With that in mind, the Culinary Theatre at George Brown College was packed with excited students last night, Sept. 27. The would-be toques were eager to hear top Toronto chef Mark McEwan talk about a career that has spanned more than three decades. In addition to running three successful restaurants (North 44, Bymark and One) and an eponymous grocery store, the 53-year-old chef also stars in the Food Network’s reality series Heat and is behind the highly touted new Canadian version of Top Chef. And, if that’s not enough to keep him busy, he’s just published a cookbook featuring 156 of his top recipes.
The recent publication of McEwan’s Great Food at Home comes just as the celebrity chef is set to open his latest restaurant venture Fabbrica (Italian for factory) across from McEwan, the grocery store he opened to rave reviews more than a year ago at Toronto’s Shops at Don Mills.
When asked if it ever gets easier to open a new restaurant, the chef admitted there are always complications ― from training and developing staff to sourcing equipment and liquor license delays. McEwan quipped: it’s like giving birth. But just as many women forget the pain and conceive again, McEwan forgets about the challenges and continues to open new concepts. What makes it slightly more manageable, he says, is having a great staff that have been with him for more than 10 years.
Set to open Oct. 1, Fabbrica will boast an “old-school Italian” menu. “I’m going to be Italian in my next life,” joked McEwan, responding to a student’s question of why an Italian restaurant? “I love Italy — the culture, the food. I love the simplicity of the food, but, at the same time, it’s complicated to do well. It’s all about the ingredients.”
As for the aspiring chefs trying to understand what makes a good chef, McEwan was straightforward and to the point. “It’s one thing to cook, it’s quite another to manage the business. I make sure I teach all students working with me how to read a P&L statement. If you can cook and can’t make money, there’s no place for you,” he said.
And, for culinary students who wonder whether travelling and completing stages is essential to becoming a great chef, McEwan says it’s all part of the mix, but “the most important thing is to land in a good operation and learn everything you can from the chef you work with. You shouldn’t focus on money initially. Find a great place and learn to make yourself invaluable. It’s about doing a great job.”