Chef Michael Hunter’s fascination with food started in his early childhood. Growing up on a Caledon, Ont. horse farm, he spent ample time outdoors — foraging for mushrooms and other wild ingredients, collecting maple syrup, fishing, hunting and cooking over an open fire.
“One of the reasons I hunt is because I don’t believe in factory farming,” says Hunter, noting a large portion of animal conservation funds come from hunters’ license and tag fees. He also feels hunting is a more humane practice than factory farming. “We buy from smaller, free-range and organic farms [since selling wild game in Ontario is illegal].” Hunter’s culinary career started with his first part-time job at a local diner, when he was only 13. Throughout high school, he worked at a golf-course restaurant, where his interest in cooking from scratch piqued as he witnessed large orders of frozen ingredients arriving at the restaurant on a regular basis. “I would ask the chef, ‘Why don’t we make this stuff, ourselves?’” Hunter explains. It wasn’t long before he moved on to a kitchen that better supported his values.
That kitchen was at the Belfountain Inn, where he truly fell in love with cooking. “That was probably the first real restaurant I worked at,” he says. “The chef and I are still really close friends today. We made everything there — bread, pasta and charcuterie. That’s where I really learned scratch cooking.”
After graduating from high school, Hunter enrolled in George Brown’s culinary apprenticeship program. Following his studies, he flourished in the Toronto culinary scene — first as sous-chef de cuisine at Sassafraz, then chef de cuisine at Thompson Hotel’s Scarpetta and finally executive chef at Red’s Wine Tavern — before opening his own restaurant in October 2015.
Antler Kitchen and Bar is the culmination of Hunter’s experience in the kitchen and outdoors. The 40-seat restaurant boasts an open kitchen, dining room and bar in a cozy space. The menu features a wide range of game meats, including venison, wild boar, duck and bison, coupled with foraged items hand-picked by Hunter. Some popular entrées include roasted duck breast — confit duck with vegetable lentils and wild blueberry jus ($35); and one of Hunter’s personal favourites, the spice ash-crusted rack of deer — braised shoulder with parsnip purée and Swiss chard ($39).
For the less carnivorous palate, Antler offers both vegetarian and vegan options, such as the wild rice bowl — lentils, greens, toasted almonds, market vegetables, butternut squash purée and salsa verde ($17). “I respect vegetarian and vegan diets and understand that meat doesn’t sit well with some people’s diets or values,” Hunter says.
Now, Hunter is focused on further building his brand. “My business partner is in film, so we’re experimenting with [shooting] documentary-style pieces at the restaurant,” he shares. We’re also working on a cookbook — it’s been a few years in the making.”
Volume 49, Number 9
Written By Eric Alister