In four sentences or less, tell us who you are and what you do for a living.
I’m the chef de cuisine at Biff’s Bistro in Toronto, and I like to cook for a living.
What inspired you to become a chef?
Initially, it was my grandmother that inspired me. When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time in her kitchen, learning how to bake and cook. From there, it was one of those things that I simply fell into. When I went to school to get my degree, my sister and I were left to our own devices, and so it was often our job to make dinner for the whole family.
The cooking shows that inspired me were pre-food network. I would come home from school and watch James Barber and Wok with Yan. I also used to look through my Mom’s Joy of Cooking and Julia Child cookbooks.
Is there a particular type of food that you like to make, or a style that defines you as a chef?
No, not really. I don’t have a signature dish, or a specific type of cuisine that I follow. Although I have a lot of experience with French food, I’m always trying to create different types of dishes.
What advice would you give to someone trying to pursue a professional culinary career?
I think there are some misconceptions about working in the industry, and I think part of those come from the Food Network. There are a lot of young people that think the job is all flash and fun. In reality, it’s a lot of hard work.
What’s the most challenging part of your job? Conversely, what’s the most rewarding part?
One of the day-to-day challenges is finding good people that have a passion for the work and are always striving for excellence. In that respect, I’m very blessed: I have a great staff, and seeing them get inspired by their day-to-day job, a restaurant they’ve had a chance to check out or a cookbook they’ve read is one of the most rewarding parts of the job.
That, and seeing them continue to develop personally and professionally; I love giving people an opportunity to shine.
Is there a local neighbourhood that inspires you? And if so, what is it about that area that inspires you?
I’ve been on a quest to find incredible Vietnamese food in Toronto.
And how has that quest gone so far?
It’s been hit and miss, but when I do find it, that’s area that’s going to inspire me. It’s something I’ve been trying to find since spending three weeks in Vietnam at the end of last year. I’ve started incorporating Vietnamese flavours into some of the dishes we serve at Biff’s; it helps play with people’s expectations of what we serve here.
How successful do you think you’ve been in that regard?
We did a set of dinners where we created dishes inspired by the different regions of France. Now we’re moving into areas that have had French influence, so we did a Vietnamese dinner when I came back from my vacation, and, a couple of weeks ago, we finished a Moroccan dinner. It’s been a success from both the standpoint of my staff and the people that come to dine at the restaurant. For my staff, it’s been fun to try their hand at something new.
What is it specifically about Vietnamese food that you love?
Well, I love the freshness of it, and how intense and beautiful all the flavours are. When you’re in Vietnam so many of the best dishes are simply street food.
Where are you planning to travel to next?
Spain is next on my hit list. I probably won’t be able to go until the end of next year, but when I do get a chance to take a break from work, it will be for three weeks.
Travel is one of the things that makes me want to continue to work and try to bring something new to my work.
So, should we expect tapas to become a big part of Biff’s menu in the near future?
Not any time soon, but we’re always trying to see what other things we can to add a fun twist to our menu (laughs).
Although, we just did some bar bites that were like tapas—we’re not going to call them tapas, because we’re more of a French restaurant than a Spanish one. We’re also introducing a promotion in July where we’re going to have differently inspired bar bites each day.
What do you love about Toronto?
It’s such a diverse city, and I enjoy being able to try out so many different types of cuisines.
I also have a lot of good friends who work in restaurants and I always want to make sure that I support them. So seeing what they’re up to on a regular basis and supporting those endeavours.
Want to recommend to readers a couple of restaurants?
There are so many I could recommend (laughs).
Edulis, Cava, Fonda Lola, Foxley, Bar Isabel, and Campagnolo.
Outside of work and food, what are some things that motivate and inspire you?
Travel, like I said, is obviously the biggest one, but I also love music.
What are you listening to now?
I went to Field Trip a couple of weeks ago—which was fantastic—so I’ve been listening to a lot Gord Downie and the Sadies and Hydra.
What’s next for you personally and professionally?
I would love to continue to travel and find more ways to incorporate my travel into my work. Maybe I’ll even move to another country at some point (laughs). Otherwise, I just want to keep growing as a professional and person.
Anything to add?
I didn’t answer your neighbourhood question.
To which I would say that there isn’t a neighbourhood that inspires my work per say. But I love going to different areas of the city on my days off to find inspiration for a meal I want to cook at home. I will go to Kensington Market to visit my friend Peter at Sanagan’s Meat Locker for my meat or Hooked for some local fish, then I make the rounds, picking up all the other components I need.
I also love going to the Queen West and the Trinity Bellwoods neighbourhood to have some park time, bike around the neighbourhood, hit a yoga class or enjoy some people watching!
Igor Bonifacic is the managing editor of Toronto Standard. Follow him on Twitter.