Lola’s chef flexes his mussels

The first time Mike Jacques donned a chef’s hat and coat, he was helping prepare food for a grand opening attended by Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley.

“I was a Grade 12 co-op student in the cafeteria at St. Francois Xavier high school the year it opened, and we made quiche for the mayor,” he recalls. “I fell in love with it all.”

He decided he was well-suited to a career as a professional chef. “Why not? Everyone needs to eat, right?” His ability to land a succession of jobs proved him right.

From the former Green Room (now Norm’s) to the former Legends at the RBC Centre, he learned to be a line cook, and then moved on to kitchen manager at the former Sheldrake’s restaurant downtown.

Sheldrake’s owner Stan Smith was a cook himself and taught Jacques a thing or two about fine dining and maintaining the kitchen when you’re getting “slammed” with orders, said Jacques.

Ten years ago, Smith closed Sheldrake’s and Jacques made the move to Lola’s Lounge at 110 Christina St. South.

“I came to Lola’s as a line cook and started running the kitchen six months later,” said Jacques, 35.

Owner Tania Auger develops Lola’s menu but Jacques has a hand in introducing new ideas to the international entrees and appetizers.

“I like learning new things,” said the married father of two. “When I see something interesting in a cookbook, on the Internet or on television, I’ll try it and add different things to make it my own.”

Popular menu items at Lola’s include the Asian inspired tango hotpot; pan-seared lamb coated with Dijon mustard, chili flakes and poppy seeds; and lobster ravioli with three 3-ounce lobster tails.

“They are all staples,” Jacques said. “We’ll change up the menu items sometimes but there’s some that we don’t dare take off or we’ll hear from our customers.”

In an industry in which chefs move around a lot, he likes the stability of staying in one place.

“I love my co-workers at Lola’s. We’re like one big family,” said Jacques. “Sure, someday I’d like my own restaurant, but I plan on being here for a long time still.”

ROASTED GARLIC MUSSELS SUPREME

1 pound of mussels

¼ cup chopped red onions

6 cloves roasted garlic

2 tbsp butter

1 tbsp pureed garlic

Pinch of salt & pepper

1 cup of white cooking wine

¼ cup of 35% cream

¼ cup of shredded parmesan cheese.

Cook all ingredients for 10 minutes. Ensure all mussels open.

Add a handful of shrimp and scallops and continue cooking for five more minutes.

Top with French fries and garlic bread. Garnish with green onions and parsley.

Enjoy.

– Cathy Dobson