Toronto-born Jason Bangerter arrived at Langdon Hall in the fall of 2013 as executive chef of the Country House Hotel & Spa and winner of five AAA/CAA diamonds and Conde Nast Traveller magazine’s best hotel in Canada.
Waterloo born and raised, Abe Erb Waterloo Executive Chef Alex Fegaras spent five years cooking in a Michelin-starred restaurant in Tuscany. Returning to Canada, he found himself at an Oliver and Bonacini restaurant in Toronto before moving to their previous location in North Waterloo.
He says that the training he received in Italy and Toronto were critical to his culinary development and when he saw the chance to join Abe Erb, he simply could not resist.
“It was a great opportunity that came up at Abe Erb in Waterloo, and I jumped all over it,” Fegaras says. “I’ve been with them since they opened the Waterloo location, so I’m one of the originals.”
With Shaun Strevez, Executive Chef at Abe Erb at The Tannery, the pair head up the kitchens at this dynamic beer, food and entertainment brand. “In terms of menu creation, we fifty-fifty it,” he says about the restaurant and brew pub’s food. The two Abe Erb venues share about 95 percent of their menu items, he estimates.
Fegaras, 32, has operated his own catering company – Assagi – and while he didn’t go to culinary school for formal training, he does not refer to himself as self-trained; he says, rather, that his broad experience in professional kitchens has given him wide experience that has shaped his career and knowledge and continues to inform his approach to food. “I’ve had the benefit of working with a lot of very passionate and talented people.”
The Abe Erb food philosophy starts and ends with – well, of course – beer. “The objective is farm-to-table shareables,” as he describes it. “It’s like home cooking but with a twist. Obviously we have incredible beer at our disposal, so my job – a pretty incredible job for a cook to have – is to pair the food with the beer.”
The Waterloo Abe Erb is at the center of Uptown; the newly opened Kitchener location sits virtually at the heart of the tech sector at The Tannery. Fegaras emphasizes that at either location, an atmosphere of relaxation for great food and beer is one of life’s pleasures that they’re trying to serve. “We’re about putting down your phone and getting away from technology for a moment. It’s about sitting and enjoying the camaraderie of the person next to you. The menu encourages enjoying the beer, the food and the company around you for the evening.”
Where does he think food and dining is heading in Waterloo Region? Fegaras sees appetites evolving over the next few years. “We’re still meat-and-potatoes in the Region, but people are getting a lot more experimental. We want to slowly get them out of their comfort zone. I also see a lot more marrying of cuisines: French-Asian, Italo-Mexican. There are so many great foods available in our multi-cultural society.”
Rapid-fire Round with Chef Alex Fegaras
Explore Waterloo Region (EWR): Favourite chef?
Alex Fegaras (AF): I can’t pick one. Thomas Keller is obviously up there. Anthony Bourdain for the way he makes me feel about food. I don’t know of anyone else who makes me feel that way.
EWR: Favourite band?
AF: Coheed and Cambri, Alexisonfire, and Anderson Paak. Just to name a few.
EWR: What are you reading right now?
AF: Michael Ruhlman’s Twenty. It’s about 20 culinary principles rather than recipes.
EWR: For whom would you like to cook?
AF: Abraham Lincoln. Just so he could see where the United States has come to in the last 150 years.
EWR: Do you ride a bike?
AF: I do. It’s not a very nice bike but 18 gears.
EWR: Favourite footwear for the kitchen or otherwise?
AF: Anything comfortable. Right now, I’m in Crocs. The new Vans kitchen-wear is coming out. Looks incredible.
EWR: Favourite beverage:
AF: An Abe Erb Kolsch, of course! But otherwise a Manhattan or a glass of Shiraz.
EWR: Favourite city (other than here in Waterloo Region)?
AF: I have two. Florence, Italy; and Montreal, Quebec. For me, they have the same feel.