2015 Top 50 Restaurants in Canada: St. John’s Raymonds wins again

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Posted June 15, 2015 by Adrian Brijbassi in British Columbia
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Raymonds is sophisticated but comfortable. Guests can enjoy exceptional cuisine at the bar or in the elegant dining room in downtown St. John’s. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

Column by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca and Top Restaurants in Canada Founder

For the first time, a restaurant has retained the title of best in Canada.

Raymonds, the fine-dining gem in Newfoundland, earns the distinction in the fourth annual Top Restaurants in Canada Rankings. A roster of Canadian and U.S.-based fine-dining connoisseurs, leading food and travel journalists, and industry experts create the list, which is published each year by Vacay.ca. (Learn about the Top Restaurants In Canada Voting Academy here.) In previous years, the nation’s top chefs contributed to the rankings, as did thousands of public voters.

Owners Jeremy Charles and Jeremy Bonia have made Raymonds the nation’s greatest destination restaurant in one of its finest places to visit. Thanks to oil wealth and tourism, St. John’s has emerged as a surprising economic engine of Atlantic Canada. Though the economy has cooled off recently, the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador led the nation in growth in 2013 and restaurants benefitted from the prosperity. Along with Raymonds, Mallard Cottage — located in St. John’s historic Quidi Vidi neighbourhood — ranks in the Top 10 with its contemporary twist on authentic Newfoundland cuisine.

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Jeremy Charles, the executive chef and co-owner of Raymonds, incorporates Atlantic ingredients into exquisite dishes that connoisseurs rave about. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

In August, Raymonds will host the 2015 Canadian Food.ee of the Year winner, Melissa Baker of Toronto. Baker, a nutritionist, won for her entry detailing her life as a food advocate and avid diner. She receives round-trip airfare for two, luxury hotel accommodations at the Sheraton Newfoundland, and dinner at the nation’s No. 1 restaurant.

Five restaurant teams account for 12 of the list’s restaurants. Both the Joe Beef tandem of David McMillan and Frederic Morin in Montreal and Toronto chef Rob Gentile of the Buca franchise have three restaurants in the guide. Vancouver-based Vikram Vij opened My Shanti (No. 35) in suburban Surrey one year ago and that eatery joins renowned Vij’s (No. 14) — which Vacay.ca judges ranked No. 1 in 2012 — in this year’s Top 50. Meanwhile, Grant van Gameren lands two Toronto restaurants in the Top 10, with Bar Raval (No. 9), known for its pintxo dishes and cocktails, joining last year’s runner-up Bar Isabel (No. 4). Chef Claude Pelletier has two Montreal restaurants on the list, Le Filet (No. 36) and Le Club Chasse et Peche (No. 16).

There were 21 new entries, fewer than the previous two years, but the big cities once again dominated the rankings. Toronto led with 12 entries, though Canada’s largest city has yet to place a restaurant at No. 1. Montreal has 10 restaurants while Vancouver has eight, led by Hawksworth at No. 5. Judges, however, did hunt out some out-of-the-way establishments, including Rossmount Inn (No. 47), the elegant restaurant in New Brunswick’s seaside community of St. Andrews By-the-Sea, and Vancouver Island’s Wolf In the Fog (No. 46).

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At sixth-ranked Splendido, sublime flavours meet lovely artistic presentation from the kitchen headed by chef Victor Barry. (Renée Suen/Vacay.ca)

As the list matures, some notable consistencies have emerged, including the continued affirmation of Raymonds, Joe Beef and Hawksworth, which have all solidified themselves as Top 10 restaurants in the country. Joe Beef and Hawksworth are two of only eight restaurants to rank in all four years. The others are Toque, Langdon Hall, Vij’s, L’Abattoir, Atelier and Araxi.

Other interesting first-time entries include Cafe Medina (No. 33), the beloved brunch restaurant in downtown Vancouver that routinely has two-hour waits for tables, and Edna (No. 43), a Halifax favourite that also is known for its lengthy lineups. Legende par La Taniere (No. 23), a renowned Quebec establishment that recently moved into Old Quebec City, ranks for the first time while newcomer Bauhaus in Vancouver’s Gastown district earned top marks from the only two judges who visited the restaurant during its opening week last month. That was enough support to land it at No. 28. DaiLo (No. 42), which is closer to Toronto’s Little Portugal than Chinatown, debuted thanks to chef Nick Liu’s inventive Cantonese cuisine.

All 10 provinces were represented in the rankings, with Ontario leading the way with 15 entries.

2015 Top Restaurants In Canada, Produced by Vacay.ca

1. RAYMONDS, St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador 

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Raymonds is housed in a historic building that dates to 1916. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

Chefs/owners: Jeremy Charles (executive chef); Jeremy Bonia (wine director)
Website: www.raymondsrestaurant.com.
Cuisine: East Coast, Canadian
Telephone: 709-579-5800.Twitter: @Raymondsnl
2014 Rank: 1. 2013 Rank: 10
Price Range: A seven-course tasting menu runs $135 ($85 extra for wine pairing) and a five-course menu is $115 ($65 extra for wine pairing). A la carte entrees range from $40-$49 on the current menu.
You Must Order: Halibut, with pork lardons, turnip puree, beets, carrots and mustard greens ($45).
Need to Know … from Peter Neal of Neal Bros.: “I have eaten Jeremy’s food on several occasions outside the restaurant and have always been impressed but my one experience in his restaurant is a food memory that will last a long time. The room is spectacular, the service is excellent — I was very impressed with the wines presented by Jeremy Bonia with representation from Canada as well as international sources and which included many interesting organic/biodynamic wines. The tasting menu was a highlight to my 2014 dining escapades! They have the ability to serve sophisticated, interesting, ‘Best of Canada’ food that garners international attention and yet do so in an inviting and unpretentious manner.”

Fine-dining aficionado Ken Jerrett says: ”If Joe Beef is the heart of food, Raymonds is the brain. The food is novel and inventive, but never gimmicky. Wine (or beer of spirits) pairings are always impeccable. The atmosphere is formal but never stuffy.”

Food and travel writer Gordon Noseworthy says: ”Fresh, flavourful, balanced and visually appealing. Flavours within each course were complementary. Excellent wine selection. Knowledgable staff who served seamlessly in an elegant and comfortable setting.”

Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance Executive Director Rebecca LeHeup says: “Incorporating the freshest seasonal ingredients in their kitchen, outstanding service in their dining room and impeccable style in their waterfront space. Jeremy Charles, Jeremy Bonia and their dynamic team deliver an authentic ‘taste of place’ that reflects the culinary culture of Newfoundland. They are truly deserving of national recognition in being awarded the Top Canadian Restaurant from Vacay.ca.”

2014 Judge and CHARCUT Executive Chef Connie Desousa says: “Jeremy Charles drives farm-to-table so well with his restaurant. I love that the majority of his menu items are either grown with his bare hands or fished or hunted. He is a great ambassador of Canadian cuisine.”

Click here to see the Vacay.ca video and read the rest of the article on Raymonds. 

2. JOE BEEF, Montreal, Quebec

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Looks unpretentious but tastes unbelievable. That’s life at Joe Beef in Montreal. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

Chefs/owners: David McMillan and Frédéric Morin
Website: www.joebeef.caCuisine: Steak, Seafood, French
Telephone: 514-935-6504. Twitter:@joebeef
2014 Rank: 10. 2013 Rank: 1. 2012 Rank: 3
Price Range: $31-$50 for main courses.
You Must Order: Anything and everything — even if it says it’s made with SPAM. But if the Double Down foie gras is on the menu, go for it.
Need to Know … from Ross Munro of PEI Culinary Adventures: “I literally have been going here since it opened. Every time I go it’s the same but completely f’in different. No pretensions, just honest hard work in one of the smallest fucking kitchens in the world! A wine list that is David McMillan’s heartbeat. Fred’s food … it’s classic, it’s modern, it’s jovial, it’s reflective of another time some nights. They kill it day in and day out!”

Vacay.ca and Top Restaurants in Canada Founder Adrian Brijbassi says: “Joe Beef is perfect because it embraces imperfection. A gravel parking lot in the backyard? So what, it makes a great place for a barbecue grill. A tangly garden in the way? Put a table in the middle of it. The dishes are incredible, the service is immaculate and the wines are stellar. But what makes Fred Morin and Dave McMillan’s place a must-dine in North America is the absolute lack of pretentiousness. This is Fred and Dave, and their place is so brilliant and so important that Joe Beef can now be considered a Canadian dining legend.”

Fine-dining aficionado Ken Jerrett says: “It is all about the sensory experience of eating. Nothing is spared in the quest for a great dish. The staff all know the menu and the wines to match. The wine list, particularly the selection of Burgundy, is for those who wish to drink wine rather than simply brag about it.”

Food writer Taryn Hearn says: “Joe Beef takes quality ingredients and makes great food. It’s about great taste, quality wine and great service. In the middle of every meal there, I pause to think about the flavours, calories and quantity of food … and I dig in again. The atmosphere is wonderful because everyone is happy. That’s a great place to be.”

Food photographer Huge Galdones of Chicago says: “Always an elegant mix of heavy-handed flavour bombs and seafood- and/or veg-focused finesse. I’ve always left wanting more.”

ABC Chicago’s Steve Dolinsky says: “Consistently delicious, evocative of a time and place, and service that is unparalleled. Never had a bad meal here, always exquisite.”

Read about Joe Beef, the 2013 No. 1 restaurant in Canada

3. TOQUE!, Montreal, Quebec

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Chef Normand Laprise from Toque! is one of Canada’s culinary giants. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

Chef/owner: Normand Laprise
Website: www.restaurant-toque.comCuisine: French
Telephone: 514-499-2084. Twitter: @RestaurantToque
2014 Rank: 25. 2013 Rank: 15. 2012 Rank: 36.
Price Range: $42-$52 for main courses.
You Must Order: Duck Magret ($46).
Need to Know … from Caroline Marchand of Dcouverteculinaire: “It has a simplicity in its dishes, with a wow presentation, but it reveals the real meaning of the product. One time I ate a corn cream, and if you had your eyes closed, the flavour was a corn on a cob with butter and salt perfectly seasoned. It has been five years since I had this dish and I still think about it!”

Angelina Brogan of BaconIsMagic.ca: “The original forager, Laprise paved the way for inspiring and elevating local food.”

4. BAR ISABEL, Toronto, Ontario

Bar Isabel-Toronto

Shishito peppers at Bar Isabel are simply blistered and seasoned with flaky sea salt. (Renée Suen/Vacay.ca)

Chef/owner: Grant van Gameren
Website: barisabel.comCuisine: Spanish
Telephone: 416-532-2222. Twitter:@BarIsabel797
2014 Rank: 2
Price Range: $6-$59; primarily share plates
You Must Order: The Grilled Octopus ($34 for half; $59 for whole).
Need to Know … from Sloan keyboardist Gregory Macdonald: “Still my favourite restaurant in Toronto. Hospitality done right. Knowledgable, friendly staff that makes everyone feel like a VIP. Incredible cocktails. Everyone I’ve taken here has been blown away. And an awesome interior design.”

Slow food advocates David Kirkwood and Sarah Crawford say: “A high-energy scene with an old-world vibe. The flavours are big, expressive and balanced. The casual atmosphere belies the extremely high standards of their ingredients and dishes. The food is in the Spanish idiom, and authentic to a degree, but expressed creatively with the kitchen’s own sensibility. Technique and precise cooking times are apparent. Hipster-looking servers are very well informed on both the food and wine. The place is equally good for a group chow-down of epic proportions, a foodie ‘chef’s choice’ dinner, a seafood-focused menu, or an all-tapas snack-fest.”

Steve Dolinsky of ABC Chicago says: “A taste of Spain, and then some. Expert technique and some of the most pristine ingredients, combined with stellar service.”

Kasey Wilson, host of radio’s “Best of Food and Wine Show,” says: “This evocative grotto decked out in wood and decorative ornamental floor tiling will captivate your senses, whether with the alluring tapas line-up on the plate, or cocktail, microbrew or wine in a glass. ”

Ross Munro of PEI Culinary Adventures says: “Great food, great drinks, great people. Most of all, it’s all on point. Flavours, service, timing. They make it all work; it’s seamless. Grant van Gameren is a master at technique … period.”

MasterChef Canada contestant Mike Green says: “A classic, always on, outrageously good octopus, arguably Canada’s top dog for tapas. I just wish the wine list wasn’t so expensive.”

Food writer Mayssam Samaha says: “A lively and fun bar serving a series of Mediterranean-inspired small dishes.”

5. HAWKSWORTH, Vancouver, British Columbia

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Hawksworth is the place to go for fine dining in Vancouver. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

Chef/owner: David Hawksworth
Website: www.hawksworthrestaurant.com. Cuisine: French, Pacific Northwest
Telephone: 604-673-7000. Twitter:@HawksworthRest
2014 Rank: 6. 2013 Rank: 12. 2012 Rank: 21.
Price Range: $29-$40 for main courses
You Must Order: Butter-Poached Lobster  ($58), with Iberia ham risotto, fennel, spring onion and crispy manchego.
Need to Know … from Lee Man of Vancouver Magazine: “The team at Hawksworth is really getting into its groove. There is a more at-ease feel — but delivered with the same rigour and attention to detail. Chinese and Indian influences find their way onto the menu in an unforced manner, reflecting local ethnic-driven flavours through the prism of French technique.”

Food Bloggers of Canada Managing Director Ethan Adeland says: “After all the accolades over the years and the reputation of chef David Hawksworth, you wonder if the food and experience will live up to the hype. And it most certainly does. From the moment you walk into the Hotel Georgia’s flagship restaurant, everything points to a wonderful meal in your future. From the service to the decor and of course the menu, everything was terrific. The lamb shank entree I had was braised with love for hours and was perfectly fork tender. Deserving of the attention is has received and continues to receive.”

Kasey Wilson, host of radio’s “Best of Food and Wine Show,” says: “A contemporary space that showcases modern art luminaries such as Rodney Graham. The food is equally artful and forward thinking, although well-grounded in classical techniques, offering flights of edible fancy in Hawksworth’s take on haute cuisine.”

Food writer Taryn Hearn says: “Hawksworth takes quality Pacific ingredients and makes very interesting meals. I’ve had both the tasting menu and a a la carte meal. The food was cooked perfectly (I’ve never had such perfect tuna) and delicious. The drink matching was interesting and showcased BC wines. I really liked the cocktail list that respects the history of the Hotel Georgia.”

Steve Dolinsky of ABC Chicago says: “Luxe, to the max. Elegance without pretension, and technical precision without stuffiness. Remarkable presentation that’s not too overwrought.”

6. SPLENDIDO, Toronto, Ontario

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Splendido revamped its menu in 2014 and the results are spectacular. (Renée Suen/Vacay.ca)

Chef/owner: Victor Barry
Website: www.splendido.ca.
Cuisine: Contemporary French and Italian.
Telephone: 416-929-7788. Twitter: @Splendido_TO
2014 Rank: 38. 2013 Rank: 51. 2012 Rank: 14.
Price Range: $39-$45 for main courses; $125 for tasting menu.
You Must Order: Roasted Rack of Lamb ($45)
Need to Know … from Fine-dining aficionado Peter Faist: “Simply the best Canada currently has to offer. After many years of being one of the best restaurants in Toronto (if not the best), Splendido upped its game beginning in the summer of 2014, offering tasting menus only, and focusing on a journey of the Canadian culinary landscape, incorporating various components from several ethnic cuisines representative of Canada. The result is the finest dining Canada has to offer, exceeding 1-star Michelin restaurants in North America, equalling 2-star, and even competing with some 3-star establishments. Victor Barry’s kitchen is now a well-oiled machine, putting out some dazzling and exceptional plates. You would be remissed not to dine here when in Toronto, should the opportunity arise, and a specific trip to Toronto just to dine at Splendido would be recommended.”

Fine-dining aficionado Howard Levitt says: “It is the closest Canada has to a three-star Michelin restaurant. Victory Barry is at the top of his game and inventing brilliant, French- and Asian-inspired tasting menus nightly.”

Vacay.ca Deputy Editor Rod Charles says: ”A sweet culinary journey with several unique and delightful dishes. You will love the tasting menu.”

7. MALLARD COTTAGE, St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador

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The sweet stuff from Mallard Cottage, located in St. John’s historic Quidi Vidi village. (Renée Suen/Vacay.ca)

Chefs/owners: Todd Perrin (chef); Stephen Lee (sommelier)
Website: www.mallardcottage.ca.
Cuisine: Newfoundland
Telephone: 709-237-7314. Twitter: @Mallard_Cottage
2014 Rank: 11
Price Range: $7-$12 for appetizers, $24-$27 for main courses.
You Must Order: If you are not accustomed to ordering duck, then Mallard Cottage is an excellent place to begin a new habit. Get things started with the NL Duck wings ($9). For the main course, try the seared duck breast, braised duck, squash beet, and greens ($27). The duck leg curry, potato, cauliflower and chick peas ($24) is also a good choice.
Need to Know … from food writer Taryn Hearn: “Mallard Cottage isn’t the first restaurant to emphasize Newfoundland ingredients and cooking but it does it well. The food is hearty and filling. It’s Newfoundland home cooking if your grandmother was a chef. I’m always surprised at how the basic meals I grew up with (moose, cod, salmon) can be transformed.”

Fine-dining aficionado Ken Jerrett says: “Interesting, well-prepared dishes in a relaxed Newfoundland setting. Many local food dishes have been updated and upscaled. The wine list, while not as extensive as some of the other restaurants, is mindful of the food accompanying it.”

Peter Neal of Neal Bros. says: “Located in the picturesque tiny village of Quidi Vidi and housed in a National Historic Site (one of the oldest wooden buildings in Canada) is Todd Perrin’s Mallard Cottage. I love his approach to life and food — earnest, honest and simple. He serves what is available and is a proponent for sustainability on many levels. The room is relaxed, rustic and incredibly comfortable and the food is incredible. Ate here twice and loved it!”

Devour! The Food Film Fest Executive Director Michael Howell says: “Todd Perrin has created a definitive Newfoundland eatery. Not complicating plates too much, he reaches across the spectrum for creativity while always putting east coast foods front and centre. Brunch is a must do.”

Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance Executive Director Rebecca LeHeup says: “Love the ambience, service and the homestyle cooking. Awesome execution on a taste-of-place experience.”

8. BUCA, Toronto, Ontario

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Buca on King Street features a sleek interior to go along with its modern Italian cuisine. (Renée Suen/Vacay.ca)

Chef/owner: Rob Gentile
Website: www.buca.caCuisine: Italian.
Telephone: 416-865-1600. Twitter:@bucatoronto
2014 Rank: 7. 2013 Rank: No rank. 2012 Rank: 31.
Price Range: $19-$49 for pasta dishes, entrées and pizzas.
You Must Order: Artisanal Pomodoro e Tartufo Pizza, with truffled burrata cheese and uncinato truffles ($29).
Need to Know from … food and travel writer Gordon Noseworthy: “ Excellent Italian menu with flavourful, beautifully prepared and well-presented food served in a lively, casual setting. Outstanding Italian wine list. Excellent cappuccino. Knowledgable and courteous staff.”

John Placko, Culinary Director of Modern Culinary Academy, says: “There’s no wonder Rob Gentile’s restaurant is always on the top of any ‘best of’ list. The greeting is always very welcoming to this unlikely spot for a restaurant. The homemade offerings of this Italian restaurant goes beyond most. Almost everything is done in-house and it shows. Unique ingredients, simple plating and amazing flavour combinations. The salumi bi Buca is always a winner as is the nodini. The texture of the pastas are incredible as is the pizze. It’s always a tough decision deciding on what to have as all the dishes I’ve eaten here are all amazing.”

2014 Judge and Executive Chef David Hawksworth of Hawksworth says: “Chef’s menus are stuffed full of classics with a killer twist — during my last visit to Toronto I had the pleasure of enjoying a superb ingredient-focused modern Italian meal there and the service is spot on.”

9. BAR RAVAL, Toronto, Ontario

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Bar Raval has been called the most beautiful bar in Toronto. (Renée Suen/Vacay.ca)

Chef/owner: Grant van Gameren
Website: www.thisisbarraval.com. Cuisine: Spanish pintxos
Telephone: N/A. Twitter: @bar_raval
2014 Rank: New entry
Price Range: $2-$68, small plates
You Must Order: Sliced oak-grilled Octopus ($9).
Need to Know … from MasterChef Canada contestant Mike Green: “How they put out such excellent food from such a tiny kitchen, in an even tinier room, is beyond me. Only an absurdly good restaurant could get away with having no chairs and only barrels and benches to eat from (with toothpicks at that), but it all works, this whole eating-shoulder-to-shoulder-with-strangers thing. The cocktails are insanely good too — so balanced yet still boozy, while the grilled cuttlefish dish I shared on my last visit I still think about constantly.”

Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance Executive Director Rebecca LeHeup says: “Great Canadian spin on a Spanish concept. Gorgeous space. Delicious tapas. Unique experience in Toronto.”

10. EDULIS, Toronto, Ontario 

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Edulis sources only in-season products for its ever-changing menu. (Renée Suen/Vacay.ca)

Chefs/owners: Tobey Nemeth and Michael Caballo
Website: edulisrestaurant.com. Cuisine: Spanish
Telephone: 416-703-4222. Twitter: @EdulisToronto
2013 Rank: 19 (did not place in 2014)
Price Range: 5 courses for $65 or 7 courses for $90.
You Must Order: Menu changes regularly; put your hands in the chefs.
Need to Know … from Judge Josh Josephson: “Edulis uses superb ingredients to give diners a highly original and sophisticated take on rustic cuisine. It is one of the most pleasing restaurant experiences in Canada.”

John Placko, Culinary Director of Modern Culinary Academy, says: “This restaurant is worthy of my top score. Not only does it have friendly and efficient service, but the kitchen also accommodated the food allergy of my wife like a pro. The butter is worth going back for. There were numerous refreshments of the bread and butter. The tasting menu was outstanding in terms of contrast in temperatures, textures and techniques. The use of mushrooms is extraordinary. The unique beverage offerings is a nice touch to this spectacular restaurant.”

Slow food advocates David Kirkwood and Sarah Crawford say: “Perfect dining experiences can be one-offs, but at Edulis it’s not unusual to enjoy the happy confluence of warm, personal hospitality, casual but expert service, creative and original cocktails and pairings, and outstanding Spanish-toned dishes. The word ‘seasonal’ has become one of those vague menu-speak words meaning nothing more than somehow relating to the season. Edulis’s five or seven seafood-focused courses are truly of their moment in time within the growing and foraging season — what’s freshest and available on a given day or week. Edulis is a passion project and chefs/owners Michael Caballo and Tobey Nemeth go the distance to source and procure excellent and coveted ingredients. They aim high, take chances and deliver consistently in a most delightful way.”

 


About the Author

Adrian Brijbassi
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Adrian is the editor of Vacay.ca and his articles are frequently syndicated by the Huffington Post and appear in the Globe & Mail. He makes regular appearances on CTV News, TSN Radio and CJSF Radio, talking about travel, sports, creative writing and journalism. A former editor at the Toronto Star and New York Newsday, Adrian has won numerous awards for his travel writing and fiction, and has visited more than 30 countries. He is also a judge for the World’s 50 Best Restaurants and spearheaded the Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada list that debuted in April 2012.

 
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