When I reach Canadian chef Chuck Hughes, he’s coming off a fairly average workday, by his account. “Some people were moving and basically threw out their whole apartment onto the street behind our restaurant,” he says. “Then I dropped my 3-year-old off at school, and now I’m with my 9-month-old, who’s passed out in a stroller listening to tropical rainforest music while I’m talking to my partner at the restaurant. Pretty much a regular day.”
That response is typical: The 40-year-old Hughes is unfiltered, hilarious and talks a mile a minute, which makes him perfect for the on-camera work he’s done over the past several years (while maintaining multiple restaurants in Montreal, of course). He’s hosted a handful of shows, including Chuck’s Day Off on Canada’s Food Network and Chuck’s Eat the Street, in which he explored American street-food culture. Hughes was also the youngest Canadian chef to win Iron Chef America. His secret ingredient? Lobster, which was fitting, given that he’s got a tattoo of the crustacean on one arm.
He grew up less than an hour outside Montreal, a ski-resort town. Hughes was a wild teen (“If you ask my mom, I was amazing up until like 13”), then a wild adult. “From the age of 18 to 28, I proceeded to drink and do as many drugs as possible, and even came to the brink of jail,” he confesses. After a “rude awakening,” he opened his own restaurant with friends and got sober at 30. “We kept the restaurant [Garde Manger] and opened another one [Le Bremner], and that’s my story in a nutshell,” he says. “Cooking saved my life.”
Yes, Hughes’ life is significantly less wild than it was a decade ago, but he doesn’t feel as if he’s missing out. “I’m the same guy, I just have a different outlook.” And while the dad role isn’t one he ever imagined playing, he’s adjusting just fine. “I have two kids, which is something I always wanted but never thought would actually happen,” he says. “When I’m with them and we’re swimming in the pool, finding rocks outdoors and putting them in a glass, I’m living the dream. That’s when I forget about the restaurant, and whichever vegetable’s trendy that week. Who gives a crap? Fatherhood isn’t easy, but it’s an investment—a really good one.”