Q&A with Marc Thuet and Biana Zorich: The restaurateurs talk about Conviction Kitchen II, their marriage and how Vancouver compares to Toronto

Q&A with Marc Thuet and Biana Zorich: The restaurateurs talk about Conviction Kitchen II, their marriage and how Vancouver compares to Toronto

Biana Zorich and Marc Thuet at their home in Toronto (Image: Davida Aronovitch)  

Marc Thuet and Biana Zorich are exhausted. It’s taken the pair a month to recuperate after shooting the second season of their reality show, Conviction Kitchen II, in Vancouver. Like last year’s Toronto edition, the program is airing on CityTV and features former convicts learning the cooking and restaurant trade. Amid talk of a third season set in the U.S., Zorich and Thuet are in Toronto re-organizing their lives. They’ve shut down the original Conviction restaurant on King Street West and are focusing on their bread-making business. Here, they talk with us about their Vancouver experience, their marriage and the Conviction Kitchen contestants they came to love.

Torontolife.com: You’ve said that Conviction Kitchen in Toronto was hell on earth. How did Vancouver compare?
Marc Thuet:
You think because you did one, it’s a pattern and you know what it’s all about. But because you deal with individuals, there is no pattern. I think definitely, Vancouver was worse. There were more problems. I mean 90 per cent of these guys have addiction problems. And if you live in Vancouver, drugs are much easier to get.

TL: As a former addict, was that hard to witness?
MT:
Obviously it was. Episode four really affected me. I got really aggressive. With your experience, you try to help. With my experience—because I had the same choice of drugs as Justin [one of the ex-convict contestants on Conviction Kitchen II]—everything came back when I listened to him. The symptoms start to come back. You start to feel it, you smell it, you can taste it on him. I started to sweat; my stomach started to feel the same. It was even tough for me just to realize that I was triggered. It was Biana who told me I was triggered. Obviously, it was only in my head. I have a therapist I hadn’t seen in a while, and I had to call him very quickly. It was a case of grounding, of just talking about it. I have been sober for five years, and after five years you think you’re invincible, you made it. But then you realize you are only one hit, one glass—whatever your addiction is—away from disaster.

TL: Is it hard to watch yourself after the fact?
Biana Zorich:
Yeah, especially during season two. I think we were a little bit vulnerable. When we did it in Toronto, it was easier, only because we were in a city we know. In Vancouver, everything was new, including the stupid condo we lived in. Everything was sanitized. It was really different to walk away from this and stop thinking about it at nighttime. It was hard to sleep there. I didn’t have a good time. But the end result is so gratifying that the eight weeks I had to donate of my sanity and my emotional stability was worth it.

TL: Does it make you worry about a third season in the U.S.?
BZ:
I think so. We’re humbled that they even would consider a third season with us. Leaving the business here is the biggest thing. I think it took us a month just to recuperate and to reorganize the business.

TL: Is that the hardest part?
MT:
The toughest thing for me, it’s the end. It’s to leave them. It was not the hell we went through—that’s something you can forget—but it’s leaving them after that. You see how vulnerable they are getting because we become like Mommy and Daddy. A few days before the end, they were going mental on us. You love them. You want them to succeed, to get better, to have that chance in life. You have reality shows and you have real reality shows. If Conviction just would be a reality show, it would be good. We could leave and say, “Fuck, let’s do the next one.” But it’s not that way. These people really hang onto us. The missing part, wondering if they’re OK, it sticks with you.
BZ:
And they’re not actors, which is good. Well, one was, but he got fired. I really didn’t appreciate that. I found out that he was represented by an agency. [To Thuet] You don’t know that I fired him for that reason.
MT:
Fuck, he didn’t stand a chance. He started a fight, so I would have fired him anyway.

TL: Were you surprised to get three and a half stars from the Vancouver Sun?
MT:
Mia Stainsby, that lady [the food critic at the Sun], she is usually very fierce. One time, she came and I was not even in the kitchen. Jay Moore was there, my sous-chef. These guys did it on their own.

TL: Was it easier in Toronto or Vancouver?
MT:
Vancouver definitely supported us more than Toronto. Not just in terms of food, but the concept itself. Diners in Vancouver were not afraid of the cameras, the concept. In Toronto, it was that whole “Oh, there’s a camera! Oh, the lights are all on!” In Vancouver, that helped us be successful as far as reviewers were concerned. It killed us in Toronto.

TL: What was your best season two moment?
BZ:
Episode five. We did a soup kitchen, a food bank. We went to East Hastings and gave out 800 sandwiches and 200 litres of soup, and hot chocolate and juices. Not just for the show, but it was a life-changing moment in terms of myself and my family and humanity in general. Unless you’re there and you serve these people food and you see the AIDS epidemic that we’re faced with in this country—and poverty in Vancouver.
MT:
I think that no one could believe this would happen in Canada.

TL: Is it hard on your relationship?
BZ:
I think we’re passed that at this point. Marc and I have been together as a married couple for 12 years.
MT:
50 years, it feels like 50 for me.
BZ:
That’s because you are 50.
MT:
I’m not fucking 50.
BZ:
Closer to it than I am. Do we fight? Yeah. But the world watches us fight. Most couples are lucky they don’t have that.
MT:
I don’t think we fight as much as we used to. I got smart; I grew up a little bit. I know that a happy wife gives you a happy life.
BZ:
You can delete that whole paragraph.
MT:
Once you realize that a woman is always right, then you’re always going to have a nice life. I realized that maybe a couple years ago.
BZ:
I agree with that. To have peace, if you live and work together, you divvy up the responsibilities. In our case, Marc cooks and I do everything else. Simple. I’m kind of like a superwoman, and he’s my cook.
MT:
For me, I can live in my dream. I can go to work and create food. If I want to do bread, she lets me do bread. I have the best work; I have absolutely no responsibilities. I do what I love to do, so why should I not listen to her? At the end of the day, I am not the guy who is going to say, “Honey, I want to go to the bank.” She’s sent me a few times and the bank manager called and said, “Please, can you not send him?”

TL: Is food rehabilitative?
MT:
Look at Scott [a contestant on Conviction Kitchen II]. You have to have passion. I don’t know how I can say that so it doesn’t sound really fucked up, but the luck we had is that most of these people are addicts. It means that they are very passionate. It’s a great recipe for success. Journalists ask me, “Don’t you don’t think it’s degrading to your profession to say that these guys can be chefs in eight weeks?” You’re never going be able to make a chef out of someone in eight weeks. I understand that. They call me a chef. I learn every day. But after eight weeks, Scott was able to go into the kitchen and continue learning, stay clean, build a family. That’s the success you want. Nobody is going to walk out after eight weeks and be Paul Bocse Bocuse. You want to teach them a trade. They used to say, “Where is my next hit?” Now they think about something else in life. They think, “I want to go to work. What am I going to learn today?” You bring out the passion they have in them. And then you have a winner.

Conviction Kitchen II airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on CityTV.