In honour of Julia Child’s birthday this Friday, I want to give a shout out to the women chefs of Toronto. In my career of interviewing hundreds of chefs, only a few have been women. And while I have seen a slight rise in recent years, many still remain in pastry. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but to run a restaurant kitchen – well, that makes you a hero in my books, man or woman.
730 Queen St E
Having worked with Chef Lynn Crawford and Chef Lora Kirk of Ruby Watchco, I can attest to the immense creativity going on in the kitchen. Changing the entire menu every day takes ingenuity as well as intense planning. And while working with local and seasonal product is commendable, just think about the winter months when you’ve got to change the menu five times this week and all you’ve got is some potatoes, turnip, cabbage and onions to work your magic on and show what you’re truly made of.
With restaurants opening at Toronto Airport, Billy Bishop Airport, a new season of Pitchin’ In, and other ventures coming our way, I think it’s safe to say that Chef Lynn and Chef Lora are just getting started.
1150 Queen St. W.
In April, the Drake announced their new Chef de Cuisine – Alexandra Feswick.
At Samuel J. Moore, where she was prior to the Drake, the menu read beautifully – healthy ingredients blended in an ultra modern way or with an interesting twist.
Her kale salad with thin slices of prosciutto, tiny diced apples, fresh, toasted walnuts, finished with radish were so well executed with juxtaposing flavours and textures, I deemed it one of the best in the city. The barley risotto was delicate, yet satisfying and she made a phenomenal burger with frites and homemade fennel catsup that make me moan right at the table.
Alexandra wants to take the Drake’s local, fresh, homemade approach to the next level. They are in mighty good hands. All I ask is that you keep your burger on the menu.
1588 Dupont St
When I first saw a plate of Chef Léonie Lilla’s food, I was gobsmacked. Where had this woman been all my life? Why was her food not on the cover of magazines and being constantly written about? This kind of talent and innovation should be celebrated!
And let’s get one thing straight. It’s not just pretty. It’s the kind of food that you’ll stay up at night thinking about and even perhaps trying to replicate.
Let me save you some time: Just go and have her food at Farmer’s Daughter, one of the coolest little spots in the city (if off the beaten path. I promise it’s worth the trip). Her beef heart tartare ($12) – beef heart with a quail egg and mixed salsa verde, bone marrow pebbles, pickled Cincinnati radishes, croutons, garnished with celery leaf – is forever burned in my brain. And heart.
4 Avenue Rd.
To be a chef in a hotel is more than just taking care of the hotel restaurant. You are also often taking care of the banquet halls, not to mention special events, cater to picky celebrities who require all of your time and attention, as well as room services requests coming in all hours of the day (Just ask Chef Lynn, who was Executive Chef of the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto and New York City for 27 years).
So Executive Chef Joan Monfaredi should be applauded for not just being in charge of Annona for over 15 years, but having to do breakfast, lunch, dinner, brunch and afternoon tea for crowds of people that may never return - visitors and tourists alike.
Also, let’s be honest – hotel food isn’t always that great or interesting. But Chef Monfaredi’s dinner menu alone is cause to break out in song: Lamb Ravioli ($18) celery root & fennel emulsion, sautéed oyster mushrooms, baby artichokes and fresh celery leaves. And Apricot Glazed Cornish Hen, part of the prix fixe menu ($55) with rutabaga pommes puree, sautéed swiss chard, and buttered yellow beans & beets, for instance.
This might just be the first time you’d go to a hotel for a meal in the city you live in.
6301 Silver Dart Dr. (Terminal 1)
Winlai Wong was Executive Chef at Monsoon and Spice Route, so it’s no surprise that she’s gone onto even bigger things as Executive Chef of OTG Management, the award-winning food and beverage operator at Pearson International Airport (It doesn’t get much bigger than the airport).
Chef Wong has opened over 10 restaurants in Terminals 1 and 3 already and there are many more to come. To open just one would be impressive enough. Especially when you’re executing someone else’s vision. But this many deserves a special kind of praise. After all, your customers are not your ideal dining guests - almost exclusively in a rush or killing time.