TORONTO ― Food enthusiasts had the opportunity to indulge in a six-course meal prepared by two restaurant industry titans — chef Susur Lee and chef Bobby Flay. The celebrated toques collaborated on the much-anticipated meal on April 25 at Fring’s Restaurant on King St. W., as part of a $375 a plate dinner.
“Susur made it simple for me,” Flay told a group of media, including Foodservice and Hospitality, who met with the two icons a few hours before the meal to preview the menu and talk food. “He said ‘You do three courses and I’ll do the rest.’” Flay’s contribution to the dinner included a dish featuring thinly sliced eggplant layered with Manchego cheese, balsamic vinegar and oregano, followed by a chorizo crepinette with apricot mostarda, topped with pickled fennel, and a roasted octopus dish prepared four ways. Lee, in turn, prepared Szechuan Mala king prawns with salsa verde, calamansai and wild leeks, followed by a bacon-wrapped striploin with wasabi apple puree, potato gratin and short rib, and finished with a mango-passion fruit pannacotta dessert with spiced black rice and south Asian fruit and coconut.
Lee and Flay’s relationship dates back several years when the duo competed to a tie on Food Network’s Iron Chef . According to Lee, “my kids had a lot to do with [the dinner], ” explaining the idea came about when his sons asked Lee whether he could arrange to get Flay to Toronto to collaborate on a meal at Fring’s. The dutiful father and respected chef answered the call by inviting Flay to travel north to work alongside him in the kitchen of the restaurant operated by his two sons, Levi and Kai along with partner hip-hop artist Drake.
This marked the first time Flay has cooked in Toronto. When asked if he would consider opening a restaurant in the city, he said, “I wouldn’t risk it. If you look at my five restaurants, I have two high-end restaurants in New York and the rest in casinos. People in Toronto should be supported by local chefs. Countless U.S. chefs — many much better than me — have tried and failed. I’d rather come here to eat,” quipped the Food Network celebrity.
So, if not Toronto, where would Flay consider opening his next restaurant? “New York,” he stated definitely. “I’m a subway rider and so I can go from one restaurant to the next in 12 minutes,” he said, admitting, however, that the increasing cost of rents, labour and product don’t make the enterprise easy. “In New York City, orange is the new black,” said Flay. “Breakeven is the new profit in New York City,” he quipped, adding that if he were 25 years old, he probably couldn’t afford to open a restaurant in today’s market but he continues to do so “purely because I want to.”
As for advice to young chefs looking to succeed in the restaurant business, Flay says, “Learn to cook. Make food your focus. There’s a lot of opportunities, but let them happen around you. Don’t lose sight of the fundamentals of cooking.”