Noma-bound David Zilber
After working as a sous-chef in Vancouver, Toronto-born David Zilber is packing his knives to go work at the world's most influential restaurant.
Photography by Andrew Querner. Text by Gurj Dhaliwal.
Growing-up in the peanut plaza neighborhood of Toronto, Chef David Zilber, son of a Boeing engineer and a preschool teacher, has made his way to the doorstep of the world's number one restaurant, Noma in Denmark.
One would think David's love for food comes from his early childhood memories, rooted deep in West Indian and Jewish heritage, but quite frankly it doesn't. In downtown Toronto, David was out the door at age 18 with a co-op placement at Rain, yet he doesn't feel invested in regional or cultural cuisines. The love for his craft comes from an intellectual point of view; driven by fundamentals and creativity that food can be all the things you want it to be.
David's tour to become a chef began with baking cakes for friends and with support from his guidance counselors who initiated this possible career path. This launched him to work alongside Claudio Aprile at Colborne Lane, a butcher for The Healthy Butcher both in Toronto and then over to Hotel Le-St James in Montreal working with Michael Mercury. In 2011, David packed his knives this time for Vancouver to open the highly anticipated namesake restaurant Hawksworth, from Canadian Chef David Hawksworth at The Rosewood Hotel.
Inspiration in a kitchen comes in many forms, and for David it's not the day-to-day activities, the outlook is long-term.
"Do something hard until it gets easy and when I came to Hawksworth three years ago, I'd never been a sous chef before. David Hawksworth was the hardest person I've ever worked for, it was a new city and I had no idea what to expect from the situation, it was incredibly difficult."
"I made a promise, I made a commitment and sometimes it's worth it just to see the commitment through even when they're days or times of a slump, when you're not seeing any daylight.
You learn things that you don't necessarily know you're learning and it's only in hindsight that you realize it was worth doing."
With his sights set on Copenhagen, David was offered a two-week trial at Noma this past April, which culminated in Chef de Cuisine Dan Giusti's invitation for David to present at "Saturday Night Projects" on the last night of his trial. "Projects" as it's simply known are original dishes presented by full-time chefs or long-term stagiaire every Saturday Night after service for their peers to taste, discuss, critique and learn from.
The young chef pulled a dish that was first conceived for a Hawksworth tasting menu that never made it on. Lamb tartar, cumin semolina cracker, cucumber, wasabi, raita, black garlic,
and artichoke were the components that landed the now 28-year-old chef a full-time position
Packing the last of what he needs, which is not a lot when you take on a position at a Michelin starred restaurant, requires dedication, perseverance and passion. David looks forward to living in Denmark and getting into a routine as soon as possible while immersing himself into an 85-hour workweek with one day off to recover.
"There's not much of a life but you're there for a reason and you realize that this isn't happening anywhere else on earth. It's about understanding the sacrifices you are making".