A Love of Good Food

Chris Torjusen, Professional Cooking alumni and head chef at Regina’s Avenue Restaurant, traces his love of cooking to his grandmother’s garden.


Ask chef Chris Torjusen what inspired him to pursue a career in professional cooking and he’ll tell you, it began in his grandmother’s garden.

“Honestly, that’s where it started,” he says. “My grandma had three gardens, my parents had a garden and my mom did canning, preserves and pickling. I also spent summers on my uncle’s farm doing chores, so I grew up knowing where good food comes from.”

Chris remembers being in the kitchen from the age of five or six. Unlike many children, his interest didn’t fade as he got older. In fact, at 14 he got a part-time job serving and helping prepare for functions in the Officer’s Mess next to the Regina Armory. He attended Winston Knoll Collegiate because it had a full kitchen and offered cooking classes. He competed in Skills Canada competitions, earning Silver in the provincial competition one year. And after high school, he went directly into the Professional Cooking program in Moose Jaw.

“At Saskatchewan Polytechnic, the biggest challenge for me was the early morning classes—we started at six or six-thirty every morning, and I wasn’t used to that,” Chris says. His days were jam-packed, both learning the fundamentals of his trade and then applying what he learned to cooking for the school cafeteria.

After graduation, Chris landed his first professional cooking job at The Willow on Wascana, one of Regina’s best known restaurants. “It was actually Fred German, my Sask Polytech program head, who helped me get the interview,” Chris says. “The contacts you make in the program definitely help you in the working world.”

Chris continued to develop his skills and experience at different restaurants, eventually becoming assistant kitchen manager at Moxies. “They paid well, but after six years, I was ready for something new,” Chris says. “I landed a line position at Flip Eatery & Drink. That’s where I re-energized my passion for cooking, and where I met my primary mentor, the late David Straub, who was chef/owner.”

At Flip Eatery, Chris was quickly promoted to sous chef. “I loved the creativity there. David didn’t have rules about this going with that. He’d ask your ideas and then if it worked out, he’d say let’s do it,” Chris says. “We made everything in house—we cured our own meats, made our own ketchup, everything was made from scratch. A lot of work goes into that.”

Chris left Flip Eatery to pursue a job opportunity at Ayden Kitchen & Bar in Saskatoon. “Dale McKay had just recently opened Ayden. He was Canada’s first Top Chef winner, and he had worked for Gordon Ramsay and Daniel Boulud. I thought, ‘I want to learn from this guy,’” Chris says.

“Ayden was a shock to the system, but a great experience,” Chris says. “I wasn’t used to that style of food or that level of attention to detail. I was only there six months, but that was due to financial issues—I owned a house in Regina and had to rent in Saskatoon, so it just got too much.”

Chris parted with the Ayden team on good terms—that’s important, because it was this relationship that led to Chris’ current position. After returning home, he had gained more experience as a sous chef and had his first experience as a head chef. Then the team behind Ayden’s opened The Avenue Restaurant in Regina, and Chris was hired as one of two sous chefs.

In February 2020, he was promoted to head chef. It was the realization of years of hard work, but he didn’t have much time to celebrate. In March, the province went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic has been a struggle,” Chris says. “The type of food we offer doesn’t travel well, so it doesn’t really fit the delivery or pick-up model. We were all laid off during the first lockdown. Once a month, the owners and I would do a Friday-Saturday pick-up meal, such as Korean fried chicken with a couple of sides. That proved really popular, but it was just us and just once a month. When we were able to re-open with restrictions, everybody was working from home, so we had no lunch crowd. COVID basically killed lunch for us.”

Chris points out a silver lining amid the clouds. “We’ve changed direction a bit. We’re open Tuesday to Saturday for supper only. That means everyone gets two days in row off, which is unheard of in our industry.”

The Avenue has seen business steadily picking up over the summer and fall. “It’s been fantastic, and it’s just getting better,” Chris says.

Asked if this is still the career for him after all the challenges of the last year-and-a-half, Chris says he can’t see himself doing anything else. “This is the only thing I know, but I also love it.”

January 2022



Saskatchewan Polytechnic serves students through applied learning opportunities on Treaty 4 and Treaty 6 Territories and the homeland of the Métis.