The hottest new addition to Toronto’s dining and nightlife scenes is Lavelle, a sky-high rooftop restaurant with superb views, excellent food and epic people watching. Brought to you by Trademark Hospitality Inc., Lavelle has been open since July. Trademark’s Executive Chef, Romain Avril, calls the dining experience “exquisite, breathtaking and fun.”
Chef Avril sat down with me on a busy Friday afternoon looking every part “the modern chef,” his term for the new generation, a cohort of cool, teamwork-oriented chefs who are as comfortable with an Instagram page as they are with a spatula. It’s a breed Chef Avril contrasts with the classic image of the “fat chef, grumpy and yelling,” exactly the type who bullied him in his first kitchen when he was 13 years old.
Though he admits it’s a high-stress job, Avril leads his team of 35+ with compassion. Some use the weakest link metaphor to describe the importance of teamwork; Avril more fittingly uses a soufflé. “If one person is not doing well, the entire team is going down. It’s like a soufflé, the whole thing goes down.” And relying on your team is now more important than ever, with the chef constantly being called out of the kitchen as a front-of-house ambassador. “Really to be known to the public, you have to be accessible,” says Avril, who admits the social part of his job came less easily to him than mincing and dehydrating. “It was really hard for me because I was really shy when I was younger and I had to overcome my own self. The [chef’s] jacket helped, I think.”
As does the Chef, the venue itself has a rich interior life. Avril describes Lavelle as a perfect blend of views, atmosphere and fine dining. “I think the three together bring something that is nowhere else in Toronto. Even worldwide, I don’t think that there’s many venues that will really do the combo of nightlife, pool, bar and fine dining.” But the real challenge now is to earn recognition not just for the nightlife, but also as a fine dining restaurant. Avril says there is currently a bit of a separation between nightlifers and diners. He hopes to influence diners to mingle outside after their meal and partiers to dine in.
These kinds of adjustments are to be expected from a new venue, even “a beast of a venue” like Lavelle. And while the guests have been familiarizing themselves with Lavelle, Avril and his team – many of whom have been working with him for years in other restaurants – have been adjusting to their new kitchen. “It’s a really great kitchen,” says Avril, who came onto the project after the layout had already been designed, but he was still able to make some changes. He eliminated the microwave, the rapid oven and the soup wells and insisted on creating a pastry station. He also had a prep space built on floor P2. As for equipment, Avril got to choose his own. His cooking style requires special tools: both hand blenders and a VitaMix, a water bath, a vacuum sealer and dehydrators are part of the mix. What struck me most about the kitchen during my tour was that it’s down a flight of stairs. Talk about good exercise!
Avril and his team are working on designing new fall items. There will two fabulous desserts – peaches and cream and a mango pavlova. The peach dessert will include pickled peaches, fresh peaches, caramelized peach purée, cashew and crème Catalan with sunflower seed ice cream. The pavlova will be a take on the traditional dessert that incorporates flavours from South Asia and South America as well as mango, pineapple, lime leaves and Thai basil.
Describing these and his other dishes, Chef Avril says: “people say ‘you’re always cooking French’ and I’m like ‘no.’ I refuse to be put into that criterion. I do not cook French. I cook modern fusion.” But though this Chef is thoroughly modern, Lavelle is sure to become a Toronto classic.
A few more tidbits…
What’s in your Fridge?
“My fridge is literally always empty. I’m always ashamed that I can never have anyone at home. I have water bottles – that’s all I have in my fridge. Sauce for Caesar salad and mustard and ketchup. I don’t even have butter anymore. My fridge is like – it’s air.”
His Most Embarrassing Story as a Chef:
When Chef Avril was 22 or 23 years old and still living and working in the UK, he was on a team that catered a large wedding. His task was to cook the chicken. The venue was spread out across two levels and, once he had finished preparing and plating the chicken, the wait staff asked where the rest of the chicken was. The chef returned to the prep space to find that he had left four trays of chicken in the fridge – still raw. Though two thirds of the guests were already eating, Chef Avril had to rush to cook the rest of the chicken. “I wanted to be that big and try to fit in a hole and hide,” says Avril, who thankfully hasn’t made a mistake of that magnitude since.
What are Those Tattoos?
One of Chef Avril’s tattoos is a nod to his astrological sign, Scorpio. It is said that the Scorpio goes through three stages of life represented by: the scorpion (ruled by emotions and instincts), the eagle (where the Scorpio develops his talents) and the phoenix (the most evolved). Chef Avril thinks he’s currently in his eagle phase. He also has a “lovely lady” on his right forearm.
I asked if the Chef has any food-inspired tattoos and was told those are in the works. Chef Avril is planning on getting a sleeve to describe his “journey with cooking” starting from the beginning and working to present day. He hopes to include images from his travels, including the four and a half years he worked in England and his love for Canada and his native France.
On Sourcing Great Fish:
Chef Avril found a fishery in Fogo Island, Newfoundland. The owner told the chef: “we are really traditional. We do things one way. I will sell you my fish under only one condition – you come with me and you’re going to go fishing with me.” And so he did. The Chef loves that the company, which has been around for generations, films their fishing excursions and sends him the videos. “You know they’re going to be on your cutting board the next day.”