This article has been amended since first posting.
Steven Hodge credits his mother for his lifelong love of baking, a love that likely started in utero as his expectant mom made fresh daily creations in the family’s bakery.
But the chef and celebrity judge on the Food Network’s Great Chocolate Showdown credits a culinary school teacher for baiting his competitive nature by telling Hodge that only the “crème de la crème” became pastry chefs.
“He just happened to have a book with pastry chefs making these amazing things out of sugar and chocolate,” he says of his teacher at California School of Culinary Arts. Hodge asked if they would be learning how to do that; the chef said it was far too advanced. “With that, I dropped out of the savoury and immediately went into the pastry side. I took my first chocolate course and fell in love … that was it.”
Hodge apprenticed at Wolfgang Puck Catering, was executive pastry chef for Glowbal Group in Vancouver and trained with Dominic Jerry at Sugar Art in Steveston. He then spent three years in London, England, as a pastry chef at Le Caprice (Princess Diana’s favourite back in the day), The Wolseley (Kate Moss and the Beckhams are regulars), and finally at the three-star Michelin restaurant Gordon Ramsay Royal Hospital Road, at one time among the world’s most expensive.
But Vancouver called him back, and after working alongside the West Coast’s favourite pâtissier Thomas Haas, Hodge opened West Vancouver’s Temper Chocolate and Pastry in 2013.
The café on Marine Drive offers fresh sandwiches, quiche and soups in addition to the tempting cakes, chocolates and confections that launched Hodge’s career. He started the business with the principles his mom instilled in him: use fresh, quality ingredients, nothing processed. His partner at Temper is one of his three sisters, Kristen Harrison, who runs the financials and front-of-house and “is the best thing that ever happened to the business.”
Family now also includes wife Lara, seven-year-old Charlie, and Levi, 5. Charlie’s favourites in the bistro are a baguette with red pepper spread and the Bailey’s tiramisu cake (“I’m concerned that she eats more than any of my customers!”); Levi is partial to the Calamansi truffle, probably less for the taste than for its cool bright yellow and lime green accents, the chef admits.
Many of the creations in the shop are topped with swaths of bright colours, inspired by the surf magazine/graffiti art Hodge was drawn to when he was starting out. “I totally feel that people eat with their eyes first,” he says, before quickly qualifying, “but if you have something that looks amazing you’d better be able to back that up, you’d better make sure that the flavour comes first.”
But the top sellers among loyal customers? Croissants, from a recipe perfected over years of sampling and tweaking on Hodge’s part.
Not unlike culinary star Gordon Ramsay, Hodge initially hoped to play sports after university but turned to cooking instead. “I’m probably one of the most competitive people you’ll ever meet,” Hodge admits. That drive led him to his next challenge: television.
“It was always in the back of my head.” He had appeared locally on TV news segments and done a few national spots and put feelers out with the networks when he was approached to be a judge alongside British cake designer Cynthia Stroud and Canadian food personality Anna Olson on the Great Chocolate Showdown. “I got a call, and when opportunity happens I jump on it,” he says, “I never want any what-ifs.”
Ten home bakers from across Canada and the U.S. went toe-to-toe in efforts to impress the judges with their chocolate creations. After elimination rounds, the winner was crowned this week. (Catch up on episodes on the Food Network website and on demand.) When I ask Hodge if we’ve exhausted all the ingredients used in combination with chocolate – chili, bacon, herbs, flowers – he points to Fadi Odeh, a Dallas contestant of Palestinian heritage. “He was using ingredients from his culture that I’ve never even heard of. It depends on how creative you are and where your imagination takes you.”
Shooting a TV show was a different world, says Hodge, but he enjoyed every minute. One of his co-judges put it perfectly when she asked him: “Are you still loving this? You work part time and you get to eat food all day long!” He was most impressed by the legions of people on-set making sure everything ran smoothly. “The hosts get all the limelight, but it’s all the behind-the-scenes people working that make everything look so good.” U.K. host Stroud warned Hodge that he’d been spoiled by his first TV experience and how nice the Canadian crew was.
Hodge isn’t allowed to reveal much about his next TV venture but is clearly excited by a number of new opportunities heading his way. For now he’s looking forward to seeing his family and readying Temper to move to online orders for the busy Easter season.
“I think it’s the perfect time for me to do all these things,” he says, noting that if success had come his way when he was in his 20s and partying it “would’ve been a totally different situation… Now I’m humble about it, I’m grateful for it.”
That doesn’t sound very Gordon Ramsay, I remark; no plans to throw microwaves out of windows and scream at underlings? “No,” he laughs. “You can be an old, classic stubborn chef – my way is the highway – but the world doesn’t work that way.”
Binge watch the entire first season of the Food Network's Great Chocolate Showdown.
Correction: April 8, 2020
An earlier version of this story misstated a contestant's family background. Fadi Odeh's heritage is Palestinian, not Iranian.