Chef Spotlight: Donna Dooher

The kitchen is where my heart landed

Donna Dooher has been a prominent part of Toronto’s restaurant scene since she opened the much-loved Mildred Pierce Restaurant in 1989. Her current restaurant Mildred’s Temple Kitchen, is a showcase for her passion for locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, simply and sumptuously prepared.

Donna, how and why did you get involved in Porridge for Parkinson’s?

My friends and colleagues, Joanne and Jamie, told me about the Porridge event and asked me to lend a hand. Around that time, my uncle, a retired Colonel in the Canadian Air Force, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. He was living his dream as a ski instructor in Vail, Colorado. He was 75 at the time, and he hoped to continue his dual passions for teaching and skiing until he was 90. He had to give up the slopes, but with help and many clinical trials at the University of Colorado Movement Disorder Clinic, he lived to be 92. It was an easy decision to get involved.

How did you get started in the food business?

Like so many, I started out in the restaurant industry accidentally, working part-time while going to school. I was seduced and abandoned all notions of becoming an architect. When I made the decision to make the industry my calling the kitchen is where my heart landed. I went to culinary school at Algonquin College in my home town of Ottawa, and well, as the saying goes, the rest is history.

Congratulations on your long tenure in the restaurant business. What’s the secret to your success?

Hard work, hard work and more hard work sprinkled generously with passion.

The food and restaurant industry has suffered during the pandemic. How has Mildred’s Temple Kitchen adapted?

Like everyone, we have pivoted to take-out and delivery and built out an extensive e-commerce platform for our Mildred’s Pantry. We’re throwing a lot of spaghetti at the wall these days to see what sticks.

What’s your favourite thing to make? And when we finally can have friends over for dinner, what will you be serving?

I love to cook simple meals at home, but when the time comes, and I can fill my house with family and friends, I’ll roast a leg of spring lamb, grill fresh fish, prepare a ton of fresh seasonal vegetables, bake lemon tarts, make chocolate cakes, and the wine and whiskey will flow.

How has your cooking style at Mildred’s changed during covid

During this pandemic, the cooking style in the kitchen hasn’t changed so much as our awareness of how much food is wasted. Many things needing a reset have been heightened by the pandemic. For me, it’s how we waste food and water. Imagine if we all chose to eat a little less, the domino effect this would have on our environmental footprint.

Are you cooking more at home during the pandemic?

Not only am I passionate about working in restaurants, I absolutely love eating in restaurants—other people’s restaurants, that is. I can’t remember the last meal I’ve eaten outside my own kitchen. So yes, I’m cooking a lot more at home, and as a result, I am watching the waste in my own kitchen. I sometimes feel embodied by my late mother-in-law, who never wasted a thing; even the smallest piece of string was repurposed.

Photos: @mildredstemplekitchen

Follow Mildred’s Temple Kitchen on Instagram @mildredstemplekitchen

Chef Donna Dooher | Instagram mildredtempleskitchen

Blueberry pancakes at Mildred’s Temple Kitchen.