Saying that the pandemic hasn’t been easy on most of us, is an understatement. Even more challenging for some more than others. It meant pivoting business, your way of life, lifestyle, daily routines, you name it. Some took the opportunity to learn a new language, for others it was binge watching Netflix’s Tiger King or Bridgerton. While some just couldn’t help but order in every night, there were many who decided to bite the bullet and get in the kitchen. As we all followed countless sourdough and viral TikTok pasta recipes, we forget that for some, the pandemic meant pivoting to create more content…while stuck at home. For Chef Dev, also known as Devan Rajkumar, lockdown was an opportunity to share his cooking skills and recipes with the world, one video at a time.
Inspired by our many conversations, Chef Dev’s bright and bubbly personality, love for food and travel, coupled with a strong sense of selflessness and humility is what I knew I needed to bring to the forefront of this editorial feature. He never ceases to inspire me. This time, I get to share with all of you, who Chef Devan Rajkumar really is. Follow along as we pull back the veil and showcase a little bit more about this tenacious and kind soul you never knew.
Inspired by His Family
Chef Dev’s love for food began at an early age cooking with his mother and grandmother. Together, they would make traditional Guyanese and West Indian dishes; recipes that were passed down from his grandmother. His favourite: Coconut Choka. Chef Dev’s fondest memories as a child were the times he would sit on the floor of his grandmother’s apartment, helping her cook the dishes he loves so much.
“My love for food started with the women in my life. From a very young age i found myself being drawn to the kitchen. The sights, the scents, the noise, the smell, the aromatics in the kitchen.”chef devAN RAJKUMAR
It’s not only the cooking aspect of food that Chef Dev is passionate about. Food is nourishment not only for the body, but also for the mind and soul. As he describes, when you take that first bite of a delicious meal and your eyes roll into the back of your head with pleasure, it’s a gift to behold. Food brings people together, it helps you forget about the stresses of life, even if just for a short time. For Chef Dev, its the most effective way to nourish and nurture others.
Becoming a Chef
It was later in life that Chef Dev entered the culinary world professionally. While he has been passionate about food for his entire life, he was unsure how to turn that passion into a career. It was never his dream to open a restaurant. As professional chefs, that is the most common measure of success in the industry. Chef Dev worked to find his own path, and definition of culinary success.
Having studied at George Brown, Chef Dev was already involved in writing reviews, and private catering for friends and family. Having taken courses at both Laurier and Ryerson University prior to attending culinary school, he went from learning about statistics and writing essays to memorizing the internal temperatures of different meats. Although his program was intense – completing a 16-month fast-track program – he excelled.
When it came time for his internship, many of his classmates were finding positions at high-end restaurants around the city. Chef Dev chose to do his placement with The Food Dudes, back in 2010. Learning from Chef Adrian Niman, he was able to gain experience that has proven invaluable to his career.
His first chef’s position was at Terra, a well-known seafood restaurant in Thornhill. From there, Chef Dev moved onto become the Executive Chef of the Luxe Appliance Studio, a Bosch showroom that hosts their Thermador and Gaggenau appliances. His time at this Bosch studio was extremely important for his career. Not only was this his first taste of working with high-end brands, it was also his first step towards the Chef Dev we know and love today.
[the luxe appliance studio] is where i was able to hone my cooking skills while speaking. I was selling the appliances through food.chev devAN RAJKUMAR
Restaurant life never really appealed to Chef Dev. While he did spend time working in restaurants–becoming part owner of Loch & Quay in 2018–he found the stresses and monotony of restaurant life was making him lose his passion. Weary of being chained to one place for too long, he branched out into catering rather than opening his own establishment. Everyday was a new challenge, a new menu, a new client, a new city. Having each day be different whether that’s filming for CityLine, or catering an event, or working on a new recipe, Chef Dev is at his best when there is variety.
Eventually, Chef Dev merged two of his passions–food and travel–and took the show on the road. Taking inspiration from travelling chefs like Anthony Bourdain, his first excursion in 2016 was a 6-month food tour around the world. Travelling to London, Turks and Caicos, Peru, Dubai, Italy and Switzerland to name a few. Chef Dev would travel from city-to-city, running pop-ups for a week at a time, all the while learning new techniques and traditions. While it wasn’t exactly financially lucrative at the time, the experience he gained while travelling was.
While travel has always been a large part of his life, even from a young age with his parents, Chef Dev’s hunger for new experiences never seems to be satisfied. Whether travelling for work or pleasure, there’s always something to learn from locals, new ingredients to discover, new flavours to taste. For Chef Dev, the ultimate dream would be to have his own food and adventure show. Going out into the world to discover different cuisines, will allow him to make a wider variety of recipes available to his following, which they can use to nourish and nurture their family.
“the one thing i often get asked when i return from travel is: what is the best thing that i learned? and its always the same answer. that i didn’t know as much as i thought i did… i travel to continue broadening and expanding my culinary knowledge, and to grow as a person”chef dev
On his bucket list is Southeast Asia. He wants to travel to destinations like Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Philippines and others in the area. Not only for the culinary and cultural experiences, but also for the language which is a huge motivation for travel for Chef Dev.
A Passion for Education
Chef Dev has always been an exceptional teacher in the culinary space. Even before graduating from George Brown, Chef Dev was teaching classes at an array of Longo’s locations. Taking techniques he learned working with The Food Dudes, Chef Dev would then share that knowledge with his students.
It was through his work doing Bosch demonstrations that Chef Dev was connected to CityLine. Now, 8-years later, Chef Dev is one of the longest standing chefs on CityLine and is blessed to have a loyal group of followers through that show.
His time on CityLine is very much on par with who Chef Dev is. His charisma, and patience, and passion for food is evident in every segment. It’s not that he loves the idea of being a “TV personality” per se, but CityLine provides a platform for a wider audience to have access to his tips, tricks, and expertise.
“i also learned to be a better teacher [on Cityline]… i got really good adivce from someone on cityline which was to speak to the camera, like they know absolutely nothing about cooking. it’s something i take into my own channel now.”chef devAN RAJKUMAR
In listening to Chef Dev speak about his various teaching positions, it became very clear that it was a big part of who he is, and the impact he wants to make on his audience when it comes to food. It all goes back to the sharing of knowledge in the kitchen he experienced as a child cooking with his mother and grandmother. It’s through sharing knowledge that we empower others to expand their horizons, especially when it comes to cuisine. While some in the industry keep recipes close to their chest, Chef Dev shares them with the masses who in turn, can pass them onto their loved ones.
Chef Dev has been working on compiling a cookbook – either in print or a digital collection – as another way to nourish families from a distance.
A Partnership with SMEG
It wasn’t long before Chef Dev was approached by SMEG to do TV demonstrations of their products. Being a fan of SMEG, he took the opportunity to learn about the brand in more detail. After doing his research, he saw a lot of versatility in the SMEG line-up (which at the time was mainly their cookware), and also saw the value their products offered.
His relationship with SMEG grew from there, and he is now an ambassador for the brand. The colourful, fun, playful nature of SMEG is perfectly aligned with Chef Dev’s personality. It’s a natural fit.
Creating Accessible Recipes
On top of everything else he has done, Chef Dev has also created his own line of soups and sauces. He was approached by a local, family-owned manufacturing business in Toronto who originally wanted him to consult on menu development, which quickly transformed into his own line of products: ChefDev Soups.
“One of the reasons why I love the soup project so much is that it allows people the opportunity to have my flavours and my recipe in their homes… You can take the Bombay Tomato Soup and riff off a bunch of recipes at home. Or my jerk marinade or my hot sauce and take that home. It’s one way to make my food accessible.”Chef DevAN RAJKUMAR
The biggest development for ChefDev Soups is their partnership with Sobeys, which will be stocking his products in 900 stores across Canada come September. One of Chef Dev’s major goals in his professional career is to have his food, and his experiences be as accessible to others as possible. We can absolutely expect to see more products entering the ChefDev line as the brand continues to grow.
Another aspect of his recipes that are extremely important when it comes to making flavours accessible to the masses, is to provide vegetarian and vegan options. His mother being vegetarian, he remembers always being upset with the limited range of foods available at the time.
“i’ve seen my mom get a plate of steamed vegetables more times than i want to remember… that’s why on my channel i try to go above and beyond with the vegetarian dishes.”chef devAN RAJKUMAR
When creating dishes for the public, Chef Dev is most likely going to make it vegetarian. This is because A) if you’re a meat eater, and you are trying a wildly flavourful vegetarian meal, you’re more than likely not going to miss the meat. And B) it makes the dishes customizable based on your preference, and accessible to a lot more people. Sustainable foods, and a healthy balanced diet are both something Chef Dev is extremely aware of. And that’s unsurprising, considering his favourite thing to do during the day is eat. His guilty pleasure meal is a grilled cheese. But not just any grilled cheese, he always adds an assortment of beautiful cheeses, toppings and sauces. Another dish that is reminiscent of his time cooking with his grandmother.
The Restaurant Industry Today
When discussing the restaurant industry, Chef Dev made it clear that he has nothing but love and respect for everyone in service. The reality is, the past year and a half of COVID-19 has exposed a lot of the issues happening within restaurants in Toronto. Long hours for little pay, no benefits, the struggle to build a team, inequality between FOH and BOH, all of these problems have been going on for years. And I haven’t even mentioned the chaos that is a normal day of service. For those who have never worked in restaurants, it can be difficult to understand just how challenging, and stressful it can really be. For a long time, Chef Dev felt that opening a restaurant HAD to be a part of his story, and after experiencing it first hand, he realized it just simply wasn’t his dream to do so.
on a saturday night, i want to be with my friends and my family doing something that i love to do. Calmly reflecting on the week and just being relaxed.chef devAN RAJKUMAR
For Chef Dev, he remains an active part of the restaurant scene in The 6ix by going out on a Saturday night with his friends to support a local business. Not by spending it stuck in the kitchen until 1am. Now, that’s not to say that Chef Dev is intimidated by hard work. On the contrary, he is 100 percent dedicated to every project he takes on. For him, he believes he can still achieve culinary success, while maintaining a lifestyle that is healthy and works for him.
i have a lot of respect for restaurant chefs, but i also feel i have a lot to offer. i can share a lot more than being stuck inside a kitchen.chef devAN RAJKUMAR
Charitable Projects and The More Girl Project
Chef Dev attributes his dedicated involvement in charity work to his father. He recalled growing up that everyone who entered his home, always left with a gift from his dad. Family or stranger, his father always made sure there was something for everyone. Even throughout his community, everyone was very loving and took care of each other. Those values are still extremely important to Chef Dev to this day.
Tattooed on his right arm is the word SEVA. It means “selfless service, without praise and recognition”, the idea of giving without expectation. It’s a concept he brings not only to his cooking, but to his daily life.
Over the years, Chef Dev has worked with numerous organizations including: Daily Bread Food Bank, SEVA Food Bank, Second Harvest, Heart and Stroke Foundation, Sick Kids Hospital, Shelter Box, and H20, just to name a few.
According to Chef Dev, his most important and current project is the work he does with The More Girl Project and Ernestine’s Women’s Shelter. This amazing organization is run by a mother and her two daughters and they make and sell Mad Love bracelets and “Woman Up” t-shirts with all the proceeds going to Ernestine’s Shelter. Chef Dev was also able to create the Fierce Spice blend with The Gorgeous Spice Company, which also generated funds for the initiative.
Domestic abuse and gender equality are two of the causes he is most dedicated to. One way that he incorporates these causes into his daily life, is through painting his nails; not only as a form of self-expression, but to break the stigma surrounding gender roles. Just in case you were wondering, his favourite nail colour is purple–although we decided to have some fun with it, and showcase CND’s latest Summer City Chic collection.
“i’ve never seen myself as lesser than, or greater than anybody and it’s very important to shine a light on [gender equality].”chef devAN RAJKUMAR
The Chef Dev We Don’t See On TV
Chef Dev outside the pop-ups is extremely passionate about sports. He loves to be active whether thats through going on bike rides, playing ping pong, shooting some hoops or playing road hockey. He attributes most of his pop culture influences and knowledge to his older brother who he believes fast-tracked him when it came to such topics. He also loves playing card games like Big 2 (Cho Dai Di) and Briscola.
His brother was the first person to open up Chef Dev to different ethnic cuisines. Especially during his time at Ryerson, his brother really expanded his horizons when it comes to food and music.
Outside of his hobbies, Chef Dev is just a really genuine and charismatic guy. He’s the guy who will drop you off at the airport in his SUV if you need a ride. He’s authentic, and his passion for food, travel and his various charitable organizations is infectious to say the least.
Chef Dev in The 6ix
Being born and raised in the city, Chef Dev is no stranger to the diversity Toronto has to offer. For him, his favourite neighbourhood is Kensington Market. As a private chef, he loves hitting up the various shops and stores sourcing ingredients to take with him to shows, demonstrations, or use for his catering events.
In terms of food, Chef Dev mentioned several spots in The 6ix that he frequents. The first being Blondie’s Pizza. Having trained under Chef Matt Blondin, he has a deep love for his pizza’s unique flavours, but it’s the dough that’s really special. If he’s not having Blondie’s Pizza, you can find him at Maker Pizza, Descendant or Big Trouble.
When it comes to burgers, Chef Dev loves a patty that packs a punch. Stock T.C‘s dry-aged meat burger is–according to chef–out of this world. The burst of flavours in the meat is to unique; topped with their thick cut pickles and it’s perfection. Burger Drops is also another amazing burger in Toronto.
Creative/Fashion Direction and Producer: STEVEN BRANCO; Photography: NICK MERZETTI; Production Coordinator and Contributor: MERRILL FLYNN; Fashion & Production Assistant: BLAIR STUTZ; Lighting Assistant: MOR ANUCOV; Production Assistance and BTS Photography: PATRICK CONCEPCION; Location: SPACES YORKVILLE. Words and Interview by MERRILL FLYNN + STEVEN BRANCO. A special thank you to Samurai Media, SMEG/Euro-Line Appliances, ALDO Group, Stock T.C./Terroni group, Blondie’s Pizza/Food Dudes, CND (Creative Nail Design) and Jane Gill PR teams for their support, and assistance with prop/product sourcing.
Originally published: July 5, 2021