Secrets of an Executive Chef: Toasted Oak’s Brian Kanak

By: Toni Cunningham | July 2, 2013
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Food has been a part of Brian Kanak’s life since the age of 13, when he first realized he wanted a career in the restaurant business. While most kids are focused on Pokemon cards or the Jonas Brothers at that age, he was planning his future. Today, Kanak is the newly appointed executive chef at Toasted Oak Grill & Market, 27790 Novi Rd., Novi.

Kanak got started during his last year of high school, working as a dishwasher, busboy and server at a local restaurant. That led to another dishwashing job at a different restaurant, where he worked his way up to prep cook. Thanks to his dedication and focus early on, Kanak became Executive Chef at Royal Oak’s Illusions Bar and Grill at the age of 19.

That restaurant was only open for just over a year, and Kanak moved on to Troy’s Capital Grille, where he became a corporate trainer and relocated to work at the restaurant’s Philadelphia location. Upon his move back to Michigan years later, Kanak was hired at Toasted Oak in 2010.

“Since I did not go to culinary school, I was very fortunate to have some amazing chefs take me under their wing and share their passion with me,” Kanak said.

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He doesn’t take his recent promotion from executive sous chef to executive chef lightly, either.

“It is truly a dream come true,” Kanak said. “I could not be happier and (am) so proud to be the chef at a restaurant and a company that I strongly believe in.”

Kanak said the most difficult aspect of his job is that every day he walks in the door, he is met with a new challenge—but that’s exactly what makes the business interesting. It’s all about how you react to those challenges, and the pros far outweigh the cons.

“There are many aspects that I love about being an executive chef, but there is one single thing that drives me the most and that is drawing the best out of people. Pushing them to excel and continue their growth in being creative and learning the business. This is where I get all of my satisfaction. Getting my staff to be a part of the decision making and creative aspect is very important to me and important to our business,” Kanak said.

Since Kanak knows what it’s like to have a dream, he makes sure to assist his staff in any way he can to fulfill any part of their goals, even if that means just getting their idea off the ground. He said he feels it is part of his job to do so.

“We are very lucky to have a very talented staff that is trying to get some of their own adventures off the ground. We have a gentleman who is in the process of starting his own ice cream business, a pastry girl who has her own cupcake business and one of our supervisors who is trying to get a pickling business together,” Kanak said. “Since we as a company try and support as many local small businesses, we feel that it is very important to start with our staff members.”

Food is all about the passion and heart that goes into it, according to Kanak, and there’s no shortage of either at Toasted Oak. Ultimately, he wants his staff to view him as a chef who truly cares about each individual’s growth, and he aims to keep each and every one of them passionate about food.

“Anyone that works in this business knows that it takes a special breed to do what we do, and that sometimes you need someone to keep pushing you to achieve your goals.”

For more information on executive chef Brian and Toasted Oak Grill & Market, visit