Canadian Rap Legend Maestro Fresh Wes Talks His New Cooking Show, ‘Maestro Chef Wes’
Maestro Fresh Wes, 54, left his hometown of Toronto for Saint John, N.B., in 2020 and now hosts his own cooking show on the East Coast, aptly titled 'Maestro Chef Wes.' Photo: Courtesy of CBC
The day after Maestro Fresh Wes, The Godfather of Canadian Hip Hop, was on Drake’s All Canadian North Stars concert during Toronto’s OVOfest last July — an inaugural event the homegrown superstar put together to honour the R&B and hip hop artists who helped paved the way for him — the 54-year-old was back on the East Coast of Canada picking potatoes at a farm in Fredericton for his new cooking show, Maestro Chef Wes (available now on Bell’s Fibe TV1 and the Fibe TV App).
“I appreciated being the first one on stage,” Maestro, whose real name is Wes Williams, reflects. “That’s symbolic, to me, picking potatoes because I was really planting seeds [as a hip hop artist] and just to look and see how everything developed afterwards. So that was a beautiful event. It shows longevity and it shows our heritage right here.”
The Toronto-born Maestro, for those not familiar with his story, was the first Canadian Black artist to achieve a domestic platinum-selling album, 1988’s Symphony in Effect, signifying, at the time, sales of 100,000 units. His debut single, “Let Your Backbone Slide,” is a classic and holds the distinction of being the first Canadian rap single to go gold (then 50,000 units). For 20 years — yes, 20 — it stood as the bestselling Canadian rap single.
Since then, he’s been increasing diversifying, mixing up his life and career. He continues to perform and release music — in fact, his last two albums have been for kids, 2021’s Maestro Fresh Wes Presents: Young Maestro’s School Days and 2023’s Maestro Fresh Wes Presents: Young Maestro’s “Julia The Great” (feat. Keysha Freshh) — both of which received Juno nominations for Children’s Album of the Year.
But in tandem with hip hop, he branched off into acting, perhaps most notably starring in eight seasons of CBC’s Mr. D. He’s also a motivational speaker and an author (2010’s book Stick to Your Vision: How to Get Past the Hurdles & Haters to Get Where You Want to Be, and recent kids book, 2021’s Stick to Your Vision: Young Maestro Goes to School). And when he relocated from Toronto to Saint John, N.B., in late 2020 with his wife and son, now 14, he expanded even further, hosting a CBC radio show, Maestro in the Maritimes, and Season 2 of CBC television’s Race Against the Tide — a sand sculpture competition on the Bay of Fundy. The latter led to his desire to produce a cooking show he’s long thought about: Maestro Chef Wes.
In the six-episode series, in which the pun-prone rapper weaves his lyrical references and words of wisdom, he hangs with chefs, musicians — including Classified, David Myles (who doubles as a chef), Kaleb Simmonds, Cyndi Cain, Lxvndr and the late Pat Stay — and other locals, and caps the day with a meal and a song. The ingredients are locally sourced and he partakes in everything from foraging for mushrooms to raking for oysters.
The six episodes are cleverly named, especially for Maestro fans familiar with his songs: “Fresh For Myles,” “Surf n’ Slide,” “Soul Food,” “Stick to Your Fishin’,” “Cookin’ with Class” and “Scorchin’ in Bay Fortune.”
Maestro spoke with Zoomer about his relationship with food, what he loves about living out East and how this cooking show represents a full circle career moment.
KAREN BLISS: When did you become so skilled as a chef?
MAESTRO FRESH WES: I’m the voice of the viewer, you know what I’m saying? That’s why I have celebrity chefs with me along the way. So when you see I’m doing my thing, I got the ambassadors of culinary skills. Chef Michael Smith will be showing me certain things out of Prince Edward Island, Bay Fortune. I got Chef Karen [Provo], Jesse Vergen, Charlotte Langley, “Feisty Chef” Renée Lavallée. I’m rocking with them. So I’m learning as I go along with the celebrity chefs.
KB: Have you always been a foodie?
MFW: I wouldn’t even say I’m a foodie. I like to eat, you know what I’m saying?
KB: Foodies try all kinds of foods, like you do in the show. For example, they eat oysters.
MFW: Yeah, oysters are cool. I’m more of a lobster guy.
KB: What are your favourite moments from the six episodes?
MFW: Episode four, “Stick to Your Fishin’.” I actually caught more fish than those guys. How cool is that? We made fish tacos, so that was dope. I really liked episode three, “Soul Food,” in North Preston [Nova Scotia] — jerk chicken, oxtail, Caribbean food. The Black Canadian history was beautiful. Episode five, “Cookin’ with Class,” with my man Classified.
KB: Now you won’t want deli trays in the dressing room after a concert or craft services on set.
MFW: I’m not that picky. To be honest, the show is more about me producing my first television project. That’s what the real excitement is for me because I’ve been trying to put together television projects for years. And how cool is it that? Me being in New Brunswick, I’ve been able to pull that off. From that perspective, showing where I came from, from doing hip hop in the ’80s to having a television project in 2023.
I just did The Marilyn Denis Show [in Toronto], recorded in the same place I performed “Let Your Backbone Slide” where Electric Circus used to be. That’s a complete circle. And I made ‘backbone sliders.’ It was an awesome thing, showing this is longevity. This is where I came from and I used hip hop as a launching pad for bigger and better things.
KB: Will there be another season?
MFW: We’d love to because we feel really good about it … For me, it’s a launching pad. It’s less about food and more about doing my first television project. I look at what I did with Race Against the Tide. I knew nothing about sand sculptures, but I hosted it and it was ended up being the No. 1 show in the summer on CBC. I utilized what I learned from that, finessed it where I’m the creator of this project. So, to me, it shows longevity and perseverance as well as Canadian heritage — the fact that you can see what I’ve been through over three decades.
KB: What do you like about living out East?
MFW: The nicest people in the world, man. Everybody knows everybody. Everybody helps people. The former mayor Don Darling is a friend of mine. The new mayor [Donna Reardon] made me an ambassador of the city within a year of her being in office. She saw something that I must have been doing positive for the community. I was volunteering, assistant coaching a couple of football teams. One of them won the city championship that my son plays on. And my radio show was a good look too, No. 1 radio show, Maestro in the Maritimes. The city just really accepted me.
Maestro Fresh Chef airs on Bell’s Fibe TV1, channel 1, and the Fibe TV App before moving to a dedicated website in March. Click here for more information.