Ryan Gark finally feels like he’s back home.
The 41-year-old Campbell River native recently joined the Waverley Hotel as the business’s new executive chef.
Gark, who has been working in kitchens since he was a teenager, is most known for winning a season 2 episode of the reality TV series Chopped Canada in 2015.
He said he is excited to put down roots at home, after flipping back and forth between chef jobs in Alberta and B.C. in recent years.
“I’m back in the Valley, finally, as an executive chef,” he said. “There, I was just a corporate chef. But I’m back in the Valley, writing the menus, overseeing the operation, and really having full control of it.”
Gark said he aims to bring a few changes to the Waverley’s menu. While he acknowledges the importance of burgers in the hotel, he mentioned bringing a heightened focus towards seafood and entrees, as well as introducing Italian-style thin crust pizza.
“I have a pizza stone in the back, and we’ll make thin crust pizzas – sort of Italian style,” he said. “There will be lots of things we can feature and flavours we can play around with that. I’ve been developing my pizza dough for a while at home and at different restaurants.”
As per the focus on homemade-style entrees, Gark said a recent smoked chicken special accompanied with mashed potatoes, gravy and vegetables was a big hit among the Cumberland crowd.
“We sold a whole bunch of them,” he said. “We do have a big 50-plus crowd here and they gravitated towards that.”
Gark is most known for winning an episode of Chopped Canada in May 2015. Back when the episode was filmed, Gark was working in eastern Alberta at a restaurant outside of Cold Lake.
According to Gark, the process to even compete on the show was a six-month ordeal that included multiple interviews with representatives from the show and the network.
After finally being accepted as a contestant, he was flown out to Toronto for the episode in the spring of 2014.
“It was a 15-hour day in the studio, just sweating bullets. It was super stressful,” he said of his reality TV experience. “I think I was more relieved when they pulled up the last one and I wasn’t ‘chopped’.”
“It was almost like, ‘thank God it’s over.’ Obviously, I was super happy as well, but it was a bit of an overwhelming experience.”
Gark initially planned to use the $10,000 he won from the show to bring his food truck business to the Comox Valley, where he could be with his family. After getting laid off from his job in Alberta, however, he moved to Tofino for 18 months. He was still in Tofino when the Chopped episode aired.
He later came to the Valley to work at the Chances Playtime casino’s restaurant and also did some work as a consultant for the Vibe restaurant in downtown Courtenay last summer. But the experiences didn’t pan out and he ended up returning to Alberta for a while, before starting the executive chef position at the Waverley a few weeks ago.
“This will be my first opportunity to come back to the Valley as the Chopped Canada champion,” he said. “I’m actually really excited to be here.”