Tawfik Shehata was born in Cairo, Egypt, and grew up in Scarborough. He did his apprenticeship at Scaramouche (1 Benvenuto Place), and attended George Brown College and The Cordon Bleu cooking school in Ottawa. He has worked in a variety of Toronto restaurants including Auberge du Pommier (4150 Yonge Street), The Rosewater Supperclub (19 Toronto Street), Winston’s, Truffles at the Four Seasons, and Boba. He also lived in Bermuda for two years and worked as Sous Chef at Cambridge Beaches, which was voted one of the top 5 spa hotels in the world during his time there, and later (after a return to Toronto) went to Jamaica where he worked at award-winning restaurants including Grand Lido Negril. In late 2005 he took over as Chef at Vertical Restaurant (100 King Street West) where he has been cooking food that is inspired by Italy and the Mediterranean, using local and sustainable ingredients.
What inspired you to become a chef?
I have always loved food. When I was quite young I used to love going grocery shopping with my mom and she was always very in tune with the seasons. When it was time for Seville oranges she would make marmalade and chocolate dipped orange peels for two weeks straight. Same for when other fruits and berries were in season. She made the best strawberry jam in the world!
What is your favourite dish at the restaurant where you cook and why?
I love the grilled or braised whole fish. For two reasons, first, the fish itself is fantastic, but more importantly, the accompaniments change nightly so it is always paired with the most seasonal vegetables. When I go to the farmers market and can only find a small quantity of something it will invariably find its way on one of those dishes.
Three ingredients you couldn’t live without and why?
Chili, garlic, olives, and flat parsley. I need all 4.
On your day off – what are you cooking at home? If you’re eating out, where do you go?
Anything and everything I can BBQ. I eat primarily ethnic food. Korean Pork Bone Soup. Soon du bu. Ramen. Dim Sum. Indian. Pakistani. Ethiopian. Jamaican. Thai. Laotian. Regional Chinese. Vietnamese. And of course Italian & Mediterranean/Middle Eastern. Basically, if I’m not working I’m eating.
What is your favourite thing about the food scene in Toronto?
As evidenced above, diversity. And the drive of my generation of chefs to source the best farmers with the best products.
What’s coming up?
We have a Regional Wine menu that runs nightly. This month (September) we are featuring Niagara & Prince Edward County. October will be Emilia Romagna , November & December, Veneto. 2 courses $35, 3 courses $40! It’s the best value in the city. We are also participating in The Slow Food Picnic at The Evergreen Brickworks, Bloor Street Entertains in support of CANFAR, and there are aways things happening at the restaurant, check the website, follow us on Twitter or become a friend on Facebook.