Sister Bay Street restaurants Four and Far Niente are getting some fresh flavour this spring with the appointment of new chefs de cuisine. Matt Rosen, a former student of Michael Stadtländer, takes over at Four; Colborne Lane veteran Frank Romano does the same at Far Niente. The two will inject some new life into the kitchens of SIR Corp, which owns 45 eateries across Canada (including Jack Astor’s, the home of bottomless garlic bread). These swankier financial district digs belong to the company’s Signature Group, where both cooks will be marking their debuts with all-new menus created in co-operation with executive chef Gordon Mackie.
The health-conscious Four—where no dish contains more than 650 calories—is an apt placement for Rosen, who brings his knowledge of country-style sourcing and seasonal ingredients to the bistro. Once the executive sous-chef at Reds, Rosen isn’t worried about the strict calorie count challenge. He is wary, however, that even the health club–going Bay Street set can be skeptical about good-for-you food. Says the young chef, “The hardest thing about Four is changing people’s perceptions of healthy food.” Rosen won’t be relying on here-comes-the-airplane tactics. He’s been cooking artery-friendly for ages, having grown up in a health nut household with a father who was vegan well before tofu was fashionable. Rosen’s new menu came out last week, featuring a salmon dish with quinoa tabbouleh that Mackie calls “amazing.”
Upstairs at Far Niente, there is no mealtime math. Romano’s emphasis is on nostalgic comfort foods. He worked with Claudio Aprile for two years and brings Aprile’s daring, spicy style to his own classic dishes. Expect ethnic flair and southern accents, like the rib-eye steak served with corn hash and salsa. Mackie’s favourite is the calamari with chorizo sausage, peppers and arugula; the dish has an intense Mediterranean spin and will be on the menu in two weeks.
Signature Group VP Misty Beazley believes that the talent of Rosen and Romano reflects the talent of Toronto’s culinary scene. Both chefs are excited about working with the team, which includes nearby bakery Petit Fours and pastry chef Leslie Steh. Mackie is giving the new inductees a lot of creative control: “I’m inspired by their ideas, as much as they’re inspired by my direction, at least I hope,” he says. “Sometimes they say, ‘Hey, I like that,’ and sometimes they tell me to go to hell.”