In the Kitchen With: Matt Simpson, Montecito, Toronto

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Chef Matt Simpson of Toronto’s Montecito has a cooking philosophy that guides him and his restaurant alike. “We make a commitment to use [ingredients] as locally sourced as possible and we let the ingredients speak for themselves,” he says.

The 400-seat Montecito Restaurant, situated at the base of the Daniels Cinema Tower just behind the TIFF Bell Lightbox, is a collaboration between Canadian-born, Hollywood director Ivan Reitman and Toronto-based Innov8 Hospitality. The slick space, featuring decor inspired by Reitman’s home in Montecito, Calif., includes a bar and patio at the front, as well as two floors of dining.

The menu reflects Simpson’s cooking philosophy of working with local ingredients, changing the menu to reflect the season and working with area producers. Simpson, who joined the Montecito team as executive chef in January 2017, grew up in Whitby, Ont., where working in restaurants opened his eyes to the possibilities of cooking.

While working at the Wooden Sticks Golf Course in Uxbridge, Ont., he recalls watching the chef and his team cooking from scratch. “They were making stock from scratch, barbecue sauces from scratch and, as a 17 year-old, that was astonishing to see. It opened my eyes [to the fact] there was another tier of restaurants out there.”

He entered George Brown College’s Chef Training Course in 2006 and after the first year, started out on his new career path at Toronto’s Reds Bistro & Wine Bar — working his way up to sous chef. “It was there that I really started to learn about butchery and fall in love with the farm-to-table philosophy — when the whole idea of 100-km dining was just getting started.”

He then accepted the position of tournant at Canoe restaurant in Toronto alongside chef John Horne. Other past roles include sous chef at The Chase; chef de cuisine at The Chase Fish & Oyster; and sous chef at Nota Bene.

Simpson is passionate about working with local growers and suppliers. Some of his go-to suppliers include Paul Sawtell and Grace Mandarano of 100km Foods in North York, Ont. for vegetables, fruits and charcuterie and K2 Milling in Beaton, Ont. for grains and flours. The menu changes seasonally at Montecito, based on what’s fresh and local at the time. For example, the fall menu included a roasted-pumpkin soup with braised shortrib, maple yogurt and pumpkin seeds ($13) and a Perth County pork schnitzel with a smoky mustard vinaigrette, arugula and radish ($23); maple-cured foie gras with apple, brown butter, milk bread and cranberry ($23); and Northern Woods mushroom tortelloni with mushroom broth, mascarpone and grana Padano ($28).

“The feeling I want when people come here is one of terroir,” Simpson says. “If you are eating here and it’s October, I want you to feel as if it’s Southern Ontario in October. We are a Canadian restaurant that focuses on farm-to-table cuisine.”

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