After almost three decades at Garibaldi secondary, Chef Daniel Lesnes is retiring.
It’s been a long journey, but an enjoyable one.
It started in a small village in the north of France, where he was born, the youngest of five children.
His father and grandfather were master butchers and his father also owned a small catering company.
Chef Lesnes came to Canada in September 1982 with just a bag on his back.
He started his Canadian journey in Montreal at a small restaurant called Chez La Mère Michel. The owner of that restaurant had a contact with the Queen Elizabeth Hotel and that is where Chef Lesnes went for the next three years, gaining invaluable professional experience.
Then in 1986, he made his way to Vancouver with the sous chef from the Queen Elizabeth Hotel and where they reopened The Roof Restaurant at the Hotel Vancouver for Expo ’86.
Chef Lesnes never returned to Montreal. Instead, he moved to Kitsilano, where he decided he wanted to start teaching.
First, it was private lessons to adults.
Then a friend showed him a small advertisement for a position at Garibaldi secondary.
“I didn’t know where Maple Ridge was. I had to rent a car to come here,” said the chef from his office in the high school’s kitchen.
He spent one year commuting back and forth to Kitsilano before deciding to buy a house in Mission.
High school was a different game, said the chef. He had students who were eager to learn and those in it for the course credit.
But Chef Lesnes found it rewarding to see students progress to skilled cooks.
Recently, he received an email from a former student who is now a chef at a golf course in Surrey and said that he is still chopping the onions the way Lesnes taught him.
Another former student is the head butcher at Hopcott Meats.
These are the success stories that make Lesnes proud.
While teaching, Lesnes worked on his bachelor of education, graduating from the University of British Columbia in 2002.
His students have participated in the provincial gingerbread competition and what he is most proud of is starting bi-yearly culinary tours. Since 2006, students have had tours in New York, France and Spain and Italy.
Chef Lesnes loves to make everything from scratch, although his favourite dishes are from his childhood, his mother’s dishes.
In fact, Chef Lesnes can no longer follow a recipe. He has no patience for that.
In his retirement, Chef Lesnes is looking forward to gardening and other outdoor activities, as well as travelling with his wife, Sandra.
He wants to discover Canada and see the Yukon and the Maritimes.
Lesnes’ last day on the job is June 27.
Chef Brent McGimpsey will be taking over in September.
“I wanted to leave quietly. But it is not happening,” Lesnes said.