Chef Bobby Flay on Toronto’s dining scene, no-tipping and where he’ll open his next spot
American restaurateur and Food Network star Bobby Flay was in Toronto last night for a collaboration dinner at Fring’s. Longtime friend and fellow Iron Chef competitor Susur Lee invited Flay to cook a six-course dinner at the six-month-old restaurant. We had the chance to sit down with Flay to chat about Toronto’s food culture, how he feels about tipping and whether he plans on putting down roots in the 6.
This is your first time cooking in Toronto. How did this collaboration happen?
SL: I was having a conversation with my sons [Kai and Levi Bent-Lee] about a collaboration dinner, and they asked me to call Bobby.
BF: It was that simple; Susur and I go way back. He picked up the phone and asked me to come cook with him at Fring’s, and I said yes. It was a three-minute conversation and a no-brainer for me. The wonderful thing about the restaurant business is the camaraderie—it’s stronger than in any other industry.
Can you tell us about the dishes you’re cooking tonight?
BF: My first course is thinly layered slices of roasted eggplant, with manchego cheese, oregano and a balsamic reduction. I’m also making a chorizo crepinette with apricot mostardo and pickled fennel. I brought some octopus with me and I’ll be serving that with with bacon, orange and shishito pepper.
SL:I’m making Szechuan mala king prawns with a salsa verde, calamansi lime and wild leeks. Also, a bacon-wrapped striploin with wasabi apple purée. For dessert I’m serving a mango panna cotta with spiced black rice and coconut.
What’s your impression of Toronto’s dining scene?
BF: When I think of Toronto, I immediately think of Susur Lee. He’s been the ambassador for Toronto for many years, speaking in a culinary sense. To me there’s no chef that represents Toronto the way he does. There’s a puzzle about Susur Lee’s cooking—you know, you read something on the menu, and when it comes out, it’s not like anything you thought it was going to be.
What advice would you give to new cooks starting in the industry?
BF: Learn how to cook! I started cooking in 1981 and I still feel like I’m learning. And make food your focus; realize that there are so many wonderful opportunities in the food world, but let them happen around you. That will give you the longevity in the field. If you get 15 minutes of fame on Chopped Canada, you haven’t made it—that’s a good opportunity but don’t let it distract you from learning how to cook. Once you have that, it can take you anywhere in the world. The media stuff, there’s always going to be the next person; you’re easily replaced. The generation coming up is more savvy and well-versed in food than anyone else, but I don’t want them to lose sight of cooking.
What do you cook at home?
BF: In the summer I make a lot of fish tacos. I have a house in the Hamptons, and when you have a house there you have a lot of guests—and everyone likes fish tacos. I typically buy shell fish and finned fish from the market, season it all the same way, and then make four or five salsas and relishes, and some hot sauces. Fish tacos go really well with margaritas.
What do you think about no-tipping?
BF: I have no opinion about it only because I don’t know what’s right. Danny Meyer made a huge statement, and I don’t know if he’s right or wrong—I can tell you he is rarely wrong. I’ve known him for a long time, and he’s been blazing the trail for many things—I just don’t know what to do. Basically it doesn’t matter, because the bottom line is that it’s going to cost the consumer more—they’re either going to pay it, or they’re not.
Have you ever considered opening a restaurant in Toronto?
BF: No, it would be very risky to open a restaurant in Toronto. In a city like Toronto which such a great culinary culture, I believe that the people should be supporting the local chefs—you have great chefs. Without naming any names, there have been countless American chefs that have tried this city, and they’ve not done very well. I’m no better than all the other people that have tried. I’d rather just come here to eat.