In the Kitchen With: Steve Gonzalez, Baro, Toronto

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Colombian-Canadian chef and restaurateur Steve Gonzalez has been working with food for nearly 30 years. Although it hasn’t been an easy journey, he’ll tell you he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s been grueling work but that’s part of the hustle. I was always hungry, always on the hustle,” says Gonzalez.

At 13, he got his first job as a dishwasher at St. Hubert’s, marking his foray into the foodservice sector. He says it was the camaraderie he witnessed in the St. Hubert’s kitchen that attracted him to the industry and has kept him there. “Being around people and seeing the hierarchy, I wanted to be at the top,” says Gonzalez. “I saw that from early on and I was able to have good chefs and mentors, which excited me even more.” Gonzalez’s career truly took off in 1998, when he began working at Chris McDonald’s highly acclaimed Avalon restaurant in Toronto and, to this day, McDonald remains one of his important mentors. “That opened my eyes to what real cooking was — to be cooking at that calibre,” says Gonzalez.

For the next 15 years, Gonzalez worked at Toronto chef Claudio Aprile’s Sen5es (both locations), Colborne Lane and Origin, which he says shaped his food philosophy. But, after a time, Gonzalez began to get hungry again. “I was thinking, it’s time to do something on my own — to be as Latino as I want to be,” says Gonzalez. “So I left Origin. I had some money saved and a partner who wanted in.”

Gonzalez’s vision was to open a 30 to 40-seat restaurant that would serve his nuevo Latino (modern Latin) style of cooking, with flavours and recipes from every corner of Latin America. But first, he spent three years working patiently to build a brand — regularly working at night markets, the underground market, food festivals and pop-up restaurants under the “Steve Gonzalez on Tour” banner.

When Valdez opened on King St. W. in 2013, Gonzalez had already established himself as one of Toronto’s foremost Latin chefs. But after only three years, Gonzalez began looking ahead to his next project.

Baro opened on Dec. 7, 2016 in Toronto’s King West neighbourhood. The first floor of the new four-storey restaurant is modelled after the Valdez aesthetic and menu; the second features a lounge with a raw bar and Escobar; the third boasts a 2,200-sq.-ft. event space; and the fourth houses an outdoor Terraza inspired by Asado — the barbecue and rotisserie cuisine from Uruguay.

Baro’s new dishes include the Japanese-flavoured ceviche, the Nikkei — Hamachi tossed in ponzu and lime with tofu, edamame, lotus root, radish and nori ($25). Baro also offers an impressive selection of South American spirits, including more than 25 tequilas.

As tasks begin to fall into a routine, Gonzalez’s next item of business is sleep. “The biggest thing for me is to start getting some rest,” he says. “I’m just excited to finally have some days off.”

Volume 49, Number 12
Written By Eric Alister

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