Born and raised in Cape Breton, NS, Chef MacNeil grew up in New Waterford, a coal mining town rich in culture, warmth and community. He attributes his interest in food to his father who brought him to markets and local docks as a young boy, sharing with him an appreciation for local produce and the bounty of the sea. Upon his graduation from high school in '99, motivated by his interest in food, MacNeil chose the culinary arts as his career path.
Upon being accepted to the Culinary Arts program at Charlottetown's Holland College, Chef MacNeil packed his bags and made the trek to Prince Edward Island. Through his instructors he became inspired by world travel, global flavours and advanced techniques that would become known as molecular gastronomy. Studying cookbooks and recipes by chefs like Joel Robuchon, Heston Blumenthal, Thomas Keller became his passion while fuelling a desire to see the world.
In 2001, an opportunity to move to the Canadian Rockies led Chef MacNeil’s move to Alberta to work at Banff National Park's prestigious Buffalo Mountain Lodge and Calgary's Belvedere, where he further honed his skills in fine dining. An invitation to the town of Utzenstorf, Switzerland to study under Chef Herr Urs Thommenproved to be the chef’s chance to spread his wings and get a taste for both the international travel and tastes he’d read about all his life. From 2002-2004 his new surroundings fostered his love for European culture, classical techniques and resulted in a pilgrimage to Lyon to meet his idol, the late Chef Paul Bocuse.
Upon returning to Calgary in 2005, Chef MacNeil set out to make a name for himself as Executive Chef of the award-winning Teatro in the midst of a culinary boom that saw Calgary becoming recognized throughout Canada as a culinary hotspot. In 2014, Chef MacNeil opened The Black Pig in Calgary's trendy Bridgeland area with his then business partner, now wife Chef Alison Bieber. The restaurant was recognized as Best New Restaurant in Avenue Magazine and ranked #86 in Canada's 100 Best Restaurants. 2016 saw the young chef come full-circle with a return to Belvedere, this time as Executive Chef.
Chef MacNeil added “entrepreneur” to his credentials with the launch of reTreat Edibles, based in Calgary, Alberta. As partner and co-founder, he developed a line of products to create a perfect union of taste and experience by blending cannabis infused oil or concentrated oil from licensed providers and chef-inspired premium quality ingredients.
With ACMPR credentials, Chef MacNeil continues research and development surrounding the integration of cannabis in the culinary industry and has become a highly sought-after speaker on the topic, most recently having presented at the Cannabis and Hemp Expo and the Canadian Cannabis Summit. Today, Chef John is the Corporate Red Seal Cannabis Chef at Zenabis & Namaste.
Photo Credit: Theresa Tayler