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East York chef takes on Chopped Canada

Nestled into the west side of the Danforth near Greenwood station is a cozy gastropub that’s starting to make waves in the Toronto culinary scene. Morgans on the Danforth prides itself on its selection of local craft beers and the local ingredients it uses in various dishes.

Executive chef Anne Sorrenti has been at the helm of the East York restaurant’s kitchen for more than three years. Her talent has not gone unnoticed. After being pressured for some time by friends and family to apply to the Food Network’s top-rated show, Chopped Canada, Sorrenti decided to give it a try.

“My kids have always said to me…you could do it, you could do it,” she said in an interview, “because I used to work at the farmer’s market every Saturday morning and it was basically a Chopped episode every week.”

After sending in her application, Sorrenti found out shortly after that she would, in fact, be in a cook-off against three other chefs from across the country for a chance to win $10,000.

The chefs were victims of the unco-operative ingredients and immense pressure that Chopped Canada is known to provide.

Sorrenti was not fazed. Her calm demeanor was evident from start to finish as she went about her business. Fruit cake, leeks, smoked turkey thigh and sour gummy worms somehow evolved into a sweet chili turkey and leek sauté that looked appealing.

Sorrenti’s ability to make do with what lies in front of her helped her take down the competition one by one. The East York chef survived all three rounds on the chopping block and was crowned champion of Chopped Canada.

Sorrenti has never had any formal training in her craft, which proves how rich her talent is. Her lack of culinary teaching may have helped her win this particular food challenge.

“I think because I have worked at so many different places and with different kinds of chefs, it has helped me become more adaptable,” she said.

Sorrenti credits much of the success she has had in the food industry to her family. Growing up in a house full of cooks, she always felt that she had a knack for working minor miracles in the kitchen. She grew up watching her Nonna and her mother work masterfully as a team in preparing delicious meals for the family. They taught her how to preserve food, how to use every part of the ingredients available and the importance of cooking with local foods.

“My grandparents lived in a little place on College Street and they had no backyard,” Sorrenti said. “They lived above and behind a store, but they had a roof patio and my grandmother grew vegetables on that in wooden top crates.”

Much like the local chef’s passion for food, she is deeply invested in introducing children to the essentials of the culinary world. She was vice-president of Green Thumbs Growing Kids, an organization that encourages children living in the city to create gardens in unused green space on school property. She even taught children the basics of cooking for five years at a local school, despite her busy work schedule.

Cooking originally started out as more of a hobby for Sorrenti, rather than the successful career it has become. She worked in an office for an MP in Toronto for years, but eventually found herself going back to the kitchen. It’s a good thing she did, because not only are customers who walk into Morgans reaping the benefits, but so will local young people in need of a boost.

Sorrenti plans to use her $10,000 prize to jump-start her dream of opening up a culinary centre in Toronto for underprivileged youth. Growing up with a single mom, she says she was lucky to have food as an emphasis in her life, as she was able to turn it into a career. She believes she can use her experiences to help make a difference.

“If they get a cheque once a month, by the middle of the month it might be done because they don’t have the skills on how to spend the money, how to cook for themselves, how to budget, how to shop. Those are all skills you learn,” Sorrenti said. “It’s not something that if you have a troubled upbringing or you’ve lived on the streets since you were 15 that you’re going to know.”