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Food & Drink

Inside the kitchen of Adam Ryan, chef at Azura

Stocked with wild ginger, an ostrich egg and half a shelf of Old El Paso

By Caroline Aksich| Photography by Joshua Best
Inside the kitchen of Adam Ryan, chef at Azura

At Azura, Adam Ryan’s recently opened Mediterranean restaurant on Danforth, the chef executes a tasting menu influenced by the greats of the gastronomic world: culinary hotspots like El Bulli, Noma and the French Laundry. But, contrary to expectations, this haute-cuisine devotee doesn’t whip up Ferran Adrià– or René Redzepi–inspired masterpieces in his downtime. When he’s at home in his cozy slippers, Ryan is all about embracing nostalgia and comfort—i.e., Old El Paso kits, pizza nights and a dedicated chip cupboard. “I don’t like to eat things at home that I would go out to eat,” he says.

That said, he’ll occasionally ditch the quick-and-easy tray of nachos and cook up fancier dishes, like Arctic char with white asparagus or flank steak with sautéed fiddleheads. These bursts of sophistication are rare, though, since Ryan’s time is mostly consumed balancing Azura with his four other culinary ventures (Her Father’s Cider Bar and Chef’s Hall counters Aphrodite’s Taverna, the Red Eye and Osteria Scossa). Even when he does whip up more involved dishes, he has strict time-saving measures in place. Case in point: all cooking must be limited to one pan. Not only does sautéing the veg in the same pan as the steak imbue it with added flavour, it also cuts down on clean-up.

Adam's kitchen, which is all done in white
Artic char and some other meats Adam cooks at home

Ryan’s Queen West condo kitchen has limited counter space, which means it gets cluttered quickly. Despite several small appliances taking up valuable real estate (including an electric pizza oven and a stand mixer), many of the chef’s larger kitchen gadgets (like his Thermomix) have been relegated to storage or gifted away.

Adam's pizza oven
Adam's pots and pans

In the fridge, there’s a mix of leftovers (including half a pie from a recent dinner at Libretto), Ontario produce (fiddleheads, rhubarb, maitake mushrooms), yeast for fresh pizza dough, fresh rigatoni from Osteria Scossa (for a quick and tasty after work meal), Tostitos cheese dip and GoodLot beers. There’s also cider from Spirit Tree, where Ryan used to helm the kitchen—including a special bottle of crab-apple rose flavour.

A look at the inside of Adam's fridge
The inside of Adam's produce drawer

Ryan isn’t much of a home entertainer. He tends to opt for dining out, favouring nearby spots like 416 Snack Bar or Enoteca Sociale. However, there’s one exception: Christmas Eve. On this festive night, he whips up a full Mexican feast complete with fresh tortillas (made using this press) for quesabirria. It’s a cherished family tradition.

Adam's wooden tortilla press

In terms of global cuisines, Mexican and Caribbean rank among Ryan’s favourites. He also has a soft spot for Tex-Mex, and he proudly swears his allegiance to Old El Paso hard-shell taco kits—even if dedicating a quarter of his pantry to them may seem a bit excessive. “It’s called brand loyalty,” says Ryan. For taco nights, he keeps it classic with the usual mid-’90s accoutrements (shredded iceberg, sour cream, tomatoes). But he goes off-book with the beef, zhuzhing it up with aromatics (garlic, onion) and spice (whole pequin or pasilla chilies).

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A peak into Adam's pantry, filled with tex-mex products

“Whenever there are suicide wings on a menu, I order them,” says Ryan, who identifies as a chili-head. No. 7 Hot Sauce tops his list of local favourites, while Frank’s Red Hot is his trusted mass-market option. He hasn’t yet sampled the corn yuzu hot sauce, a Noma creation that rings in at a modest 1,620 Scoville heat units but promises more flavour than fire. As for dried chilies, Ryan sources them exclusively from Perola’s in Kensington, his preferred destination for authentic Mexican ingredients.

Adam's assortment of hot sauces and chiles

On a recent visit to GoodLot Farmstead Brewing Co. in Caledon (where the chef sources hop shoots for Azura), Ryan harvested a handful of wild ramps and ginger. He plans to experiment with the ginger by making ginger beer, and he’ll incorporate the ramps into a sautéed mushroom medley. As for the rhubarb and fungi assortment (morel, blue foot and maitake), they weren’t foraged but sourced from Lennox Farm and Marc’s Mushrooms. He’ll likely shave the rhubarb on top of some fish to add an acidic finish without using lemon.

Adam's rhubarb, and his mushroom collection

His cheese drawer is a blend of high and low: artisanal cheeses from Quebec and Ontario share space with a pre-shredded Tex-Mex blend.

Adam's cheese drawer

In the freezer, Ryan has a Libretto pizza (his favourite frozen pie option), tortillas from Perola’s (for a quick quesadilla or soft taco) and some Kawartha Dairy, which he thinks is the quintessential Ontario ice cream. Mint chip and Bordeaux cherry are his favourite flavours.

A look inside Adam's freezer

Here’s what Ryan has stashed in his chip drawer. The Tostitos are destined to be transformed into loaded nachos (topped with Moroccan olives, pickled jalapeños, salsa and shredded cheese), while the Miss Vickie’s will be dunked into Heluva Good dip. As for the all-dressed Ruffles, they’re reserved for wine pairing. According to Ryan, chips are an anytime food. Yes, that means he’ll occasionally scarf a few for breakfast, although he usually opts for a to-go coffee from Geste on Queen West.

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Adam's current chip stash
Some of Adam's dips are in the fridge

Ryan scored this ostrich egg by acing a weight-guessing showdown. Armed with egg-spert knowledge, he calculated its weight by comparing the size of ostrich eggs to their poultry counterparts, even factoring in the shell’s thickness. After taking home his prize, he drilled into its base with surgical precision, extracting the yolk and white while preserving the shell as a trophy, then whipped up an XXL frittata.

Adam holding one chicken egg and one ostrich egg

Knifewear is Ryan’s go-to shop for everything sharp. He tends to prefer Japanese knives for their lighter handles. His prized possession is the blade signed by blacksmith Takayuki Shibata. He bought it because it was described as feather-light and one of the sharpest knives the store had ever carried.

Adam's knife collection

On this shelf, you can spy books from a few of Ryan’s culinary influences, including René Redzepi and Thomas Keller. He also enjoys a deep dive. He recommends Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson’s Tartine Bread for those looking to level up their bread-making game.

Ryan's cookbook collection, beside his hat collection

He also has an impressive collection of out-of-print El Bulli books. There are no recipes in these pages, just pictures of the dishes with their names.

More books beside a record player
A page from a book with a photo and no text

This is mostly a wine, beer and cider house, with the cocktail cart making an appearance only when Ryan gets the urge to mix up some margaritas. Recently, he’s been exploring Croatian and Greek grapes (pošip and xinomavro are the current faves).

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Adam's wine fridge

The bottle from Fonterutoli, a winery in Chianti, has a sentimental appeal to Ryan, who worked there for a while.

More of Adam's wine collection

Ryan has been to Nunavut four times to work as a chef for Arctic Kingdom, an Arctic safari company. He’s brought home an ulu, a type of knife, from each of the communities he’s stayed in (Iqaluit, Qikiqtarjuaq and Pond Inlet). The narwhal tusk and seal-fur hat were gifts from Inuit locals Ryan befriended during his time up north, and the champagne sabre up top was a gift from Andreas Rieder, Ryan’s mentor.

Adam's collection of wall art form Nunavut

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