Although he had a history degree under his belt, Patrick Kriss knew a desk job or teaching for a living wasn’t going to cut it for him. When the executive chef and co-owner of Canada’s Best Restaurant (awarded by Canada’s 100 Best) Alo in Toronto is asked what initially inspired his love of food, he says, “I have no clue to be honest with you. I liked the lifestyle.” He first discovered kitchen culture suited him during his internship at Toronto’s Rosedale Golf Club. ‘“I started as a commis and I asked a lot of questions, bought a lot of cookbooks. I went all in and tried to learn as much as I could.”
Kriss believes everyone finds what they’re good at, and cooking, he plainly states, is what he’s good at. Critics, colleagues and the long reservation lead times at Alo back him up. After completing a six-month apprenticeship program at George Brown College, he worked with the team at Auberge du Pommier, before applying at what he calls one of the world’s best restaurants — Restaurant Daniel in New York City — in what proved to be a seminal career moment for him.
He started as a line cook and worked his way up to sous chef during his three years at Restaurant Daniel. “That experience shaped me immensely; it taught me how to cook,” he explains. He followed this up with positions at various French, Michelin-starred restaurants, including La Maison Troisgros and Restaurant Régis, before returning to Restaurant Daniel in 2009.
In 2010, Kriss came back to work in Toronto — first at Luma, followed by two years at Splendido, where he worked alongside Victor Barry. While working at Acadia, he decided he wanted a project of his own and Alo was born.
At a time when most chefs were eschewing tasting menus, the format was what appealed most to Kriss. “I did something I wanted to do — it’s what we believed in; this is how we like to cook and how we like to dine,” he explains. There are three menus at the restaurant — the counter, the bar and the dining room. Each menu reflects Kriss’ use of French techniques and highlights seasonal ingredients.
Kriss’ tasting menus — starting at $105 before wine pairings (an extra $75 per person) — change often and might feature sea bream with black truffle, venison tartare, or sea urchin with caviar. Dishes are beautifully plated with an artistic focus on composition and colour.
When asked if he feels Alo is his greatest career accomplishment to date, Kriss doesn’t hesitate before replying, “I don’t think like that. It’s not an accomplishment, it’s something we felt and we keep looking to improve.” For Kriss, that means making sure his staff “feel part of something,” because he says he understands the value of having great chefs on board. That “something” however, isn’t driven by mere passion. When you’re exhausted by the grind, explains Kriss, passion can run pretty thin. “It’s more about drive and excellence than passion,” he admits. And that comes through on every plate.
Volume 50, Number 3
Written by Mary Luz Mejia