10 to Watch 2016: Toque Catering

“All of my ingredients are fresh, not processed, and wherever possible, locally produced using sustainable practices. This is what makes Toque innovative.”

Photograph by Joshua Lawrence.

For Chef Nicholas Waters, foraging and farm-to-table are much more than recent food trends.

“This is how I learned to cook,” says Waters, co-owner of Toque Catering. “It might be new to the industry, but for me it’s 20 years old. Every place I ever worked at, this was how we approached food, so it’s funny to see that it’s trendy now.”

Waters’ path to Toque includes an impressive list of must-dine B.C. restaurants. He worked for six years under Chef Christophe Letard at The Aerie Resort before moving to the Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino. Time at the Queen Charlotte Lodge reinforced his passion for “fresh, natural and local ingredients.” In 2009 he joined Feys and Hobbs Catered Arts as the executive sous chef.

But owning his own business has always been at the back of his mind. “Working at Feys and Hobbs is when I fell in love with catering,” he says. “When they closed that side of the company, the idea of Toque Catering was born.”

Naming the venture involved some humour — and serendipity.

“I wear a toque year-round, summer, winter, doesn’t matter,” Waters says. “When we were deciding on a name, we joked that it should be Toque. When we Googled it, toque actually means chef’s hat in French, so we decided it had to be that.”

With Toque, Waters aims to fill an untapped niche in Victoria’s catering market by offering completely customizable menus. The company has made a name for itself with its fun food stations, creative canapés and upscale comfort food, such as mac and cheese with crab served in martini glasses. While the company currently operates out of a shared commercial kitchen, Waters has big dreams for the future.

“My wife [Crystal]and I would like to buy a farm and build a commercial kitchen there,” he says. “Then we can truly be farm-to-table.”

Q&A with Nicholas Waters

What would you say to other entrepreneurs starting out?

Don’t bow to outside pressure to move away from your core philosophy. One thing I feel strongly about, whether you’re in the food business or not, is that your philosophy goes a long way in establishing your niche, and people will recognize that.

What has been the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge I’ve had is putting together the team. Everybody in our kitchen has to get along with everybody else; otherwise it doesn’t work. We’re a tight group.

What are you most proud of?

To be able to give back to the community. For every guest at an event, we provide a meal to someone in need through Meal Share. To date, we have donated 18,373 meals to people in need.

Toque Catering Business Profile

Type of business: Catering company

Year founded: 2015

Owners/principals: Nicholas Waters and Crystal Nesbitt

Employees: 5

This article is from the April/May 2016 issue of Douglas.