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.
Pears are the less glamorous cousin of the apple. In the same family as the apple, along with roses and quince, pears have been cultivated for thousands of years in Asia, are referenced in Roman and Celtic texts and are thought to possibly date back to the Stone Age. Popular in Britain and France where they were beloved for their use in perry (pear cider), the first pears were cultivated in North America in 1620. Pears were originally eaten cooked, not raw (they were probably closer to a quince), until the 18th century when they were cultivated to have the soft, juicy and buttery flesh that we know today.
There are over 130 varieties of pears grown in Canada, but here in Ontario, there are five major varieties that are grown for sale; Bartlett, Clapp’s Favourite, Anjou, Bosc and Flemish Beauty. Growers hope that a new variety, Harovin Sundown, will eventually be added to that list, although it will be 2015 before the pears will be widely available in stores.