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An Accidental Chef

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Bringing creativity to our kitchens

"With cooking, there’s instant gratification when you serve your dish to someone,” says Stephen Cyr, Director of Culinary Services at The Williamsburg in Burlington, Ontario. “One of the great things about working here is when families come in and say how much their parents enjoy living here and the food.”

Food is something that stirs the senses and emotions. It has the power to transcend time with a certain smell or flavour bringing someone back to their childhood or a specific moment in their life. Happiness can be shared through food as people take the time to enjoy a meal and each other’s company.

“I hope my excitement for our service, quality and variety of dishes coming out of our kitchen is passed along to our residents.”

“At a retirement residence, the Director of Recreation makes sure residents keep active and take care of their bodies,” says Cyr. “In the dining room, it’s our responsibility to enhance their lives as well, but through smell and taste.”

Cyr has been working in the culinary industry for 25 years - from diners to hotels and everywhere in between. He joined The Kensington in Oakville, Ontario where he plied his trade and built a team from the ground-up. He’s now using that experience at the Williamsburg where he’s encouraging a greater sense of creative expression among the team of cooks.

“Just the other week, Stephen did strawberries four ways,” says Sarah Poirier, Executive Director at the Williamsburg. “There were strawberries frozen with liquid nitrogen and deep-fried strawberries. I had no idea you could even do that, but it was delicious.”

“One of the challenges with working in a retirement residence is that you’re always cooking for the same people. It forces you to be creative and give the residents lots of choice,” says Cyr. “The residents here are well-travelled and know good food. They challenge me to be at the top of my game.”

Cyr became a chef almost by accident. He was working at a sugar refinery when it closed, so he thought he may as well open a diner. After some great success, he decided he would take his career change more seriously and enrolled in cooking school at New Brunswick Community College in Moncton where he learned about not only food preparation, but also presentation, menu pairings and to manage service teams. “I still have the same enthusiasm now as I did when I started,” he says.

“I’m a no-nonsense kind of chef, but you have to have fun. I hope my excitement for our service, quality and variety of dishes coming out of our kitchen is passed along to the residents.”

An Accidental Chef Williamsburg Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta Recipe


Panna cotta:

  • 1 tsp dried lavender flowers

  • 500 ml of 35% heavy whipping cream

  • 500 ml of lightly beaten eggs

  • 2 cups of sugar

  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract

Caramel Topping:

  • Combine 500 ml of caramel sauce, 1/2 tsp cinnamon and ¼ tsp of ground star anise


  1. Pre-heat oven to 325°F

  2. Over medium heat, warm the heavy cream in a sauce pan. Add the dried lavender flowers, cover the pan and let steep with the heat off for 10 minutes. Strain out and discard the flowers when time is up.

  3. Return the heavy cream to the pan and turn up the heat to medium. Stir in the lightly beaten eggs, sugar and vanilla extract until sugar is dissolved. Stir constantly.

  4. Pour the mixture into ramekins and sit them in a pan with some hot water (be careful not to allow water to spill into the ramekins). Bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until the panna cotta jiggles slightly.

  5. Cool in the fridge for 2 hours then serve topped with your favourite fruit preserves, chocolate or the caramel sauce listed above. Be creative in plating and garnish with fresh fruit.

Chocolate Ribbons:

  1. Using a double boiler, temper chocolate to 40°C, using a candy thermometer to measure.

  2. Cool the melted chocolate to 34.5°C and spread over acetate paper to make ribbons approximately 10 inches long.

  3. Drape the paper over a small rolling pin to create a wave and let the chocolate set.

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