Studio Café gets a new chef and a new menu
The Four Seasons’ Studio Café is celebrating its 15th anniversary with a shakedown this month, complete with a new menu from the freshly minted executive chef, Claudio Rossi. “We’ve changed 24 items on the menu,” says an excited Marc Dorfman, director of food and beverages at the hotel. “That’s something that hasn’t happened since we opened in 1994.” The Studio’s status as a Yorkville institution had Dorfman apprehensive about separation anxiety among patrons—“We expected more backlash from our regular clients,” he says—but the duo has done its best to avoid an epidemic of gasping, fainting regulars. The popular French onion soup made the cut (“As much as we would like to take it off the menu,” confesses Dorfman), and Studio classics tandoori chicken and chicken curry won’t budge, either. The restaurant also did extensive tasting sessions with some of its top clients to make sure the new deal would please VIP palates.
Since taking the reins back in January, Rossi and has been sniffing out top-shelf ingredients. It’s no surprise that the Italian chef is big on pasta. He’s impressed with the noodles from Niagara Foods, and he’s also a fan of Ontario and Quebec cheeses. New Italian dishes that bear Rossi’s stamp include homemade ricotta-and-spinach-stuffed agnolotti and tagliatelle with braised beef cheeks, spring mushrooms and Monforte toscana. Rossi also introduces a salty taste from his homeland with a bresaola by Mario Pingue. “It’s always a challenge to get authentic products. I usually import them. But Pingue products are as good as you can get in Italy.”
Digging deeper than Ontario produce markets and 100-mile farms, Rossi explores the down-to-earth ethos of Toronto cooking. “There is a philosophy of keeping Canadian roots in mind,” he says. “It’s pride in local products.” He’s talked shop with such locavores as Jamie Kennedy about the best the region has to offer—Rossi’s current obsession is whitefish.
Rossi spent 17 years in Asia, including a period as chef at Thailand’s Four Seasons Chiang Mai. There will be some spice route influences on the new Studio menu, but he assures us that the result won’t be an eye roll–worthy combination of Thai and Italian. “I don’t like to do compromise fusion. I would never use spaghetti in pad Thai,” explains Rossi. To Toronto, he brings his more traditional pad Thai and grilled chili prawn with lemon grass, ginger and green mango.
Around town, Rossi likes Cava, Nota Bene and Cowbell, where he enjoys chef Mark Cutrara’s experimental style. He’s also a big fan of food court kebabs and Chinatown dim sum. Terroni’s authenticity-obsessed owner, Cosimo Mammoliti, also gets a nod from Rossi for his latest venture, Osteria Ciceri e Tria on Victoria Street: “It’s a real old-style trattoria, like in Italy. It makes me feel at home.”