Chef Jeff Sample was raised in Amherstburg, Ontario, a small town on the Detroit River, long know for its tomatoes and whiskey, where local fishermen once sold fresh smelts door-to-door. His single mother became an inventive cook when money was tight and exposed Jeff to the joys of cooking via a caregiver, Marilyn Goggin, who did all of her own canning, preserving, and baking. Goggin suppers would lay the culinary foundation for Jeff’s adamant curiosity about all things food. The journey wasn’t a straight road, however. Upon receiving a Bachelor of Science in Botany from the University of Guelph, Jeff took multiple trips to India for walkabouts through the Himalayas. He spent considerable time at the Library of Tibetan Works & Archives, researching the herbs of traditional Chinese medicine, and he scoured food markets for momos, masala dosa, chana bhatura, and fresh fish, coming to the slow realization that perhaps the science of cooking was his next step. After some trial by fire in a local Guelph eatery or two, he was accepted into Stratford Chef School in 1997.
Jeff’s culinary career has been diverse.
From 2000, he ran Guelph’s Bookshelf Café for six years – drastically increasing sales – and built a second kitchen on the lower floor, so that desserts and baked goods could be made from scratch in-house.
He and his staff led an exceptionally busy service every day, catered weddings and large events, and introduced the concept of seasonal menus, a relatively new idea for Guelph at the time.
When the bistro was sold in 2006 Jeff went on to set up and run Ouderkirk & Taylor Handcrafted Foods, planning its concept with the owner and designing the production kitchen where a small staff would produce hundreds of loaves of bread per week, a full line of 16 soups, 15 frozen entrées, salads, dips, and spreads, with a four-burner stove and a single convection oven. He was responsible for everything prepared onsite, the research and development of its 70 plus varieties of Canadian handcrafted cheese, and the education of retail staff in the lingo and production processes of the artisanal chocolate, olive oil, preserves, and salsas they sold there. As well, he conducted cheese and craft beer tastings for corporate and non-corporate events.
In 2012, Jeff co-opened the associated OX Restaurant, costing and developing its regional Mediterranean menu, popular cheese boards, and an all-Canadian wine list. OX Restaurant opened to rave reviews (see here).
Since that time, Jeff has moved on to feed the shipping crews of Lower Lakes Towing, and the unique perspective it’s brought him on his craft. Far from the world of restaurants, these days he makes mouth-watering fare within the constraints of his ingredients, and for the most appreciative audience he’s ever had: those without the comforts of land and home.