At age 17, Bruce Wood remembers savouring a spicy bowl of authentic Jamaican goat curry and, in his words, “seeing the world in colour.” This white bread boy from North York, Ontario had had his first food epiphany. There was no going back.
When a passion for food strikes that young, you run with it. Almost from the onset of his career in 1981, Wood found himself in the famed kitchen of the Hazelton Café in Toronto, working with legendary Chef Terry Seed. Seed was helping to define regional Canadian cooking; Wood was there to learn from a master.
Realizing he needed to augment his training with formal credentials, Wood entered the well-respected George Brown College culinary arts program. He graduated in 1984 with top honours in both the basic and advanced programmes. Upon graduation he furthered his learning curve at a number of top-rated restaurants in Toronto, taking his expertise up a notch with each strategic career move.
Lured to Ottawa in 1992, he went to work for LOEB Foods, a vanguard grocery chain employing professional chefs to teach customers how to take their meals to the next level. By this time in his evolution as a chef, Wood was focusing more and more on sourcing local produce to use in his menus and cooking classes. As a champion of the early “farm to plate” movement, Wood moved to Mariposa duck and goose farm in Plantagenet, Ontario. Working on the farm, and cooking and teaching in the onsite restaurant further galvanized Bruce’s resolve to champion local food producers, growers and suppliers.
A spark for teaching had been ignited, both from his experience with LOEB and the cooking classes he taught at Mariposa. Bruce took a teaching position at Algonquin College in Ottawa. By the fall of 2005, Wood’s credentials for creating dynamic interactive food learning experiences came to the attention of Carley and Oliver Schelck. They approached Wood to help to open and run a new concept cooking school, The Urban Element.
Wood might have stayed had it not been for his ever-evolving commitment to local, sustainable food practices and agriculture. He wanted to get closer to his food sources. He wanted to personally know his suppliers and he wanted to get involved in local food advocacy. Wood also wears shorts a lot. Okay, all the time. Ottawa just wasn’t cutting it in the winter.
The mild climate of Salt Spring Island BC met his criteria. Salt Spring is known for, amongst other things, its local cheeses, wines and wild mushrooms, and is home to passionate “roots and shoots” farmers who care about where their food comes from, and the quality of the goods they supply to consumers.
In 2007 Wood moved to Salt Spring and was immediately immersed in a life he revels in; one he’d sought for a long time. As owner, chef and teacher at Bruce’s Kitchen in Ganges, he continues to indulge his passion for fresh, local, seasonal fare. His open kitchen is a lively convivial haven for locals and visitors alike. Savoury smells permeate the air, while Wood waxes poetic about his most recent food find or cooking technique. Recipe exchanges flourish with regulars. Wood’s concept of “eat here for lunch/take us home for dinner” has thrived. His intimate small-group “communal dinners” are popular, tasty events served with gusto, grace and a good glass of wine.
In fact, it’s all good for Wood. Salt Spring Island is home and in his home you are always welcome in the kitchen.