I recently had the pleasure of dining at Victor Restaurant in Toronto’s Theatre District, where Celebrity Chef David Chrystian, Top Chef Canada finalist during the 2011 - 2012 season, presented each dish. We explored a range of menu and event planning topics.
With a capacity of 110 for group events, Victor Restaurant has been on the cutting edge of a number of Toronto dining trends reflecting Chef David's philosophy "food should be fresh, seasonal, and nourishing." Victor Restaurant has pioneered family style dining, featuring large platters and the opportunity to sample a variety of dishes.
For groups, this evolved into the intimate Toronto Tasting Menu with smaller portions celebrating the best cuisine that is offered by Toronto's 140 multi-cultural neighborhoods. Chef David suggested a similar approach to event menu planning (i.e. smaller portions, variety, local multicultural influences).
KOREATOWN, BLOOR + CHRISTIE
pan seared scallops with Asian pear and kimchi.
FOREST HILL, SPADINA + St. CLAIR
roasted beef tenderloin with tabouleh, baba ganoush, and tomato gel
The Toronto Tasting Menu changes with the seasons. (I assured Chef David that I will be returning in the winter when Jamaican jerk seasoning takes center stage.)
For group dining, Chef David showcases fresh, seasonable and local ingredients with his own twist on "Iron Chef." Chef David and his team weave the secret mystery ingredient (selected by diners from a list of seasonable choices) throughout a 3 - 4 course menu created especially for the group. During my visit, guests in the private dining room (with a capacity of 25) picked blueberries. Vegetables and fruits were blended together to create appealing dishes.
Dried Blueberry Crusted Halibut
with congee, sauteed spinach tossed in a blueberry sauce.
complimented with blueberries, tarragon marinated Niagara peach, and candy cane beets in a blueberry vinaigrette.
While I usually don't like vegetables, I enjoyed every bite. Chef David suggests wowing guests with local, seasonal vegetables served at the peak of flavor when they need only salt, pepper and olive oil or a little butter.
To accommodate differences and food restrictions, Chef David cautions against singling out participants. Instead, design the first 2 courses so that everyone can partake. Once the group is relaxed, present a meat, fish and vegetarian option for the entree.
Also, it may be more useful to focus on regional differences than national. In some parts of Canada and the U.S., venison, wild boar and caribou are available in the winter. During the summer, spring chicken, Cornish hen and pheasant are plentiful. In Florida, alligator is served as a game meat. The influence of Quebec cuisine leaves its mark on Canadian cuisine. In some U.S. cities, Latin American cuisine has a major influence.
Chef David and I were deeply engaged in conversation so he presented the dessert after I was finished. I normally don't like fruit salad. We had a good laugh as I had completely cleared my plate of fruit salad with watermelon, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries tossed in wine.
The element of surprise is a key ingredient for delicious dining and exciting events which both bring great people together at a fabulous venue to share memorable experiences.
Event planning and running a restaurant are both stressful careers involving long hours. Chef David has discovered that, with a strong team, he can achieve balance by leading rather than running around filling gaps. This is also excellent advice for event planners.
Photo Credits: Executive Oasis International