What brought you to Toronto?
I was traveling the world with my younger brother in my early twenties and we visited a friend who was living in Toronto at the time. Within 24 hours I had a job cooking at what was one of Toronto's best restaurants at the time, Prege Della Piazza in Yorkville. Before I knew it I grew roots and it became my home.
What do you love about the Toronto food scene?
There are two very specific things I love about the food scene in Toronto. One is the cultural diversity. With an eclectic mix of people comes an eclectic mix of food. Like most major capitals we have great Italian, Southeast Asian and Asian cuisines. But if you dig a little deeper we also have some phenomenal African and West Indian restaurants in this city. Everything you could ever desire is right here.
Secondly, Toronto very much embraces budding new chefs. Rents are obviously high in Toronto, but food lovers in this city tolerate inexpensive interior design. This allows chefs/owners a lower price point into the marketplace. I just came back from six weeks in Sydney, Australia. Consumer demand there requires expensive interior design even in the smallest cafe if you want to be relevant. That makes a restaurant opening cost prohibitive. Whereas in Toronto, you can lay out some bench seating, dim the lights, turn up the music and people will come if the food is on point. I'm oversimplifying, of course, but the days of expensive flatware and brand-name-designed fit-outs are gone. People turn up now because they follow the chef on Instagram and he or she makes great food. That’s enough ... as it should be. I love that.
Are there any food trends in the city that you love or dislike right now?
I would really love to see BYO embraced more by Toronto restaurants. I live in the downtown core and I love eating out. In other cities around the world I can grab a $15 bottle of wine and take it into the restaurant. It makes going out more price accessible.
One trend I am loving is the growth of poke and vegetarian/vegan-focused restaurants. Sometimes I just want to grab a meal in a restaurant that doesn't feel like a treat; I want to fill my body with healthy food. These places offer great options in that department.
Can you share a few places in Toronto you love to eat at and why?
I'm often asked about my favourite haunts in Toronto, but the truth is I don't eat out that much. I might go out for drink and share a couple of plates, but I prefer to have friends over for dinner more often than not. That said, I like many different restaurants for many reasons.
Gusto 101 remains one of my favourites. Always consistent, phenomenal service and I love their dollar-per-ounce house wine.
101 Portland St., Toronto. 416-504-9669; gusto101.com
Le Sélect Bistro
Le Sélect Bistro is one of my favourite places to eat. Chef Alberto Ponzo is a buddy of mine; he's just left now to open a place in Prince Edward County. I love sitting at the bar there with a friend and sharing a few plates, particularly their steak tartare.
432 Wellington St. W., Toronto. 416-596-6405; leselect.com
Rodney's Oyster House
Rodney's oyster bar will always be a place that I love. Again, sitting at the bar, sucking back a few fresh Canadian oysters and trying out a few new beers.
469 King St. W., Toronto. 416-363-8105; rodneysoysterhouse.com
The Keg on King Street West
The Keg on King Street West is one of my other favourites and it might make you giggle. If I have an entire day locked away on my own with my laptop I'll go down late at night and treat myself to a steak and a big glass of wine. The quality of the meat there is consistent, and their buying power makes it easy on the wallet. Plus they've got great Wi-Fi, so I normally grab a high top in the bar area and continue to get work done while somebody else does the cooking.
560 King St. W., Toronto. 416-364-7227; kegsteakhouse.com