Chef Didier Leroy is unabashedly honest when it comes to revealing his culinary inspirations. He dashes into the kitchen at his eponymous restaurant, Didier, and in a matter of seconds, returns with a small leather-bound book.

The pages, stained, faded and splitting apart, describe hundreds of authentic French dishes. This 36-year-old dictionary of classic cuisine, along with perseverance and creativity, helped Leroy become one of Toronto’s most respected French chefs.

So well respected, both nationally and internationally, that Leroy recently received the title of Master Chef of France, (Maître-Cuisinier de France), by the Association of the Master Chefs of France. To date, he is only one of three chefs in Canada to have been given this distinction.

“I cried,” said Leroy, reflecting on hearing the news of his accomplishment. “You know, tears of happiness.”

Becoming a Master Chef isn’t just about belonging to an elite association of culinary masterminds. It means devoting one’s career not only to the preservation of classic French cooking, but also staying focused on professional development and encouraging training in cuisine.

Leroy, who graduated from Paris’ École Hôtelière Médéric, continued to hone his culinary skills even as a top chef in Michelin-starred restaurants.

“We still went to school as a chef in France,” he said. “We never stopped studying.”

After moving to Canada in 1988, and working at famed restaurants like Opus, Auberge Gavroche and The Fifth, Leroy is still a firm believer in the benefits of constant training.

“When you challenge and surpass yourself, it is not like a job,” said Leroy. “The joy starts with you, and I think my job is the best job in the world.”

Aside from attending culinary workshops and events both overseas and in the United States, Leroy also reads whatever he can find on the finer points of French cuisine. He also enjoys learning from other Master Chefs.

“It’s like a big family. You go with all of these guys who have so much experience, who do the most beautiful things on the plate,” said Leroy.

The next item on Leroy’s professional menu is all about encouraging and inspiring youth interested in the culinary arts. He said he eventually plans on opening a school in Toronto dedicated to producing well-rounded professional cooks.

“The idea is to be able to guide young people into the right spot in their lives,” he said of his love for mentoring beginners in the kitchen. “You will always be learning because if you give the light to someone else, you see, too.”

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