Interview: Chef Junishi Ikematsu from Montreal’s Jun-i Restaurant

It is unsurprising that Chef Junishi Ikematsu, Head Chef and Co-owner of Jun-i Restaurant in Montreal, would cite teamwork as one of the key ingredients to his restaurant’s success. The interplay between ingredients is the core makeup of excellent, fresh food just as the chemistry between kitchen staff influences the product. Chef Ikematsu has been cooking since he was a teenager. “I liked to eat,” the Chef says with a laugh, explaining that his mother was an excellent cook and that that likely influenced his own love of food. Chef Ikematsu began working in kitchens in high school when he got a job prepping noodles at a Chinese restaurant. He then worked at Manyoken, a classic French restaurant in Kyoto that is more than 100 years old. Continue reading “Interview: Chef Junishi Ikematsu from Montreal’s Jun-i Restaurant”


The Thing About Miss Thing’s – Chef Jasper Wu and Head Barman Robin Wynne

FOMO is a real thing. Especially when you’re waiting at the bus stop in -6 degrees, pulling your tuque lower over your forehead to brace yourself against the next gust of wind. Or retrieving lunch in the PATH to avoid bundling up in 10 layers to hit the street. Thankfully, Miss Thing’s is the perfect antidote to the mid-February Canadian winter blues. Head Barman, Robin Wynne, evokes images of being on vacation in the Caribbean and drinking out of coconuts. “Why not just bring it to Canada and have those memories fresh and make you feel happy and warm because you remember that from when you were on vacation?” Wynne asks. It’s a provoking question, likely why Miss Thing’s is at its busiest during our harsh winter months (though, it’s admittedly busy year-round). From Wynne’s cocktails playfully contained in pineapples, coconuts and speciality cups that include seahorse-themed ceramics to Head Chef Jasper Wu’s “Modern Polynesian, Pan-Asian cuisine,” Miss Thing’s is definitely the thing. On a recent sit-down with Wu and Wynne, the barman summed the experience up perfectly: “the music, the tropical disco, the vibe, the food, the drinks all come together to create an experience.”

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All Smoke – No Mirrors: BarChef’s Frankie Solarik

A chef walks into a bar – and never walks out. It’s not the start of a joke; it’s the start of one of Toronto’s most visionary bartender’s career. Frankie Solarik, the brains behind BarChef’s mixology, is a very cool and insanely creative guy who began bartending when he was 18 years old – or 19 years ago.

One of his first bartending jobs was in London, Ontario at a cigar bar. “Being in that environment, hearing the gentlemen talk about different nuances of flavour and aroma and the particular spirits that they were drinking, I kind of fell in love with the industry,” Solarik says. In the early 2000s, he moved to New York and that was where, working as a food runner in the kitchen, he discovered bartending as a professional career. Solarik loved the “energy of the kitchen and the colors of the plates” he was bringing to guests. He began incorporating some of the ingredients he was seeing used on the plates into cocktails. “I went into it with the same perspective as making teas with the idea of steeping ingredients for a particular amount of time to draw flavour out of them,” says Solarik, who met his BarChef co-owner, Brent VanderVeen when they were both working at another Toronto restaurant. VanderVeen is “as passionate about the actual operation running smoothly and efficiently as I am with the artistic expression of the cocktails and the dishes that are coming out of the kitchen,” Solarik says, calling them the “perfect yin and yang.” The two determined to open a cocktail bar with zero restrictions in terms of ingredients.

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Playing with Food: Chef Marc Lepine’s Atelier


The best way to describe Chef Marc Lepine is to say that he is so much more than a chef; he is a true artist. Atelier, one of Canada’s best restaurants, is exactly what its name would imply: a studio where creativity is digested.

Chef Lepine has been an active member of Ottawa’s food scene since he moved to the area in 2001. “I love it here. It’s come a long way,” Lepine says about the city’s dining. Before opening Atelier eight years ago, Lepine headed up The Courtyard Restaurant’s kitchen. Though he always wanted to open his own restaurant someday, he found himself moved to action one morning when he woke up and told himself: “I’m going to start today. I don’t know how to do it, I don’t have the money to do it, but I’ll figure that out.” Less than a year later, Atelier had moved from dream to reality.

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Lavelle’s Chef Romain Avril: The Modern Chef

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.

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The Marriage Between Food & Media: Chef Mike Ward

Sydney-born Chef Mike Ward is not afraid to present an honest picture of the food scene. The Toronto resident and food journalist epitomizes the marriage between food and media, writing for various outlets and creating food content in a career he calls a “mixed and unusual bag.”

After high school, Ward had an Eat Pray Love moment, traveling throughout southeast Asia and India and noting that all of his memories from this yearlong trip were “based on stuff that I put in my mouth.” Thus was born a lifelong love of food and Ward cooked in restaurants for the next 10 years. At that point, he moved into a career in media, editing commercials; directing and producing lifestyle series on travel, food and home renovations; and working on sitcoms. But the way to this man’s heart was certainly through his stomach and he longed for a way to get back to his real passion: food.

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Richard Irving, Executive Chef of The Ivy Restaurants in L.A.

Chef Richard Irving has impacted the L.A. culinary scene with enduring dining staples The Ivy and The Ivy by the Shore. In a city that’s constantly changing, The Ivy Restaurants are one thing that will never need a facelift; they’ve been popular with celebrities and foodies alike since the Robertson Boulevard location opened in 1980. Irving began the restaurants with his partner – in life and in food – Lynn von Kersting. After working in famed Le Restaurant (“one of the top two restaurants in L.A. at the time”), and opening his own dessert company, L.A. Desserts, which “sold desserts to some of L.A.’s best restaurants like the bistro, Valentino and Mr. Chow,” Irving decided to branch out with The Ivy.

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Chef Alois Vanlangenaeker of Positano’s Hotel Il San Pietro

Hotel Il San Pietro is situated in arguably the most picturesque setting in the world – Positano, Italy. Along the Amalfi Coast, tucked into the rocky cliffside, rests this prominent, luxury hotel and its two restaurants, one of which, Zass, boasts a Michelin star. Chef Alois Vanlangenaeker has been the Executive Chef of Il San Pietro for 11 years. “I could have stayed in Belgium and had my private life there,” speculated Chef Vanlangenaeker. But instead he was drawn to a more international, public chef’s life, as “traveling is a passion.” Vanlangenaeker began his career at the age of 19, when he started working in a Michelin starred restaurant in his native Belgium. Then, he moved to France to work in Michel Guérard’s kitchen, also Michelin ranked. From there, he moved to Sant’Agata, Italy’s Don Alfonso 1890, his third Michelin restaurant. From Italy to Tokyo to Jean-Georges in New York City, Vanlangenaeker experienced it all before landing at his current position in Positano. His favorite place, it turns out, is Positano. “It is an amazing spot,” he shared. “We have a quality of life that a lot of people dream of.” Though the work is difficult because it is crammed into seven months of the year, “having the ocean in front of you, having beautiful weather and beautiful vegetables” are worth it. At Il San Pietro, many of these fresh vegetables are grown on the grounds.

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Karan Gera of New York City’s Monsieur Singh

The “frozen yogurt craze” pervades North America. But, Karan Gera offers an alternative – let’s call it a lassi pops intervention. Born in Delhi, India, Gera grew up on lassi. Years later, he owns a lassi pops business, driven by his belief that frozen yogurt is unhealthy. Why? First of all, “our bodies aren’t really designed to absorb cold yogurt,” and secondly, fruits and yogurts are incompatible foods. Enter lassi. A product of Ayurvedic medicine, lassi is yogurt fortified with herbs and spices that are said to help with digestion.

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Chef Molloy of Nikki Beach Worldwide

To be a chef is to be a world traveler, a connoisseur of food trends the world over and an appreciator of fine things. Such is Chef Brian Molloy, Nikki Beach Worldwide’s Corporate Executive Chef. Nikki Beach is a fine dining brand with clout on the international dining scene. Known for its good times and its impeccable star-studded locations situated in the world’s most beautiful destinations, Nikki Beach is a tastemaker’s favorite. Under the Nikki Beach umbrella, Molloy has cooked for Prince Albert of Monaco, various sheikhs and a plethora of A-listers, including Robert de Niro and Al Pacino.

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Chef João Dias of Montreal’s Ferreira Café

I never asked Chef João Dias of Montreal’s well-loved Ferreira Café what his middle name is, but it seems likely that it is “Passion,” or perhaps the Portuguese translation. Dias has loved to cook since he was “very young” and began by contributing to his mother’s culinary endeavors back in Portugal, especially during holidays. His grandparents were butchers so he comes honestly by his love of food. You might say this foodie upbringing was the prelude to his eight years at culinary school. After all, there aren’t many young children who love “tasting sausages” and other meats at the butcher. And Dias cannot imagine doing anything other than cooking, as he “prefer[s] stay[ing] 12 hours in the kitchen than six hours in the office.” And that’s no exaggeration: he arrives at the restaurant between eight and nine in the morning and leaves around midnight.

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Chef Rene Rodriguez of Ottawa’s Navarra

Ottawa restaurant Navarra has gone on the map as one of the country’s best eateries. Chef Rene Rodriguez, Navarra’s owner and culinary brain, was recently acclaimed as Canada’s Top Chef. Rodriguez, who was born in Canada’s capital but lived in Mexico between the ages of five and 17, explains that he derives his cooking inspiration from “anything that involves some type of art,” for instance the open markets in Mexico or architecture and food in Barcelona. Travel is certainly one influence, but music is also important to Rodriguez, who “always” has something on in the background while cooking; auditory favorites include Rush, Supertramp and U2.

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