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Food & Drink

Toronto chefs and restaurateurs on what they hope to see more (or less) of in 2020

A new year is an opportunity to take stock of the present and look ahead to an idealized version of the future. It’s also a chance to bat around the merits, or drawbacks, of various food trends. We asked some of Toronto’s top chefs and restaurateurs to gaze into their culinary crystal balls for some 2020 gastronomic predictions. Here’s what they had to say.

Victor Barry

Executive chef and co-owner of Piano Piano and Café Cancan

What change are you hoping to see in the restaurant industry in 2020? “That the wage disparity between kitchen and FOH (front of house) gets better. It’s a huge problem and tough to understand, especially when everyone works equally hard.”

What trend would you like to see in 2020? “For Torontonians to love quality pizza—less of the fancy Neapolitan variety. I’ll be putting more of my energy into perfecting pizza, less of it on fine dining. It will be a step toward the Canadian/North American pizza we grew up on.”

What trends would you like to go away? The attitude that what’s done elsewhere is superior to what we can find in Toronto—it’s just not true. Yes, other places in the world have amazing food, but we need to stop glorifying them and saying they’re better than us because that’s simply not the case. Toronto is fucking awesome, from its food scene to its talented chefs. We do not give ourselves enough credit. Maybe being humble is a Canadian quality, and that’s wonderful, but it’s also healthy to say ‘We’re great at what we do too.’"

Afrim Pristine

Maître fromager and co-owner of Cheese Boutique

What change are you hoping to see in the restaurant industry in 2020? “I’d like to see more collaborations between chefs, restaurants and suppliers—but they have to make sense and shouldn’t be forced. When like-minded people come together, magic happens on the plate; and as a result, you can feel the love and energy in the room. I’d also like to see more equality within our establishments. Not only in the kitchen—both in the front and back of the house. Race, sexuality or gender should never determine things like position, wage and placement. Instead, talent and skill are what must determine who anyone becomes within any establishment. I see this happening more and more, which is great, but there is a lot more room for improvement. Let’s treat each other with kindness.”

What trend would you like to see in 2020? “I’m super excited about the awareness of cheese in Canada. We have never been more excited about it than right now. I feel that has a lot to do with all the amazing products we are making here in the country.”

What trends would you like to go away? “I would love for people to stop thinking Instagram is the be all and end all. We shouldn’t place too much importance on how pretty a dish looks. There is much more to all of us than how many likes we get on a post. In reality, it’s work ethic, talent, experience and business sense that make our livelihoods sustainable. That being said, if I post a particular cheese on Instagram, and that photo brings someone into my shop, I have to make damn sure that cheese delivers or I won’t get that sale again. It’s Business 101.”

Laura Maxwell

Executive chef of Le Select Bistro

What change are you hoping to see in the restaurant industry in 2020? “There’s been a noticeable shift towards taking care of one’s mental and physical health within the restaurant industry, and I’m a huge supporter of this. Prioritizing a healthy diet and regular exercise definitely makes the stressful nature of our industry much more endurable.”

What trend would you like to see in 2020? “I think the bone broth and collagen trend will definitely continue, so I look forward to making plenty of consommés at the restaurant. Also, kalettes! Why aren’t they everywhere yet? They’re amazingly delicious and a superfood hybrid love child of kale and Brussels sprouts!"

What trends would you like to go away? “Overly processed ‘bleeding’ plant-based burgers touted as being healthy.”

Jesse Vallins

Executive chef of Maple Leaf Tavern and Port Restaurant

What change are you hoping to see in the restaurant industry in 2020? “I’d like to see more restaurants—especially higher-end ones—embrace family-style dining and dishes designed for more than one person. Sharing food and drink with other people is my favourite expression of love and friendship.”

What trend would you like to see in 2020? “Better food in brewpubs and beer-focused restaurants—the food at these types of places often seems to be an afterthought. In Toronto, we have places like Godspeed, Burdock, Bellwoods and others that make great food to go with the great beer. All food has its time and place, but it’s nice to not be limited to nachos and wings anymore.”

What trends would you like to go away? “I don’t know if this is a trend per se, but I’d really like all the fake allergies to stop. I’ll make you whatever you want without gluten, but you don’t need to lie to me.”

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John Horne

Executive chef of Oliver & Bonacini

What change are you hoping to see in the restaurant industry in 2020? “I look forward to seeing continued efforts to use and support local and Canadian products. Canadian farmers are pushing harder than ever to produce world-class ingredients from coast to coast. It’s become much easier to get our hands on high-class ingredients without importing them from elsewhere.

What trend would you like to see in 2020? “I’m excited to see a shift away from single-use plastics.”

Mark McEwan

Executive chef and owner of the McEwan Group

What change are you hoping to see in the restaurant industry in 2020? “I would love to see more diners and neighbourhood restaurants pop up in 2020. Our third Fabbrica location is in Thornbury and the area is beautiful. I’ve had an opportunity to explore local mom-and-pop shops, and there’s this great spot called the Orchid that serves all-day breakfast; it’s so warm and welcoming. It’s an example of restaurants that represent the neighbourhood and build community.”

What trend would you like to see in 2020? “I think people are realizing that trends are fleeting—that’s a trend I’m excited for! I think more people are seeing that not cutting corners and cooking real food, in whatever style, is what’s going to last.”

What trends would you like to go away? “All trends! Though I suppose I’m a little tired of sous-vide everything.”

Nuit Regular

Executive chef and co-owner of Pai, Kiin, Sukhothai and Sabai Sabai

What change are you hoping to see in the restaurant industry in 2020? “I would like to see more cultural diversity in food, where chefs dig into not just cuisines from a specific country, but also from different regions to share an understanding of where food comes from. For example, the word ‘salad’ in North America is so different than what it means in Thailand. Here, salads are usually leafy and dry. But in Thailand, the word salad has so many different meanings—some salads even resemble soups. Food is a great way to impart more cultural knowledge, and Toronto, being as diverse as it is, makes for the perfect classroom to learn and understand one another through food. We may not have time to travel to every country, but we can visit the many different restaurants in the city.”

What trends would you like to go away? “I think ultimately it would be great for restaurants not to focus on trends, but rather to do what they love to do and stay true to that.”

Danny McCallum

Executive chef of Jacobs and Co. Steakhouse

What change are you hoping to see in the restaurant industry in 2020? “I’m hoping to see more source-driven product. If we know where it comes from, it’s better for everybody. Also, I’m hoping to see more livable wages for cooks. There is no reason a cook shouldn’t be able to live off what they make. It should be a proper career.”

What trend would you like to see in 2020? “I’m excited to see more small businesses grow, as opposed to the big chains.”

What trends would you like to go away? “I wish people who really have nothing to say would stop writing reviews.”

Cory Vitiello

Co-founder and executive chef of Flock Rotisserie and Greens; director of culinary development for Cactus Club; catering partner with 10tation Events

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What change are you hoping to see in the restaurant industry in 2020? “Restaurants have come a long way in promoting positive corporate culture but there is much room for improvement. The industry needs to become more inclusive, collaborating with team members and boosting professionalism as a whole. Also, it’s always so impressive to see restaurants and chefs alike donating so much of their time, money and creativity to charities and initiatives from hospitals to green projects. Let’s keep this up, please.”

What trend would you like to see in 2020? “I’d like to see the trend of honest and transparent healthy cooking continue. This doesn’t necessarily mean serving your patrons birdseed, but rather focusing on cooking whole foods with minimal manipulation.”

What trends would you like to go away? “The bacon-on-everything trend. It’s almost over, thankfully. See you at breakfast, bacon—and on the occasional burger.”

Paul Shewchuk

Executive chef of the Ritz-Carlton Toronto

What change are you hoping to see in the restaurant industry in 2020? “I’d like to see a bigger push on the reduction of food waste and an increase in using sustainable products with local producers, and more accessibility to local products. Also, I think there’s a great opportunity to really re-develop kids menus in order to elevate the cuisine we offer children.”

What trend would you like to see in 2020? “I’d like to see vegetarian menus and meat substitutes continue to trend and grow. I think healthy options will remain a big focus on menus.”

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