No Frills Produce Expert (LOL), Czehoski, Hooked, Hey!, Globe Bistro. Plenty of others, but those are the spots that left remarkable impressions or allowed me to flourish.
Favourite dish to make right now
Thai Curry Prawns at Pinkerton’s. When that lime leaf and galangal hits your nose while you plate. A perfect pie at The Vatican Gift Shop. A historic and un-fuckwith-able practice one must respect and execute with care. I could smash patties at Poor Romeo all night and be a happy burger-man. At home, it’s all lentil dhal and veggie curries, Vega One smoothies, and black coffee.
Last cookbook bought
Pizza Camp: Recipes from Pizzeria Beddia by Joe Beddia. I like that he was a brewer or otherwise “non-chef” who just committed to this single craft and was eventually listed “Best Pizza in America” (Bon Appetit). I’ve always had a hard time following the rules.
Have you read it/tried any recipes
I didn’t adapt the recipes within. It’s more a spiritual guide. For that, I went to Nancy Silverton’s Pizzeria Mozza for her dark rye sourdough, which has then been tweaked to meet our needs at The Vatican Gift Shop.
Name one dish or ingredient you’d like to see gone from menus
The frozen, dry, generic bao buns that are from whatever company starting with ‘S,’ and are featured just about everywhere. Ours at Pinkerton’s can sometimes look a little “tres rustique,” but they are fresh and soft and made with love rather than convenience. Our whole prep day revolves around the dough’s schedule.
And one dish or ingredient that you’re excited about right now and would like to see on more menus
If someone can source or produce sustainable Prahok in Toronto, call ya boy. I went to Cambodia recently and discovered this ingredient. Traditional in Khmer cuisine, it’s a salted and fermented fish paste sometimes incorporated into a dip but most often used to enhance curries and soups. It absolutely stinks, but lends this beautiful funky sweet/sour component to the otherwise familiar curry flavours of galangal, turmeric, lime leaf, ginger, etc. As far as I know, that sweet stink is unique to Cambodia and not at all like your average shrimp paste.
I’ve always felt like a bit of an outsider in the industry. I used to say “I’m a musician first,” or something like that. I think my punk attitude used to work against me in the more formal kitchens, and now I think it’s my secret ingredient. We were often taught to focus only on this craft or these outdated mantras. When I was younger, there were some chefs that truly disliked that I had more than one singular passion. Joe Strummer taught me that the future is unwritten. I guess as far as this industry concerns me, I was always going to take what I wanted from the experience and not compromise who I am. If I needed to learn a fundamental skill, I was going to attack it with the same dedication regardless of how I fit into the culture.
If you could eat at any restaurant in the world
I think I owe it to my younger, more stargazing self to do the full French Laundry. as it was the first book I went through page by page. Other than that, I really just want to travel the world and eat the real stuff the way the real people eat.
The last thing you ate
If I’m not working and just eating leftover fries... last good meal was from Leela Indian Food Bar in the Junction. Intensely flavourful Indian, with the best naan in the city.
Three must-have ingredients always in your fridge
Broccoli. Always eat your broccoli. I don’t keep meat in our house as I’m the only omnivore of the two of us. Very boring, I know. We always have some varying stage of kombucha in our fridge as my partner is a brewer by trade and former Booch artist. Always lots of veggies, some sort of paste like ssamjang or miso.
Binging on giant size chocolate bars or full bags of chips when no one is watching, and sometimes when they are.
Top 3 favourite Toronto restaurants, in no particular order
Kinka Izakaya (aka Guu) is always hilarious and I’ve lived nearby for years. You go there for a concentrated blast of intense noise and food. Batifole for adorable and warm service and beautiful French. Nazareth Restaurant for the veggie for two: you feel privileged to be fed and served by these legendary ladies.
Top 3 favourite Toronto bars
Disco Soleil by Dieu Du Ciel! IPA on Kumquats.
One habit you have in the kitchen that you should lose, but can’t seem to shake
Constantly fidgeting with mise en place and refolding towels. I hate specks of parsley or breadcrumb or whatever on my countertops.
One kitchen habit that will inspire young chefs
I talk. About everything. I think these young chefs nowadays appreciate the transparency. With me they know they will receive the most honest and bullshit free response. I prefer to float amongst my staff as their peer and friend. Because of that, I have a very strong and loving culture here. I think that commitment to fair treatment comes from my own desire to make up for some of the indignities we cooks used to endure 10,15 years ago. I do think the industry has changed to reflect that somewhat, but I can only speak for my own efforts.
Name one hidden talent
A ‘phonographic’ memory. I can recall most any melody. I’m pretty proficient with guitar, bass and drums.
The best career advice you ever received
The first “chef” (lower case ‘C’) I worked for was a great big, gin-blossomed alcoholic who used to blow his nose into his apron at the end of each service. You couldn’t have had a more archetypal, movie-cliche chef if you tried. He once told me in a faux-concerned but mostly condescending and belittling way, “You know, this isn’t for you. You don’t belong in this industry.” Something to that effect. I often wonder what happened to that guy....
The worst career advice you ever received
Literally being told to change who you are to succeed. I mean, if you’re a psycho with a million bad habits, or cannot learn new or better ones, absolutely. But being advised to sever ties with a normal or happy life is sociopathic and unhealthy.
Your advice for a young cook starting out in the business
Not everyone is innately talented. While there are certainly some maniacs out there, most chefs just want to see results on their plate. And most are willing to help train you to affect those results. If you aren’t willing to step outside of your own personal walls, show weakness or uncertainty, or often literally allow someone else into your own headspace, you won’t have a lot of support or legs in this industry. The worst thing you can do is either be incapable or difficult to teach, or to presume you are better than you are.