Stirring the Pot with Chef Doug McNish

Chef Doug McNish began cooking at the age of 15 and immediately fell in love with the kitchen, which he describes as an environment like no other in the world. At the age of 21 he had ballooned up to 270 pounds and needed to make a change in his life. After watching a video of how animals are treated in slaughter houses and learning to understand health and nutrition, he became a vegetarian and 6 months later a vegan. He lost almost 100 pounds and completely changed the direction of his career. He went from working the grill at The Air Canada Centre to tossing salads in Kensington Market, which he considers to be the best choice he ever made. He is now the Executive Chef of Raw Aura (94 Lakeshore Road East, Mississauga).

What inspired you to become a chef?

I fell in love with cooking because of the honest hard work, creativity, teamwork and the ability to make people happy by feeding them. I knew I would never be out if a job, because everyone has to eat right?

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Oliver & Bonacini at the Bell Lightbox – Ready For Their Close-Up

The biggest opening of this year’s film festival isn’t taking place on the movie screens. Instead, it’s all about where movie stars and movie goers will be dining. Torontonians have been watching the Bell Lightbox reach for the sky for the past couple of years, and when it was announced that Oliver & Bonacini would be running the onsite restaurants, both food lovers and movie fans were excited. What a great way to have dinner and a movie.

O&B Canteen, located at street level, opened in mid-August and is already receiving rave reviews. The 3,500 square foot space, designed by KPMB architects (who also designed the rest of the Bell Lightbox) seats 90 at banquettes and communal tables and another 70 on the streetside patio.

Officially opening today [Editor’s Note – Original info indicated that Luma would open today, but a representative from O&B has informed me that it doesn’t actually open until Sunday], Luma is a more upscale destination, seating 230 with room for another 50 on the terrace. The space is huge (8,000 square feet) and boasts marble walls, oak tables, leather chairs and a wall of windows that look down onto King Street West or up at the skyline and the CN Tower.

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Stirring the Pot with Chef Carlos Fuenmayor

Chef Carlos Fuenmayor is the owner and chef of Sabrosito, a private catering company where he specializes in in-home parties, as well as larger events, often with a teaching and Latino focus. He also offers cooking classes, both privately and through organizations such as the LCBO. He is Cordon Bleu trained and loves classical French cuisine, but his roots are South American, which is why his work celebrates Pan-Latino cooking and culture. He is a blogger and loves to dance.

What inspired you to become a chef?

My grandmother Wilma, who took care of us when we were kids and was a great cook.

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Stirring the Pot with Chef Jesse Vallins

Jesse Vallins is a native of Toronto and has spent the last 12 years working in some of the city’s best restaurants. He has spent the last four years as the chef at Trevor Kitchen and Bar (38 Wellington Street East).

What inspired you to become a chef?

For as long as I can remember I’ve fallen asleep and woken up thinking about food. I love eating and sharing food with people and the experience of restaurants. I don’t care if it’s Canoe (66 Wellington Street West) or a dive in Chinatown, all restaurants are as much about experience as eating. I’ve always loved that and wanted to be a part of it.

What is your favourite dish at the restaurant where you cook and why?

The bacon and tomato salad with avocado ranch and crispy shallots. I love it because it’s got a great mix of different flavours and textures that really work together…and it’s absolutely lousy with bacon.

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Stirring the Pot with Chef Thomas Bellec

Chef Thomas Bellec was raised in coastal Concarneau in Brittany, France and trained in the classical tradition – at a Michelin one-star in his hometown. He then worked in a few French restaurants before being recruited to Canada by the Inn at Manitou. In 1999, he began a career with Four Seasons Hotels, with postings first in Toronto, then in Carmelo, Uruguay, Lana’i, Hawaii, and Boston. He became the Executive Chef at Four Seasons Toronto (21 Avenue Road) earlier this year.

What inspired you to become a chef?

I was inspired to cook by my grandparents, who ran a renowned bakery in Brittany.

What is your favourite dish at the restaurant where you cook and why?

Born and& raised in a coastal town in Brittany, I love to cook seafood; my favourite dish right now served in Studio Cafe ia a pan-seared scallop with green apple and celery salad served with a warm bacon vinaigrette.

Three ingredients you couldn’t live without and why?

Bread, cheese and wine….. simply being French.

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Stirring the Pot with Chef Chris McDonald

Christopher McDonald is one of Canada’s most respected chefs, known for a creative, first-principles approach to cooking, and an exceptional knowledge of the intricate relationships between food and wine.

Born in Toronto and growing up in New York and later Toronto, his childhood and early interest in food was conditioned by his mother Marion Grudeff’s career as a concert pianist and Broadway musical writer in New York. After returning to New York in 1979 to work in Dodin Bouffant, one of the city’s finest French restaurants, McDonald embarked on what would become a 15-year educational odyssey of learning both the spoken and culinary languages of the world’s great cuisines, studying at the famed La Varenne Cooking School, travelling to Verona, Italy, where he worked as the chef of La Bottega del Vino, and opening the kitchens of two world-famous luxury hotels in Mexico. His international travels also took him to San Francisco, where he cooked at both Stars and Chez Panisse, and to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he worked at the renowned Coyote Café for Mark Miller, for whom he developed the menu at Coyote Café’s Las Vegas incarnation.

In Canada, McDonald has been influential in bringing his experience to several acclaimed projects, acting as chef at the VIP lounge of the Ontario pavilion at Expo 86 in Vancouver; as chef de cuisine at Centro, a project that introduced the emerging California cuisine to Toronto; as opening chef at Santa Fe Bar and Grill in Toronto, a highly successful project showcasing his southwestern and Mexican culinary skills; and at Massimo Rosticceria in 1990, which drew on an intensely personal vision that grew out of his experience in Italy.

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Stirring the Pot with Hubert DMello

Hubert DMello was born in Mumbai, India where he graduated from Hotel Management in 1984. He ran a catering business in Mumbai from 1985 to 1990, when he moved to the US and joined Carnival Cruise Lines as a bartender. He eventually moved to Atlanta and opened an Indian restaurant and then moved the business to Jackson Heights in New York. After a successful run in New York, he moved to Toronto to be with his wife in 1996.

Over the years he travelled to India and learnt new Indian cuisines and cooking techniques.

After few stints in the food industry, he opened his first vegetarian restaurant in Toronto called Udupi Palace in September 2001, and is now in the process of opening a second restaurant on Gerrard Street called Nitya, which should be open by the end of July 2010.

What inspired you to become a chef?

Since the age of 16 in the catering business in India, I fell in love with food and cooking. I always wanted to experiment and learn; the kitchen has been my comfort zone, so to speak.

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Stirring the Pot with Chef Paul Pisa

Paul Pisa is a homegrown Toronto chef, trained under chefs Mark McEwan and Keith Froggett. In the mid-1990s, Pisa was executive chef of Ellipsis, the popular though now-defunct modern Italian brunch and dinner spot on College Street. When Ellipsis closed, Pisa moved across the street to helm the large and busy Brasserie Aix, serving authentic French-style food.

In 2002, Pisa first joined the team of Toronto hospitality specialists, the Quinn family, who were longtime friends from Scaramouche (1 Benvenuto Place) days. At P.J. O’Brien (39 Colborne Street), Pisa was awarded Best Pub Fare in Canada by the National Post, and built a popular following serving high-quality gastro-pub fare.

In 2005, Pisa left Toronto and launched his own restaurant in the countryside north of Kingston, Ontario. While the business was successful, the partnership was not, and ultimately Pisa returned to the city – and to Quinn hospitality – as Executive Chef of Quinn’s Steakhouse and Irish Bar (96 Richmond Street West), located in the Sheraton Centre hotel at Bay and Richmond.

What inspired you to become a chef?

When I was young I studied music. Then one day I ate a meal prepared by the late Chef Raphaelo Ferrari that showed me the music in food, and I was inspired.

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Stirring the Pot with Chef Lorenzo Loseto

Lorenzo Loseto has built an enviable reputation as one of Canada’s premier chefs. As the Executive Chef of George (111 Queen Street East) and Verity, he applies his classical training and modern approach to developing innovative menus inspired by the diverse cultures of Toronto and Canada. He is devoted to the creation of exquisite and flavourful cuisine that reflects both who he is and the food he loves to cook and eat.

Lorenzo’s skill extends to the art of selection. Quality is paramount. He opts for local and seasonal foods wherever possible and makes early morning excursions to the food terminal to source the best quality ingredients available each week.

Lorenzo is constantly inspired by the environment around him – from the vibrant city to the changing seasons to his growing family. Voted one of Toronto’s Best Chefs by Toronto Life magazine in 2006, Lorenzo honed his skills in some of Canada’s finest kitchens before joining George in 2004. Most notably, he apprenticed at Three Small Rooms in the original Windsor Arms Hotel, arguably one of the best kitchens of its time, and was Sous Chef in Susur Lee’s legendary Lotus.

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Stirring the Pot with Chef Chris Palik

Christopher Palik was born in Saskatchewan and lived there until graduating high school. He moved to Vancouver and attended the Vancouver Community College Culinary Arts Foundations program. After graduating at the top of his class, he decided he wanted to be a diesel mechanic instead, returning to Vancouver Community College for the diesel technician course. At the prospect of an apprenticeship in the Northwest Territories, he decided to return to cheffing. He discovered his passion for cooking after taking a job at the pub behind his house. He went on to work all over Vancouver, then travelled and cooked in Europe, and ended up in Toronto about 7 years ago where he worked for a variety of restaurants. He took over L EAT catering and Paese restaurants a few years ago.

What inspired you to become a chef?

I kinda always knew that I wanted to work with my hands. After failed attempts at construction and mechanics, I realized that both of those careers lacked the creativity that I was looking for. I was exposed to the business by working as a dishwasher during high school and I fed off the energy of the kitchens.

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Flipping the Hunter Gatherer Misconception at Coca

isberg

As is the case in any field where an individual demonstrates an area of expertise or even interest, this area of interest can become what that individual is known for, whether they like it or not. This is especially true of chefs who pioneer certain ingredients or techniques. Martin Picard of Pied de Cochon in Montreal will always be known as “that foie gras guy”, just as Ferran Adria will always be known as the pioneer of molecular gastronomy.

Based on the reviews I had read of Coca (783 Queen Street West), and the general trend of tapas (or small plates, if the restaurant isn’t serving specifically Spanish dishes), I had always assumed that Chef Nathan Isberg was one of those chefs who was all about the meat. I’d actually never eaten at Coca because I assumed the menu was heavily meat-reliant. So I was surprised to run into Isberg at the Green Carpet Series – An Evening of Local Cuisine last month, standing proudly behind a table of vegetarian tapas.

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