what new chefs to watch and try (not old, tried, tested and true, but NEW)
I just joined chowhound but have been reading it for awhile. It seems people talk about the same chefs lately. I would like some reviews on new up and coming chefs in Toronto.
One interest for me is Scott Woods. I do have somewhat of a budget, so I need to spend my culinary funds wisely. I heard he is definately worth it. Has anyone been lately?
I don't know about any NEW chefs, as by the time someone is trusted to run a kitchen and ends up as head chef somewhere, they are likely to have worked under a number of other people.
Scot Woods, for example, has cooked at a number of Toronto's finer dining spots, including Canoe, JOV, Chiado, Avalon and Senses.
I happen to think that The Rosebud on Queen W. is one of the best NEW restaurants in the City (see previous posts), but the chef/part owner was the saucier at Lolita's Lust almost 10 years ago!
re: Cereal Killer
I haven't tried that restaurant. Sounds great! I will put it on my list.
As for "new", I know that the head chefs of good restaurants have vast amounts of previous experience. I realize the sous chef is probably the hardest working kitchen position out there. But once you are annointed "Chef", the pressures and challenges must be different? I have been to restaurants where the sous chef was promoted to Chef and it was vastly different and great. It has also been disappointing. At other times, it was still the exact same style and menu long after the old chef was gone.
Are there any recent changes in the popular restaurants that I should try again?
If the "head chef" is actually cooking, then past experience may be an important guidepost of what to expect. A chef who has (for your palate) been continually improving is probably more likely than not to make you happy.
If said chef has been promoted to "executive chef" or "corporate chef", past experience may prove to be meaningless. The job requirements are completely different and past experience may be meaningless or even a hindrance. This person may be responsible for developing recipes, but that isn't the day-to-day job. This chef must hire & fire, manage staff effectively, control costs, and deal with the egos of those coming up behind. Perhaps the most important skill is being able to communicate both a vision and a set of standards and motivate staff to reproduce the vision, to the standards, unerringly, time after time. I'm a damn good cook, but there is no way I could do that job. It's much like the great salesman who is promoted to sales manager, and is hopeless at that job. There is no logical progression.
I used to follow favourite chefs around. I once made an effort to eat wherever Michael Stadtlander was cooking, but nobody would employ him for very long. Ditto for Greg Couillard, but by my 2nd - 3rd visit, he had usually been fired. One was a purist; the other had problems. Both could cook brilliantly, but I could never count on there being a next time.
But whether the chef is a manager or a cook; an owner or an employee; other factors (often unavoidable) come into play. A great chef has culinary, philosophical, or financial differences with the ultimate boss(es) and poof, a great chef is gone. Sometimes skill means nothing. Some owners with no culinary skill of their own won't leave their chefs alone to do their jobs.
A chef/owner can become preoccupied with financial problems and can't focus on the food. Or a chef, as artiste, becomes bored, or simply loses creativity or skills. (I won't even touch on the job-affecting human frailties to which everyone is subject.)
One explanation for your past experiences is simply that some chefs are creative and others are not. A creative new chef may start off reproducing a winning formula, but will ultimately want to put a personal stamp on the food. Others may be happy to keep things as they were indefinitely.
So I don't follow chefs around any more. I look for good reports from people I trust and try to get there before things change. But the restaurant business has this talent for chewing people up and spitting them out.
BTW, Sometimes the "famous" chef was simply a headline grabber and the sous, or some line cook, was producing the yummy food all along.
Trevor Kitchen on Wellington is interesting in that now that Trevor (former chef from Lobby) has opened his own place he has come out of the kitchen and is in the "front" of the house. So really his first restaurant and he is not cooking! His "chef" is Josh Wolfe from the fifth, lobby & thuet..
Re. Scott Woods - I was at Habitat a couple weeks back and everything I ate was interesting, fresh, well-presented, and delicious. I had the roasted cauli soup as an opener and then the 5 taste kaiseki plate. Really great and more than worth it.
Also a Scott Woods report:
Had cocktails and dinner at the bar about 2 months ago. Bartender was testing new cocktail menu and we had some sort of mango martini that was lovely and tropical. French 75 was waay too gin-y , but bartender happily smoothed it over with champagne top up. Had red with dinner, by the glass, don't recall, totally acceptable but unremarkable.
Food-wise, went with the kaiseki, which are very, very small, but elegant - sometimes esquisite. My favourite was a foie gras with white chocolate (sounds bizarre but totally "worked"), my partner like something curry-based (can't quite recall all half dozen or so dishes... sorry for being poor reporter).
For dinner, we split the venison pot au feu which was very flavourful, lovely to look at, with delightful dumplings. We weren't in for a heavy meal that night so that's all we sampled - even skipped dessert.
We definitely intend to go back.
I had the 24 hour pork belly, 7 plate Kaiseki, Atlantic Cod and then dessert at Habitat in early December. Pork belly is similar to the one I had in a chinese restaurant, good but not the great, I prefer to have it at a good chinese restaurant instead. The Kaiseki looks very good, taste is ok, beautiful, but not as good as it's look. Atlantic Cod is excellent, the sauce matches with the fish perfectly. Service is excellent. But the decor gives me a cold feeling. It is a moderate price restaurant.