With a penchant for a good mac ‘n’ cheese, a preference for fiery homemade hot sauce and a passion for sushi, one constant in chef Anthony Rose’s career at Toronto’s Drake Hotel is his ability to evolve and innovate.
A native Torontonian, Rose earned his rite of passage scrubbing dishes in restaurant kitchens, where his dreams of a culinary career took shape at the age of 14. “I wasn’t a fantastic student, so I needed to find something where I could be involved,” he explains.
If You Weren’t a Chef, You’d Be: “A banjo player in a bluegrass band.”
Rose scoped out culinary schools across Canada, but Californian culture and family ties to the sunny state, convinced the fledgling chef to leave Toronto to attend the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. Before long, he scored a position under chef Bradley Ogden at Lark Creek Inn, where he developed an appreciation for rustic Californian cuisine.
But, eventually Rose moved to New York where he worked with the renowned Jean-Georges Vongerichten at the Mercer Hotel in Soho. “It was a good part of my career, because I didn’t really want to cook that style of food. But I am happy I did,” he admits, describing Vongerichten’s provincial style as “different, interesting and over-the-top.”
Moving back to Toronto in 2006, with a wealth of experience under his belt, the toque let his creativity run free at The Drake where he took the helm of the Dining Room, the eating hotspot that also caters to the hotel’s lounge and private Room 222. And, this summer, he launched a “Dining Roadshow” to showcase kitschy pop-up themes that continue to transform the dining room and menu. In June, the Dining Room became a mess hall that celebrated summer-school cafeteria food, with a menu reminiscent of Rose’s favourite childhood comfort foods, such as tomato alphabet soup ($9) and buttermilk fried chicken ($24). From September to November, the executive chef took inspiration from Chinatown, with a menu that featured Nova Scotian influences such as “Smiling Buddha” Lobster ($33). It’s “Canadian-style” Chinese food, Rose clarifies. “It had to be the Chinese food I grew up with — good, simple stuff.”
Mentor: “I was lucky enough to work at the short-lived Washington Park, and that’s where I met Jonathan Waxman; he is still my greatest mentor.”
Rose’s culinary style stems from a marriage of distinctly Canadian food with Californian influences. “The philosophy is always about using really good products from across Canada and Ontario,” he says. Caesar salad ($11) and The Drake Burger ($17) are his top two menu items. “We use really good meat and season it simply,” he says of the beef patty.
With such an obvious passion for his craft and his staff, it’s no surprise Rose isn’t looking to leave the Drake anytime soon. “I’m comfortable here. I’m happy,” he says, talking animatedly about his new projects. He plans to expand the sushi-making program by incorporating Asian-style tapas as well as installing a wood-burning oven to start a bakery program. “We recently stopped buying breads from bakeries and started doing it all ourselves,” he says.
But, whether it’s a new bakery program or Asian tapas, one thing is certain, a reinvention is definitely around the corner.More in Feature Articles
Favourite Hangout: “The old Coffee Mill in Yorkville, [Ont.]; it has some of the best goulash in the city.”
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