Geoff Hopgood on leaving the Hoof empire and opening his own place (and yes, there’ll be brunch)
A while back we told you about Food Truck Eats, tomorrow’s food truck event in the Distillery District, noting the participation of Geoff Hopgood, best known as the chef de cuisine of the now closed Hoof Café. While most expected the Halifax-born chef to continue his duties with the café’s successor, Black Hoof and Co., we were surprised to learn (via Twitter, of course) that Hopgood had other plans ahead. Recently, we caught up with the chef, who was happy to fill us in on what’s been keeping him busy since his departure from one of the city’s hottest eateries. The first thing Hopgood told us is that he’s getting married in August and is currently in planning mode; the second is that he’s planning to open his own restaurant.
Although he’s still searching for a location, Hopgood told us that the yet-to-be-named restaurant will cater to after-hours diners and serve food that’s inspired by the season, both in ingredients and concept. Expect to find dishes such as the brined and smoked “spring chicken,” served every spring with wild herbs, fiddleheads, potatoes and radishes in a broth made from reduced stock and maple syrup. And fans of the Hoof Café’s insanely popular brunch should take note: the creator of the suckling pig’s benny and foie French toast also aims to serve brunch once a week.
As a chef, Hopgood doesn’t want his food to be too serious. “I want to see personality in food,” Hopgood told us, “to offer something interesting or fun to eat. I like food to be a little indulgent but not too over the top.” He said that being a chef goes further than merely deciding what’s on the plate, pointing to mentors that inspire him, like Vancouver’s 2009 Chef of the Year, Robert Belcham (Refuel, Campagnolo). “You really need to have some values in place. It has to do a lot with integrity, being humble, open and honest with people,” he said. “With your staff you have to create loyalty by being an honest and integral person. The food really shapes from your creativity, the quality of the ingredients and the great relationships you’ve built.”
Hopgood said the Hoof Café to BHCo changeover was a lucky break because it helped him realize he was ready to go solo. He assured us that he and his former colleagues are all still good friends (“We’re all trying to build a community here”), but noted that the vision for BHCo was quite a departure. “What we created in the Hoof Café was unique to that location, and while we collaborated within the kitchen, The Black Hoof team and the Hoof Café team were different.”
In the meantime, Hopgood will be expanding his knowledge of the business, from making his own sourdough breads and learning from bakers like Woodlot’s Jeff Connell to taking up a stage in New York or out west. “I just like to cook, really. I put my soul in the food and it seems to speak to people. Toronto is an inspiring place to work,” he said. “The support has been great, and I don’t know how things will work out. I need to get my head around the numbers and understand that part of it. That’s what I’m planning to do over the next couple of months—well, that, a wedding and other things.”