Meet the Chefs of Sodexo Live!: Chef Richard Duncan

Published on : 1/27/23
  • Richard Duncan: Executive Chef at Canada Life Centre

    Richard Duncan, the executive chef at Canada Life Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, is serving up some elevated game day fare for sports fans to our neighbors up north. The classically trained chef, with 27 years of hotel and restaurant experience under his belt, joined Sodexo Live! last summer and has been having a great time coming up with nontraditional items to serve in the stands, along with the usual favorites. We caught up with the chef to talk about paying homage to the communities he serves, mentoring young chefs and what those Winnipeg Jets fans can’t live without.

    Interviewer: Who were your early influences when it comes to cooking?

    Chef Richard Duncan: Cooking has always been part of my life. I was helping out my grandmother in the kitchen starting when I was about 5 years old! I did my schooling in culinary arts at Red River College Polytechnic in Winnipeg. 

    Interviewer: You’ve been with Sodexo Live! for a few months now. How are you adjusting to your new role? 

    Richard Duncan: It has been a very unique experience. I get to work with our culinary leads within the company, whether that be my direct boss or the chef de cuisine. And of course, it only takes about five seconds of listening to Chef Carmen Callo, Sodexo Live!'s SVP Corporate Executive Chef, talk about how much he loves food before you get pretty engaged yourself. I was really quite taken by the vision for the company, which is to provide enhanced experiences at these amazing venues. Of course, we're always going to have wings, we're always going to have hot dogs and the comfort foods that people come to love when they are coming to a sporting event, but there is a huge opportunity to do so much more. We're kind of reinventing who we are and what we can do. So, it's kind of exciting to be a part of that, to have the opportunity to make such an impact. 

    Interviewer: What are some of the popular items you serve?

    Richard Duncan: People enjoy comfort food like bison, so we have a bison chili on the menu. Generally, for a lot of the hockey teams that come here, they don't like to leave without getting their pierogies and kielbasa, because we've got quite a lot of people with Ukrainian backgrounds up in Winnipeg, but we also have a lot of Asian players as well, including a large Filipino community. With Canada Life Centre being a sports venue, we try to have a little bit of fun with our menu. It's not like the kind of dining where you're all sitting at a table. A lot of times you're either eating it handheld or a more casual-style dining.

    Interviewer: Do you utilize local suppliers when sourcing ingredients?

    Richard Duncan: We work with locally owned businesses. We do a lot of heritage days here where we work with the people within those communities. We did a Filipino heritage night where we got together with some other Filipino chefs that I know. It’s fun to do other cuisines so people who might not otherwise experience it are able to. Right now, we’re working on a South Asian night —  a little bit of Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine. And we're in Canada, so we want to support our Canadian beef programs. We love to do a lot of barbecue stuff up here, too, whether that be baked beans and smoked brisket. Manitoba is a fun province to be in; there are a lot of influences. For someone who loves food and loves to create, it's always a blank page when we start our menu writing because we have free rein of all of it. 

    Interviewer: How does seasonality come into play?

    Richard Duncan: This time of year, we're very big on the root vegetables. We want to give our guests asparagus and stuff like that, but it's coming from so far, so we try to be a little more responsible. It’s also a way to keep our costs down, by sourcing what we can here in Manitoba.

    Interviewer: Who are some of your culinary inspirations?

    Richard Duncan: There’s a chef named Marco Pierre White, who is very interesting. He definitely takes food very seriously, and I appreciate that. He's old-school. People aren't aware of him, but we all know who Gordon Ramsay is. Well, he's the one who trained Gordon Ramsay. Of course, there’s a lot of show and drama for TV, but those old-style kitchens are built on discipline. As you progress through your career, you start to understand why they were the way they were. We work in a chaotic environment at times, and you need to have that discipline to be able to make the right decisions, not just the convenient ones. You need to be able to lead a lot of people, and you need to know what happens when you fail and, more importantly, how to fix it. Everything's a progression; everybody wants a perfect service, but there are great lessons regardless if you lose, win or draw. You can build from it. 

    Interviewer: What has been the best part of your job so far?

    Richard Duncan: It's an incredible honor and challenge to be able to reach so many young people. We’re taking what we know and giving our young cooks the best training and getting them interested in the industry. You start remembering where you came from as a young chef and how excited you were when you knew nothing. One of the most exciting things for me as a chef — and I think a lot of chefs would agree — is that there's no end to this. It's not like one day, you say, “OK, we're done.” Trends change all the time, products change, people's passions change, seasons change. You can always reinvent what you're doing. You can always find something else that gives you more passion to come to work and talk food and be able to teach.