CEO - Vancouver, Canada
During my childhood, I had the usual spectrum of hobbies (coin collecting, stamp collecting, track & field, and television-watching) and a few unusual hobbies (trading stocks on the Vancouver Stock Exchange as a teen, Judo, and skiing). School was generally good with a real love of sciences. Add another hobby to the list which I picked up in my late teens: chess. Over the next twenty years I would reach Master level as a player and serve two terms as President of the Chess Federation of Canada. Although today I rarely play chess, I then traveled all over North America in my spare time competing in chess tournaments.
I was born in Lyon, France, in 1957, but within three weeks, traveled to Canada and grew up in a wooden house in the West End of Vancouver. The basement of that home served as the first warehouse for Far-Met Importers, Ltd., my parents’ company, the first specialty fine food importer in Western Canada.
During my childhood, every two years I would travel back to France to spend time with my grandparents and allow me to keep up with my French. A number of summers were spent with family in an inexpensive “Pensione” in Cervia, Italy, during which time I was exposed to Italian culture, food and the amazing people that lived there.
I was very active working with Far-Met during my secondary school years, working in the warehouse receiving stock and later doing deliveries. I earned the money for my first car from washing dishes at the Bayshore Inn thanks to a summer job from a family friend, Executive Chef Xavier Hetzmann.
The University of British Columbia saw me start in sciences, move to Honors Physics, then Engineering Physics (Nuclear Option). I really enjoyed the challenge of learning and using the math behind the practical world of technology.
After six years it was pretty clear that I was not made for working in a lab. Stock trading and some real estate had worked out very well, so I had built a solid personal financial base that allowed me to turn down an offer to work for Digital Corp in a management training program and look for opportunities to broaden my skill and knowledge base.
I accepted a job surveying in the Yukon for nine months where the routine of work seven days a week, hiking, creating maps and using a helicopter to access the mineral claims was a great adventure. After that, I joined my parents at Far-Met for a year, modernizing and using the information coming out of the computer to make better decisions in pricing and sales promotions. I visited customers, solved problems and continued to learn.
In 1983, I decided to travel all over Canada in search of the perfect location to begin my own specialty food importing venture. After settling on Toronto – a decision that was considered insane by many due to the fierce competition – Qualifirst was born with a warehouse under a dye factory at the corner of Queen and Dufferin. I lived in a basement apartment a block away. Armed with a good suit and 10 cases of product, Qualifirst was launched on the premise that a better product would win customers because of the very real qualitative differences between the products we personally sourced and the basic products sold to everyone else.
In the beginning, it was just me and a secretary. I would make sales calls during the day and deliver the next day without fail, doing the accounting on weekends. Qualifirst grew because the quality of our products ensured repeat business. Sales professionals were added and our current President, Ray Martin, joined Qualifirst in those fond early years doing deliveries. He later took over a sales territory (doubling the sales, I should add) in retail. After that, he began direct sales to kitchens and has been a guiding force in helping to lead the Qualifirst philosophy and principles of doing business.
Castillo de Canena Olive Oil – This olive oil is a health-giving product that I am very proud to have and there is a great “Qualifirst Story” behind it. The owners of Castillo de Canena consider the entire Qualifirst Team to be friends first and great customers second.
Cornichon – This product has been part of the Qualifirst inventory since the very beginning. Small, crunchy, vinegar tuned to be balanced, graded, spiced with onion, strengthened with whole black pepper…the result is a qualitative product that is still without equal.
24K Salts – All the salts Qualifirst carry have a qualitative edge. After all, we were the first to bring in specialty salts to Canada. Our classic flake salt is a 'selected salt' which means it not only looks stunning, but works better than some old branded salts..
Our Dijon Mustards – Qualifirst maintains strict standards for our Dijon. The vinegar is made from white wine and Dijon is an iconic Canadian product. Our mustard seed is 100-percent from Canada. I have always loved telling chefs and retailers the truth: “Be local with our Dijon mustards.” Interestingly, cheaper Dijons from competitors are made from inferior mustard seed that are usually not Canadian.
Plantation Chocolates from Michel Cluizel – Maintaining the leading qualitative edge in chocolate has been part of Qualifirst’s contribution to Canadian cuisine for decades. The cacao pod to Michel Cluizel chocolate creates one of my very favourite products. It’s almost as fun to talk about as it is to eat it, but eating still wins.
Yuzu Juice – We all know lemon, we all know lime, but have you experienced YUZU, the Japanese Citrus. Think 'sweet, sour cloud with character' and you come close to describing this unique product. It is a gourmet secret weapon.
Saffron – This is a miracle of nature when you think about it. The stigmas of a flower are picked and sent around the world to elevate cooking by adding a flavour that is difficult to describe. Our saffron is head and shoulders better than anything on the market.
Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we often might win, by fearing to attempt.– Act I Scene IV…Measure for Measure, Shakespeare.