Chef's Corner

WEG gives the world food for thought.

When Woodbine chefs Joseph Lesch and Michael Mortensen took their culinary skills to this year’s Breeders’ Cup in Kentucky, the food and presentation, not surprisingly, received rave reviews.

A dozen chefs from around the world descended on the 2011 Breeders’ Cup, armed with their best recipes to showcase for horse owners, trainers and dignitaries, one day before the first Breeders’ Cup races, in the event dubbed ‘A Taste of the World.’

 For Lesch, Executive Chef for Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG), it was a memorable time for many reasons.

 “It wasn’t supposed to be a competition, but whenever you get that many chefs together in one place, that’s what it ends up being,” said Lesch, who, along with Mortensen, offered two dishes, including chicken terrine, a Quebec foie gras with cherries, along with smoked steelhead trout. “It was hectic in the beginning and there is always pressure, but in the end, it was something we were thrilled with.”

 As with any chef, presentation is equally important as the quality of the food.

 “We wanted to do something Canadian,” offered Lesch, who was joined by chefs from Ireland, Australia, France and the United States. “Our table had a Canadian flag and Thanksgiving theme. We had gourds, pumpkins and other things that gave it a very cozy feel. You want people to appreciate the entire experience.”

 Judging by the response, the WEG table was a big hit.

 “We had some students with us and they would tell us that the people walking around were coming back to visit the table again,” noted Lesch, who met high-profile chef and thoroughbred horse owner Bobby Flay, along with actress and racing fan Bo Derek. “Customers would say kind things and seemed to be happy with what we prepared.”  

 Perhaps the most difficult aspect of ‘A Taste of the World’ was the actual journey from Toronto to Kentucky.

 “There’s a lot of work that goes into something like this,” said Lesch, who has been with WEG since 1993. “We had to drive down. That was the only way to bring all of our products with us. We rented a mini-van and made the trip. But it was definitely worth it. We also saw several people from Toronto, who were surprised and happy to see us. I think everyone was happy with how it turned out.”

 That would include WEG CEO Nick Eaves, who selected Lesch to represent Canada at the event.

 “Woodbine's commitment to Food & Beverage is the pinnacle in the racing industry,” said Eaves. “Joseph and Michael demonstrated their passion and expertise at the Breeders’ Cup, represented themselves and WEG admirably and, by all accounts, were the talk of the event. We couldn't be more proud.”

 Canadians also had reason to be proud of what happened on the racetrack. Perfect Shirl, trained by Roger Attfield and owned by Charles Fipke, took the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, while Excaper, trained by Ian Black and ridden by Emma-Jayne Wilson, finished a strong second in the Juvenile Turf.

Chef Michael Mortensen

 Woodbine Entertainment Group Chef de Cuisine Michael Mortensen was born into cooking.

"My first vivid memory is watching my super talented mom, in the kitchen. She was flipping something with a spatula. I tried to copy her and ended up grilling my right thumb! I was three or four,” he recalls.

 That early memory only buoyed his love of food and food preparation.

To read more about Chef Michael Mortensen click here...


Chef Joseph Lesch

 In 1993, Joseph Lesch joined the Woodbine Entertainment Group (The Ontario Jockey Club at the time) as the Manager responsible for the kitchen and dining room operations.  He was later promoted to the position of Executive Chef for all WEG kitchen operations for the Woodbine and Fort Erie facilities.

 In 2000, he opened up the Mohawk and Woodbine slot food operations, before overseeing the launch of the food operations for the Turf Lounge and WEGZ Stadium Bar properties.

To read more about Chef Joseph Lesch click here...