Bringing something different to Toronto
Last time, I mentioned how I was going to invite some of the Ontario farmers I’ve met for a meal made with their own food. Events like that are very useful in developing specific dishes—especially now that I have to do it for the menu at Union. For my last year in Paris, I cooked Stadtländer-inspired dinners for the Parisian elite in beautiful apartments all around the Left Bank and Neuilly. I had a really amazing waitress from Sweden named Anna; she would sing “Happy Birthday” in Swedish, and it sounded just like a German marching song. We had a lot of success; we got a couple standing ovations and, one time, after the raw tuna–fried plantain–foie gras burger made its debut, we left the apartment with 10 pissed French people chanting “Teo! Teo! Teo!” You could still hear them from the courtyard.
The high points were great, but shopping around Paris by foot, bike and metro wore me down. On a typical day, I might go from the butcher that had the best sweetbreads and filet de boeuf (where Gérard Depardieu goes) to the Chinese market for bok choy and Thai basil, then to Rue Montorgeuil for cheap good vegetables, and finally to the fish shop up by Métro Denfert-Rochereau. I’d have to heave the food up seven flights of stairs to my flat, only to lug it back down and haul it on my back onto a rush-hour metro car along with cast iron pans and knives. And I tell you: it ain’t easy cooking five-course meals for discerning Parisians in other people’s kitchens.
Pulling those dinners off taught me to trust my gut: to keep the food simple, invest in the best stuff, and let it speak for itself. At Union, I want to keep the same style and approach that I had when I was doing the apartment cooking. But I just want my own kitchen—my stage, my place where people come to me. At Union, I am going to have a simple menu that won’t handcuff me. I want it to be flexible enough to be able to work with the small farmers and the freshest stuff out there. I am excited to cook here, in Toronto, and I want to bring something different to the city.