A Q&A with Xango’s Claudio Aprile, TL Insider’s chef-in-residence for March

A Q&A with Xango’s Claudio Aprile, TL Insider’s chef-in-residence for March

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Our Chef-In-Residence program—now in its third month—is powered by the city’s most talented food folk, who create exclusive programming, including private dinners and workshops for Insiders. This month, Xango chef and MasterChef Canada judge Claudio Aprile will be taking the reins. We chatted with Aprile about how he divides his time between film sets and his restaurant, and what he has in store for TL Insiders.

How have you managed to juggle MasterChef judging with running a restaurant?
The simple answer is that I’ve learned to play with others in the sandbox, which is a big departure for me. My younger self was a micro manager—I believed if you wanted something done right you had to do it yourself. These days I’ve learned to trust and let go. Xango’s chef de cuisine Ivan Bailey is doing an amazing job, and on set I trust my director, who once told me to enjoy the journey instead of worrying about the destination. It was great advice.

Can you walk us through a day in your life?
My days aren’t for the faint of heart. I’m usually up at 5 a.m. and on set by 6:30 a.m. We usually wrap after a 10- to 12-hour day, and I try to be at Xango by 7:30 p.m. These days, I like to man the garde manger; you’ll often find me at the ceviche station. It’s a busy life, but I knew I wanted to be a chef from the time I was five years old. I picked this career—the days are long, but I love what I do.

For those of us who haven’t had a chance to check out Xango yet, can you tell us what to expect?
Xango is a combination of Japanese, Southeast Asian and South American cuisines. As a young chef, I never idolized French food or thought butter was the best ingredient. I’ve always loved Asian cuisine and ingredients like miso and ginger—flavours that really pop in your mouth.

You’re one of Toronto’s O.G. celebrity chefs, so you’ve seen it all—how has the city’s food scene changed since you became part of it?
When I was younger, I felt like in order to contribute to Toronto’s food scene I needed to leave it for a while. At 18, I went to Thailand, which had a profound influence on my style of cooking. I visited 160 cities in 17 countries, before stopping in England. I worked extensively throughout London until I landed the position as the head chef at Bali Sugar in Notting Hill. I’ve always said you can tell how great a chef is by how many stamps they have in their passport. I’m not against cooking schools, but you learn so much from other restaurants. Now a generation of chefs have gone, travelled and staged, and they’ve brought back their knowledge to Toronto. These chefs have transformed the dining landscape. Right now, the city seems like it’s popping with so many different concepts—almost too many at times—but it’s exciting.

What do you think of how the Toronto Life Insiders program is bringing customers into the kitchen with you?
I love it! I love sharing food, I love sharing information. Creating experiences for people is what restaurants are supposed to do.

What will you be teaching TL Insiders next month?
We’ll be hosting a ceviche workshop. We’ll start with traditional ceviches, then get into more modern ceviche applications. Like with any craft, you need to know the basics before you branch out. I want people to come away having learned not only how to replicate a recipe, but to create something that’s really their own.

Wait, what’s modern ceviche?
One idea I’ve been playing with is a warm ceviche made with citrus-cured tropical fruit, topped with calamansi and torched zabaione. My style of cooking is creativity driven, but you need to know the classic techniques before you can break the rules, while still colouring within the lines.

Want to get in on all of this amazing action? Then become a TL Insider today, and stay tuned for more announcements about access to incredible cultural events in the city.