands. I would consider myself more a restaurateur than a chef, though at the very beginning I was involved in every aspect of business including cooking. I started out by working with a few like-minded creatives, and with the help of passionate chefs, have since constructed a solid team in all of our kitchens. As the company grows it’s important to me that each menu always remains chef-driven, yet accessible.
What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome going from a chef to a restaurateur?
I think the hardest part was giving up the reins in the kitchen. Letting go of something you’re so passionate about is not easy, and for me, that was being in the heart of the kitchen. In order for my restaurants to succeed, I knew I had to give my staff the opportunity to grow.
Of all the renowned kitchens you’ve worked in across the globe, which cuisine do you find the most exciting?
During my world travels, I spent a year in Australia, and fell in love with the quality ingredient level of food available there. Another spot was Copenhagen – the food was amazing. Also, San Francisco farms know their way around fresh produce.
How do you see tech-driven food delivery services impacting the future for restaurants?
I see this more as an added revenue layer – it’s not going to change the nature of the business. People who want the restaurant experience will continue to come for that.
What would we find if we looked in your fridge?
A bottle of Champagne, a bottle of white wine, a bottle of rose, 2-3 bottles Perrier, 2 bottles of Sriracha sauce, 1 bottle of red boat fish sauce, a jar of capers and a jar of pickles. I’m home so rarely that I tend to buy what I need that evening.
When you aren’t cooking or overseeing your popular kitchens, what do you like to do for fun?
On my days off, I like to get outside and ride my bike. I’m part of a restaurant group in Calgary that meets twice a week to ride through trails around the city for a couple of hours. This year’s goal is to ride 4000 Km.
Learn more from Justin Leboe, read the rest of his interview on Restobiz.