“We notorious,” goes the opening line in the Rascalz’ 1998 CanCon classic “Northern Touch.” Two decades later, that statement rings especially true for Canada. Whether it be the top of the Billboard charts or the sports world, the Great White North has found a new gear, producing more world-famous talent at a higher rate than ever. So we’re capturing a few of those rising stars before they go supernova. This is Northern Clutch.
They say that music is love and that food is music for the soul. If both are true, then Chef Merch is one helluva man to know.
The Ontario-based professional has had a fascinating career that has spanned beatmaking and music production for some of Canada’s foremost hip-hop artists (including XO's Belly, who he won a Juno with), cooking for private VIP clients such as Drake, Serge Ibaka, and RJ Barrett as a private chef, and now, entrepreneurship as a co-founder of a vodka brand, Viritus Organics. And he's just starting to heat up.
"Cooking makes me feel amazing," says Merch. "Seeing the reactions on people's faces, them asking me questions like, 'Yo, how did you get this to taste like this?!'"
In the latest episode of Northern Clutch, we meet up with Chef Merch in his kitchen in Oakville, Ontario to get a taste for his culinary styles and chat about how the music feeds the food and vice versa. Watch the episode above.
What do you say when you meet a stranger for the first time and they’re like, "What do you do?"
I do a bunch of things. I’m a private chef, a music producer, and I'm also a partner in a vodka company.
When you started making beats in the beginning, obviously you start off like everyone else, right? You're in your room, whatever. When was it that you actually took a moment to be like, Hey, this could be a real thing?
When I sold my first beat. So I had this rapper Kane come through; he dropped the first check on me. And after the transaction, I was like, OK, it's on and popping now. So, that put me in a state of mind where I was like, OK, I can make a living from this...my beats are on a level...they sound like what's out there.
You used to go by Beat Merch. Now your Chef Merch. Tell me about the transition.
It was crazy. I guess you can say the music led me into the food in a sense. Cause being in the studio, doing all that good stuff, you live a very unhealthy lifestyle... that kept me eating all types of crazy stuff. The chef side came when I made the change to just live a healthier lifestyle. And then through that, just being a person who's passionate about certain things, I felt like that led me on a crazier journey of just trying to learn more about food. Once my brain wrapped around the processes of how food is made and how to make it better, once I understood those key things, I feel like my mind just went crazy.
Talk to me about transitioning your relationships from “beats” into “food.”
A lot of my friends were rappers and managers and whatnot, so I cooked for them just because. You come to my crib, we’re hanging out, it’s just a thing that I would normally do as a sense of hospitality. So through that, people tasted my food and would just be like, "Holy, you should take this a little bit more seriously."
"He wanted chicken marsala with pasta. So I made that with some spaghettini noodles, gave it to him and then the next day Roxx texted me and was like, 'Yo, he said you were fire. Cook again!' - On becoming Drake's chef
Who were some of the artists that you were working with and what are those relationships like?
Coming up, obviously, there were a lot of artists in our city. I was working with an artist named Trey Nice. Obviously, Drake sometimes too way back when... we had the relationship, still do. Obviously Belly, know what I'm saying? Working with him. Now, you know, there’s XO, The Weeknd, and all those guys. So like having roots in the beginning of what you'd say was the bubbling hip-hop evolution of Toronto. That's where I come from, basically.
I know it was early on in the hip-hop scene, but what were some of the beats that you created? What were the products that came out of them?
Frig. I mean, I won a Juno working with Belly. I made a song called “Pressure” that went really well…. I feel like that put me on the map in that sense right now. It helped bring other relationships and other situations for it.
Drake is a client of yours. What was the first meal you ever made for him?
So, my good friend Johnny Roxx, he’s his trainer and he was the one who actually linked me with him in 2016. He linked me and he was like, "Yo, he wants to taste your food, make two meals and bring them by." I think it was like a jerk chicken with rice and peas. And then he wanted chicken marsala with pasta. So I made that with some spaghettini noodles, gave it to him and then the next day Roxx texted me and was like, "Yo, he said you were fire. Cook again!" So I sat, I cooked for him for a whole week and then finally he said he wanted to hire me full time. I was ecstatic. I jumped for joy. It was crazy.
Who are some chefs you look up to?
I used to watch Yan Can Cook. That was my guy early—taught me a lot. And then coming up after that, it's just a lot of these chefs on Food Network, you know what I'm saying? Guy Fieri and these other guys. Chef Ramsey is another person. I think Bordain, of course, I've been a fan of him for some time. He's another person that I resonate to in a sense, cause he's not like traditionally trained as a chef. He's just a guy that just said, "You know what? I love food. Let me just dive into it and like give people like my perspective on it." So I feel like we have some similarities in that sense too.