Born in a small town outside of Yorkshire, England, Ben Heaton knew at a young age that he wanted to become a chef. After moving to Toronto, Heaton attended culinary school at George Brown College where he honed his passion for the culinary arts.
After finishing school, Heaton moved back to England and worked in a variety of restaurants to complete his chef training, including Mash & Air, a gastropub in Manchester, as well as different positions under restaurateur and Chef Gary Rhodes.
After moving back to Toronto, Heaton helped to open the critically acclaimed restaurant Globe Bistro and also worked under Claudio Aprile at Colborne Lane and with Mark McEwan as the chef de cuisine at the celebrated restaurant One in Yorkville.
Most recently, Heaton was the executive chef and co-owner at The Grove in Toronto. The Grove opened to rave reviews for its imaginative menu (named the “Best New Restaurant in Canada” by Macleans Magazine) and Heaton received recognition from national critics for his fresh and creative style of cooking. Heaton then joined the Icon Legacy Hospitality group as the executive chef at Citta, a rustic Italian eatery in Toronto’s Cityplace neighbourhood.
In Dubai, Heaton holds the title of Executive Chef, Weslodge. In Toronto, he also holds the position of Executive Chef, Icon Legacy Hospitality. In this position, Heaton brings his modern yet classic approach to cuisine to the menus of NAO Steakhouse, the modern and lush steakhouse in Toronto’s Yorkville neighborhood; Weslodge (Toronto & Dubai) a modern day saloon with innovative yet approachable dishes; and the trendy La Société, a Parisian-themed bistro also located in Yorkville.
Heaton’s ability to master different styles and presentations of cuisines makes him undeniably one of the most talented and respected chefs around the globe.
Dr. Nasrine sat down with Executive Chef Ben Heaton to discuss his career at Weslodge in Dubai and Toronto, as well as some of his culinary must-have’s.
Tell us about your personal experience of being an Executive Chef here in the Middle East and the UAE.
My experience working in the UAE has been great so far. Having been blessed with a talented and creative brigade at Weslodge, we have really been able to push the boundaries of our concept and create something special. It was a challenge at the beginning with sourcing food and learning the Dubai market, but with my team we were able to create a menu that is very special. I feel we are offering something different to the diners in Dubai, something very special. Being able to lead the team to this point has just been amazing.
Why did you decide to work here in the Middle East? Specifically Dubai?
My company, Icon Legacy, decided to expand our brands to the Middle East. Dubai was a market they were very interested in and over a long research period, decided on our current location in the JW Marriott Marquis. Being the Corporate Executive Chef for the Weslodge brand, I was graced with the opportunity to open our concept in Dubai. It has been amazing so far.
For those not familiar with Weslodge Saloon, what region is your culinary style modeled after?
Weslodge is modelled after the cuisine of North America. A modern take on North American classics,with a rugged and refined style. We offer lots of small, vibrant plates using the best ingredients we can get our hands on, along with a large format menu offering big cuts of meat and fish grilled on our 12’ charcoal and wood grill. Lots of interesting sides and a great dessert program offering slices of pies from our trolley and interesting composed plates. Basically, we offer a large selection of food catering to everyones tastes.
What has been your impression of the local food scene over the years here in the Middle East?
I feel the food scene in Dubai is just exploding at the moment. There is a real vibrancy I haven’t seen in a long time. I feel that it will only get better with more and more additions to the City. Its exciting!!
When you manage to find a little time to step away from Weslodge what are some of your favorite spots to dine or socialize in Dubai?
I have enjoyed some really amazing meals in my time in Dubai. I have been to Qbara a few times and thoroughly enjoyed each experience. I have also enjoyed a few cigars at Hendricks Bar in the Four Seasons. Love it.
What is your favorite restaurant, besides the one you work at?
Wow, too many to answer that! In Toronto I really love the local neighborhood spots. I live in the West end so places like Actinolite, Chantecler, OMAW to name a few. In Dubai, I really like Qbara, Coya, Leila.
If you had not pursued a Chef career, what do you think you would have been?
Tough one. I’ve never really thought of myself as anything but a Chef. I have a passion for golf, and at one point in my life was quite good at it! So maybe something to do with golf course management or greens keeping.
What three ingredients you MUST have in your kitchen?
Maldon Salt, toasted black pepper, and lemon zest
Are you launching any new projects in the near future that you’d like to share with us?
We are an aggressively expanding company with lots of restaurants opening globally. Lots of new projects there that will take up a good chunk of my time!!