– Words by Joanne Peters Photpgraphy by Lia Crowe
Dennis Peckham’s high-school home economics teacher worried about his future self. After he failed the class, she told the Williams Lake native that she hoped he would one day find a partner who knew how to cook; she feared he would otherwise starve.
Oh, if that instructor could see him now!
As corporate executive chef for Glowbal Restaurant Group, Dennis oversees the company’s seven Vancouver restaurants, with another opening in Toronto next spring. After studying culinary arts in Vancouver, Dennis built his career on experience at acclaimed dining establishments such as Lumiere, West and The French Laundry, a Michelin three-star restaurant in California, among other places.
Over the years he has also worked for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts and operated his own food business. A competitor on Top Chef Canada’s Season 7, Dennis earned the title of Chopped Canada champion during its third season.
The path from flunking a high-school cooking class to being one of the country’s most in-demand chefs wasn’t straightforward. Although he helped out at his dad’s strip-mall diner before leaving Williams Lake—washing dishes and making clubhouse sandwiches and breakfast burritos—Dennis pursued construction upon graduating. He hated it. But when he landed a job as a dishwasher at the Colwood Golf Course, it clicked.
“It was an Anthony Bourdain moment,” Dennis recalls. “I remember by day three, I loved it. I took to the culture quite quickly. I loved the excitement of it, the stress, the drive of it. The chef was this cool guy, and I just thought, ‘I want to be that guy.’ Then I thought, ‘I want to be better than that guy.’ I developed a passion for it.”
Passion is just one characteristic needed to “make it” in the restaurant business, an extraordinarily competitive industry known for its long hours. Dennis’ role involves overseeing Glowbal Restaurant Group’s multiple properties: Glowbal; Black+Blue (a sexy, sleek steak house with an enormous glass-encased meat cellar, aglow against a wall of Himalayan salt); The Roof; Five Sails (at Canada Place); Coast; Trattoria (Kitsilano, Burnaby and Park Royal); Italian Kitchen; and its newest addition, Rileys Fish+Steak. He’ll be leading the launch of Black+Blue in Toronto, a homecoming of sorts for Glowbal founder Emad Yacoub, who got his own start in the business there after moving to Canada from Egypt. It will be the group’s flagship restaurant. The stakes, so to speak, are high, but it’s a challenge Dennis embraces.
“It’s a very personal project for me, and it’s important I do my best to make sure their vision comes to life,” he says.
Across the board, Dennis creates tantalizing dishes, enhancing menus while supporting individual chefs at each property with their ideas for new items. At Black+Blue, for instance, he recently helped introduce a lineup of indulgent options: a show-stopping lobster carbonara with pecorino and squid-ink linguine, the latter dramatic in black; tender green asparagus with sauce gribiche and cured yolk; creamed spinach with crispy fried pancetta and a sunnyside-up egg; and the Black+Blue Steak Diane, a modernized classic.
Then there’s the new Miyazaki Wagyu; Black+Blue is the only restaurant in Canada to hold an official certificate to serve the Japanese kuroge washu beef, one of the most in-demand meats in the world (and also one of the most marbled, to a lusciously buttery effect).
“We push ourselves creatively to build dishes that people will appreciate and not be intimidated by,” Dennis says. “If you’re a painter, you can be as creative as you want within those borders. It’s the same thing with food. What [Glowbal] is looking for with all of the locations is to create that box for the chefs to work within. Each environment is different, but that doesn’t stifle your creativity; you just find your creativity within those parameters. And anybody, no matter what their culinary knowledge or experience, will find something on the menu that will satisfy them.”
Playing with ingredients is just one small part of Dennis’ role, however. Quite literally running from restaurant to restaurant in the downtown core, he mentors people and handles administrative and financial duties. Then there’s fist-bumping: high on his list of priorities is interacting with staff members.
“Every employee, from the bussers to the dishwashers to the managers to the GM, knows that if they need any help or assistance, they can pull me aside,” Dennis says. “We’re in a people business, and having a positive culture is really important to me.”
Being a chef has influenced his life outside of work: Dennis is accustomed to structure and routine, for one, and his fridge is always clean and organized. His kitchen staples include Valentina hot sauce, hummus, egg whites, ground flax seed and watermelon when it’s in season. His freezer is a food fanatic’s dream. At the moment, it’s stocked with goods like Bolognese sauce made with veal, pork and lamb; two loins of albacore tuna from Tofino; wagyu beef; foie-gras torchon; fish, chicken and veal stock; and chicken-curry gnocchi. There’s always at least one kind of stuffed pasta—maybe tortellini with ricotta, English pea and lemon. He loves the process of making noodles from scratch, desiring it as meditative and disciplined. During the pandemic, he hosted intimate multi-course dinners at his home, announcing dates on Instagram with guests required to show proof of a donation to the SPCA.
Work-life balance is crucial to Dennis, and he’s routinely outdoors with his beloved Doberman Pinscher, Gyver. (Many of his tattoos pay tribute to the three dogs he has had, all from the same lineage.)
With a keen interest in health and fitness, he loves swimming, hiking and running. He’s also passionate about reading world history.
“Being a chef is what I do, not who I am,” he says.
Whether he’s inside a kitchen or not, Dennis draws on an important lesson he’s gleaned from his years wearing whites.
“Be confident,” he says. “When you’re working with confidence and you are confident in your ability and your knowledge, everything flows. It’s easier to work when you’re not second-guessing yourself, and you end up more excited.”