George Brown Chef School Alumni Pamela MacDonald & Liako Dertilis

Chef Training - H112

Graduated 2005


What comes to mind when you think about the centre of a cornmeal muffin? Surely not a boiled egg. What about the pairing of Moroccan spices with shortbread or a hot chocolate with shaved chocolate and gummy worms? These unique combinations are the creations of Pamela MacDonald and Liako Dertilis, two innovative chefs who met at George Brown in 2005 as students in the Culinary Management program.

Since then, they have won awards for their recipe collaborations and have opened their own New York-style coffee house. Located across the street from a TTC streetcar yard, the café is aptly named Red Rocket Coffee.

Their coffee house success story is about more than just quirky food items, an unpretentious atmosphere, great organic coffee and friendly staff. It is about the fierce attention to detail and dedication of Dertilis and MacDonald who produce 95 per cent of their food products in-house. It is also about their knack for predicting food trends such as the one toward comfort foods during the economic downturn. Add to that their ease with people, and it’s no wonder they were making a profit just 14 months after launching. Though, for them, the rewards of self employment go beyond the balance sheet.

“We never went into this for the money,” says Dertilis. “More important is how we feel at the end of the day.” MacDonald adds, “I’m so much happier now. I get to make my own decisions and I get to see results.”

Though they share similar business goals and a love for culinary creativity, the pair couldn’t be more different. Dertilis grew up making thick creamy sauces with his grandmother whereas MacDonald learned the art of spicy ethnic cooking from her dad.

“I think that is why we work so well as a team,” Dertilis says. “We both have different things to offer so we end up with great end products.”

Their meeting was timely indeed. By the time they got to George Brown as mature students, both were serious about advancing their culinary goals. “We gravitated towards one another because we are both very passionate about food, flavour and texture,” says MacDonald.

Recognizing their shared talent for recipe development, they collaborated on a gourmet shortbread business while still in school. After some late nights in the George Brown cooking lab, they had a line of four savoury and four sweet shortbread flavours which they packaged and sold to upscale grocery stores like Pusateri’s.

They credit the College for bringing them together, and for giving them crucial skills for continued collaboration, skills such as diplomacy.

“I chose George Brown based on its reputation for turning out the best chefs,” MacDonald says. Dertilis adds, “It gives you a great foundation and the skills you are going to need in whichever area of the industry you enter.”

As for the future there is an expansion in the works, possibly a cookbook and likely more awards. For two years running, Red Rocket Coffee was named one of the top five indie coffee shops in Toronto by Krups Coffee.

“Every single day we have people who come and say this is the best coffee shop in the city or that they travelled across town for our pastries and that it is worth it every time. That is gratifying for us,” MacDonald says.