In the Kitchen with: Antonio Park of Lavanderia and Park Restaurant

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Antonio Park’s culinary style is a culmination of his life experiences. Raised by Korean parents in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, Park built an eclectic foundation influenced by his mother’s from-scratch cooking. “She was the first person to inspire me and she is still a person who inspires me,” he says.

After his family relocated to Montreal, Park took a job as a dishwasher at a Chinese buffet. “When I was 16 I realized I wanted to be a cook,” he says. His passion, paired with a fascination with Japanese cuisine, led Park to relocate to Japan, where he attended culinary school and spent three years learning the art of sushi while gaining a respect for ingredients. The young chef’s culinary sojourn led him to positions in Tokyo, Osaka, New York and Toronto before returning to Montreal, where he served as executive chef at restaurants such as 357c and Kaizen before embarking on his own venture.

Park opened his first restaurant, Park, in 2012. Though heavily influenced by his time in Japan, the restaurant’s offerings are not typical Japanese cuisine. “Park [restaurant] is trying to put on the plate exactly who I am. I put a little twist of South American culture and Korean culture in it,” he says of the menu, which includes flavourful touches such as pickled jalapeño, kimchi and chimichurri sauce. Popular items include Chef’s Maki ($45), braised kalbi short ribs made from a family recipe ($39) and the omakase (chef’s choice) tasting menu (starting at $85/person).

The chef’s second restaurant, Lavanderia, was inspired by his childhood in South America. “I actually opened the restaurant, not for the customers, but because I wanted to eat that food every day,” Park admits. “I eat there every night.”

Lavanderia, located next door to Park, features items such as fresh-made empanadas ($12/three pieces); scallop ceviche with coconut milk, plantain, jalapeño, red onion and cilantro ($16); and charcoal-grilled octopus with white beans, fennel, sun-dried cherry tomatoes, capers and red onions ($16).

Park also owns Sous Chef (formerly Marché Park) — a food market that neighbours his restaurants — and he serves as a judge on Food Network Canada’s Chopped Canada. With all of these commitments and a young family, the chef seems to have his plate full, but he still finds time to give back, including organizing World Food Day in Montreal. He also took part in (and won) the Montreal edition of the Gold Medal Plates 2014. The chef is regularly asked how he keeps up with it all. He believes it is a skill that can be learned. “I really believe that being human is being limitless,” he explains. “If you organize yourself, nothing is impossible.”

True to that belief, Park is currently laying the ground work for new ventures in Prague and Toronto. The intrepid chef is also set to appear in a new TV show and is keeping an eye out for a future project in downtown Montreal.

Volume 48, Number 10

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