There's a new chef in town.
La Place Rendez-Vous has welcomed Chef Joseph Roberts as their new executive chef.
The Red Seal chef is bringing more than 30 years of experience working in restaurants in southern Ontario, including Caesars Windsor, to the Vous.
“I did my apprenticeship at Georgian College,” Roberts said.
“There is a place called the Kempenfelt Centre, and I originally took Resort and Hotel Management for a year.”
After encouragement from his professors, Roberts signed onto an apprenticeship as a chef and completed 6,000 hours of training before going to work at a golf course where his career began to take off.
“I was fortunate,” he said.
“I did a function for the Toronto Blue Jays at the National Pines Golf Club, and that's pretty much when everything went crazy for me.”
“A bunch of cards were handed out to me from Toronto on that event,” Roberts continued.
“And then I went to Gourmet Kitchens and we catered Casa Loma, Queen's Park and all of that. The volumes were high there. We did huge numbers.”
From there, Roberts said an opportunity came up at Caesar's Windsor, where he worked until taking the job at La Place Rendez-Vous. Work at the casino was seniority-based, meaning a newer chef like Roberts was moved around from department to department.
“I looked at it as more of an opportunity than it was a discouragement,” Roberts explained.
“I worked in the butcher shop, I worked saucier, fine dining, like, every aspect in there I had worked, so I looked at that as a learning opportunity more than anything else.”
Roberts has brought the experience he's gained working in high profile, and high volume, restaurants with him to La Place Rendez-Vous where, he said, the experience isn't all that different.
“Obviously, being in the city, it was easier getting in the [ingredient] orders and all of that, you know?” he said.
“Like I could call up my steak guy and say, 'Okay, throw me a hundred pounds worth of tenderloin, I need it cut today,' and it'd be there, right? I'd get it on a daily basis or whatever else. But besides that, the volume's here, there's so much potential here and all that means is we work around it.”
La Place Rendez-Vous' general manager Sarah Noonan said she's already seen the new chef's knowledge paying off in the kitchen in the short time Roberts has been in there.
“I've seen some experience that he's sort of brought with him here,” she said.
“He's kind of teamwork based in the kitchen, I've seen people getting excited and having people contribute more and it being more of a team effort in there, which is kind of nice to see, so overall it's kind of exciting.”
“I also believe in promoting within,” Roberts said.
“So if people want to show the interest, I love spending the time to show them, because that's what makes people grow.”
Having worked in the industry for 30 years, Roberts said he stays excited about cooking by always trying to challenge himself.
“I push myself all the time,” he explained.
“I always try to take myself to the next level, all the time. I'm constantly reading, following YouTube and keeping up with the trends. It's just who I am. It's my passion.”
“I'm probably my own worst critic in that sense, because where I get it, I want to go even further, so I always want to push the envelope on it,” Roberts continued.
“Because my reward is the plate itself and seeing the reaction from the person or the individual saying, 'Wow, that was really good.' That's my reward. You don't need anything else past that.”
Bringing in a new head chef offers a restaurant a chance to shake up an established menu in order to offer up new dishes, but both Roberts and Noonan insist that while the menu might change in the coming months, it won't be a complete overhaul.
“I don't want to take away what's already a tradition here,” Roberts said.
"Once we've established the staples, which I believe we have, then it's introducing new products and things that I've done before that we can blend together, so that we can offer more variety to the tourists but also locals as well.
“There's sort of a fine balance where we want to stay true to our Classics and our local audience and what people count on to get here when they come here, but then also adding variety and new items,” Noonan elaborated.
“He's kind of playing with 'Okay, what do people in Fort Frances want?' and kind of getting a feel for that. It's kind of exciting to see that through the daily specials and it's a way that we can stay true to our core but also introduce new and exciting things.”
Roberts said there's no need to worry about menu items like walleye—or pickerel—or liver and onions, as he wants to make sure the most popular items on the Vous' existing menu are there for when people come in to order them.
“We don't want to lose the business within the community and shock everybody if it's not what they're looking for,” Roberts said.
“Honestly. I don't want to discourage anybody from that, but we can also add a little bit of flair to the items that we have to introduce it in a different way. That's all.”
One way the Rendez-Vous is looking to add to the menu is by way of daily specials. Noonan and Roberts said they'll be presenting different specials and monitoring how well they are received.
“If they sell out then we know, okay, here's potential, you know?” Roberts said.
One such item that has already been added to the menu through this process is a seafood linguini made with shrimp, scallops and calamari, which Noonan said was very popular with customers.
“We had people say, 'That's the best seafood linguini I've ever had,'” she recalled.
“By doing this, I'm starting to adapt and learn the environment,” Roberts said.
“There's a lot of potential for seafood here. There's a lot of potential for the meats. The meats have already been on the menu anyway, but even our beef tenderloin, we serve it with a wild mushroom jus, and that seems to be going really well. So we're making some progress.”
Both Noonan and Roberts agree that there's also plenty of potential to do some brand new things at the Vous in the future, from reworking the event menus to seasonal restaurant menus or even special events like a wild game night.
“He just has cool ideas that maybe we haven't really thought of, or things that we can put on that will bring people in,” Noonan said.
“I even thought, like, a Caribbean night with a barbecue and a spit down there [on the waterfront],” Roberts offered.
“I thought that would be great.”
“We're so lucky to be on the lake and that's a really unique part of what we have and a great feature,” Noonan continued.
“The wheels are turning, for sure, so it's kind of fun. We're sort of brainstorming and coming up with lots of ideas, so we're excited to play those out.”
Roberts has also shared that he's looking forward to meeting and interacting with the community, adding that he makes a point of being available as a chef to check in with diners.
“I believe in going out to the dining room and talking to the customers,” he said.
“The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, whatever the case may be, because that's the only way that things are going to go, and then that's how you adapt to what people are looking for. I haven't had the opportunity yet, but that's what my ultimate goal is.”
“By doing that you can get the reviews and it's better to know one-on-one, personally,” Roberts continued.
“If it's not good then obviously it's something that we can discuss or work on, but on the other aspect, if it's really good and they want to try something different then maybe that's something that I hadn't really looked at, and there's nothing saying we can't. So I'm excited. I really am.”
While both Noonan and Roberts are busy adjusting to the changes and getting everyone up to speed, it's only a matter of time before things click into place and allow Chef Roberts a chance to experience what the Rainy River district has to offer.
“I'm hoping to take him on the boat soon,” Noonan said.
“Give this guy a day off and enjoy the best parts of Fort Frances. But it's been fun to see him in action and to see the positive things that are coming, and it makes you really excited about the future.”
“I'm excited to be here. I really am,” Roberts said.
“It just reminds me of so many different other things. And it's beautiful out here. It's a beautiful town and everybody's so friendly. That's the difference from the city. You know what I mean? Big difference between the two.”