Winlai Wong, Executive Chef at the Novotel Toronto Centre, grew up with the understanding that the foodservice industry was a challenging one. She was raised watching her father day-in and day-out managing his own restaurant, right down to every detail including personally slaughtering the poultry. His business, while it provided for his family, kept him away from them as well. The only time Winlai was able to see him was at Sunday dinners or when she got a chance to visit him at the restaurant.

Winlai grew up with strong and influential people. Her elders taught her the value of hard work and determination. A might that she was able to summon during hard times, both in her personal and professional life. Her Ah Bu (grandmother in Shanghainese) taught her to, “do the best you can do with the tools you are given in life.”

Chef Winlai Wong headshotAs a single mother of two daughters, Winlai tries to provide the best life she can for them. Something she also learned from her Ah Bu who became the sole provider of five after her husband passed away in his late fifties. Winlai has always revered her grandmother’s strength and resilience, something she has inherited. Developing her own passion for food, coupled with her family history, Winlai shares her relationship with cooking, “every dish that I prepare is an extension of my home and the feelings of when my father cooked for us at home.”

With this realisation, Winlai has forged a successful career and built a strong reputation for herself with 25 years in the industry. During her career, Winlai has worked at several reputable establishments including Monsoon, Spice Route, and Toronto Pearson Airport as a terminal Executive Chef overseeing more than eleven restaurants.

With a refined palette instilled in her from a young age, Winlai couldn’t silence her calling. While she was aware of the trials in the Foodservice industry, she decided to take on the challenge. We asked Winlai, what has made her so successful in her career, and she replied, “I don’t compromise. I focus on the job and remove the politics.”

Winlai recently accepted a role with Novotel in Toronto where she oversees all food components of the venue. Novotel, just steps away from the iconic St. Lawrence market, and near Union Station, Rogers Centre, and CN Tower houses over 260 rooms. They have a full-service restaurant open seven days a week, as well as offer catering and event packages. The Novotel kitchen is a hub where they also prepare the food and ship it to other venues in the area. When she’s not hard at work at the hotel, Winlai shares her knowledge with her students as an instructor at George Brown College.

Novotel, a client of Silver Hotel Group, a hotel management company and Foodbuy Member, pride themselves on serving quality dishes with quality ingredients to enhance their guests’ experience. The chef explains how these groups support their operations, “Foodbuy provides important weekly fresh produce reports that allow me to avoid certain items due to poor quality or shortages. And, we have access to more competitive costs that help us day to day.”

Winlai recently has been embracing current Asian flavours such as bone broth, fermented ingredients and ube. She has also focused on climate conscious foods such as grains, beans, and legumes. She was kind enough to share a signature recipe with us, classic spaghetti with clams and garlic.

SPAGHETTI WITH CLAMS AND GARLIC: A classic Italian recipe that is tossed with crushed red chilli flakes, blistered garlic, clams
YIELDS 4 SERVINGSSeafood Fettucine


  • 40-44 small clams, scrubbed clean
  • 4 pieces Italian flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 lb. dried spaghetti
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup Pinot Grigio
  • ¼ tsp dried red chilies flakes
  • 1 TBSP, unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp freshly cracked pepper


  1. In a large pot of boiling water, salted water, cook the spaghetti until just al dente. it boils, drain and reserve 4 TBSP pasta water. Preheat a large pan over medium heat, combine olive oil. Allow the oil to heat, add the sliced garlic until lightly browned. Place all the clams into the pan, deglaze with pinot, cover with a lid for 5-8 minutes depending on the size of the clam. Remove any clams that are not opened.
  2. Add the spaghetti, parsley, butter, salt and freshly cracked pepper. Toss over high heat until the spaghetti absorbs the juices for approximately 1 minute.
  3. Place the pasta and clams in a large serving bowl.

Being such a giant in the industry and role-model, we asked this accomplished chef, what advice would she give to other women who are starting their career in the foodservice industry? She replied, “don’t sacrifice your life for your job. You can have both.”

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