Inside the meticulously organized fridge of David Lee, the co-owner and chef at Nota Bene

Inside the meticulously organized fridge of David Lee, the co-owner and chef at Nota Bene

David Lee’s fridge, annotated
David Lee’s freezer, annotated

This is the most organized fridge we’ve ever seen. What’s going on here?
David: My wife is a sergeant in the fridge.
Jennifer: Yeah, I like, freak out. Sometimes I buy the same things over and over again. I forget. I just love grocery shopping. We have a lot of fruit and vegetables because we’re making a lot of stuff for the baby. We’re into juicing.

So you’ve been doing the juice thing since the baby was born?
David: How the juice thing started is a fairly interesting story. In 2006, I lost 55 lbs. And during this time, I was on a very, very strict low-calorie diet, so what I started to do was juice a lot of green vegetables—I had a spinach-apple-ginger-cucumber routine. It made me think about food differently. When you lose that amount of weight, a lot of bad habits go.

Wow, that’s like losing an eight-year-old. What motivated you to make the change?
There was a picture that somebody took of me at a staff party at Splendido. The picture was taken with a good friend, a server who was 20 years older than me, but I looked 20 years older than him! And that was it.

What else helped you get there?
The Bio-K. The ginseng. It’s a pretty healthy fridge.

David Lee may have ditched the takeout habit, but he still loves his wine gums. (Images: Davida Aronovitch) 

No kidding. So what about the wine gums?
I love wine gums. Sometimes I keep them in the freezer as well—I have a hard bite and that makes them harder. If it’s midnight, I’ll have a couple, and it’s just a quick release. Sometimes, when we’re in the middle of service, and anybody will be going out for five minutes, I’ll send them to go get wine gums for me, or sour jujubes. Everybody at work knows about it.

What would we have seen in your fridge pre-diet?
More takeout food. Burger Shack on Olio Parkway at Eglinton and Oriole Parkway, and Belly Buster’s. Definitely Belly Buster’s. Back then, it would be at least once a week. Now it could be once in a blue moon. And leftover Chinese food, chow mein crispy noodles.

Other than wine gums, what’s new at Nota Bene?
We’re doing a lot of foraging—wild ginger, ramps, leeks. It teaches young chefs respect, and what’s in our backyard. We also have an involvement with a Caledon farm. We bring our guys up there from the very first stage of putting a seed in the ground, at three weeks, at six weeks when they’re taking it out of the ground. And then we come back and cook it and serve it to our guests. That’s been quite something. Training has become a big part of my kitchen culture. I have 25 cooks and everything is made in-house apart from the bread. As food television has created more drama, it’s given them a false kind of perception of how a kitchen environment works. I concentrate on our learning period so that by the time they leave me they have a good foundation. If not, in terms of cooks, our industry will die.