You might think bringing innovation to one of the world’s longest existing and most well-recognized luxury brands might be difficult, simply because those brands tend to have the budgets and staff to create the practices that others follow.
But one of the first things chef Paul Shewchuk did when he took over the kitchen operations at the Ritz-Carlton, Toronto was to drive new sustainability initiatives, giving the five-star hotel access to produce it hadn’t previously enjoyed.
A rooftop garden, planted with herbs and vegetables, has added to the quality of the Ritz’s culinary program. It includes a drip-irrigation system and its very presence has increased the knowledge of the kitchen staff, who tend to some of the ingredients used in the dishes on the property’s menus.
“Part of the idea was to create an open canvas as a team, to have these things we can pick and then build a program around those ingredients,” Shewchuk says, underscoring the need to always push for staying cutting edge. “The day we stop being a top brand is the day we stop innovating.”
Shewchuk, who is from southern Ontario, joined the Ritz-Carlton, Toronto late in 2018 after spending years at other luxury properties such as Eigensinn Farm, Langdon Hall, and Fairmont hotels. He brings with him knowledge of working at elite hotels and how to manage an immense kitchen operation that covers multiple restaurants, room service, and meetings and banquets.
“I never ever thought in my wildest dreams I would be at the Ritz. It’s one of the best brands in the world and there’s a reason for that. One of the benefits of building a brand that’s known for food and hospitality excellence is that there is a pool of talent you can bring in from other great restaurants in world,” Shewchuk notes, pointing out one of the hallmarks of the Ritz experience — its international talent.
Along with overseeing the property’s culinary operations, Shewchuk also executes the menu of Oliver Glowig, the Italian-based Michelin-starred chef whose recipes are showcased at the Ritz. In addition, Shewchuk and his team have introduced several new offerings that spotlight Ontario’s artisan and heritage farmers. They can be savoured in TOCA, the hotel’s flagship restaurant, or Deq, the inviting patio facing Front Street that has the look of a laid-back pub you might find in Muskoka’s cottage country.
“My sense of food is really about what I have been taught. I’m part of the chefs I’ve worked for,” Shewchuk says. “I’ve learned a lot during my career. One thing is to focus on one menu item in a dish and let that ingredient stand out. You also have to continuously reinvent yourself and when you do that I think it reinvigorates you and pushes you to think about what you’re doing and how you can do it better.”
Elsewhere in Toronto Dining
Clockwork at the Fairmont Royal York: One of Toronto’s oldest hotels celebrated the completion of a multi-year renovation project earlier this summer with the unveiling of a gorgeous lobby-level bar called Clockwork Champagne & Cocktails. A stunning clock towers over the bar and the guest tables surrounding it. Given that the Royal York is among the historic railroad hotels operated by Fairmont, the clock is a fitting symbol to dominate this attractive space that’s often teeming with people.
Once, visitors constantly checked clocks and watches for their departures. Today’s guests can sit and ponder when they might pull themselves away from this inviting spot with decadent food and drinks. Small plates include a lobster roll ($24) and snow crab served with caviar and focaccia ($20).
Madera Cafe: As for something far more humble than an opulent hotel, drop in on blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Maderas Cafe (456 Ossington Street, just north of College Street). The owners source their coffee from a farm they own in their home country, Colombia, and deliver some of the best coffee in Toronto. The Mexican hot chocolate is also divine, with flavours that will remind you of the Mayan Riviera. The cafe only has about eight seats, so expect to take your drink with you as you explore Little Italy to the east or the Ossington Strip to the south.
Gusto 101: Toronto is loaded with Italian restaurants and Gusto 101 is among the most popular, thanks to its location in the bustling King West neighbourhood and a patio that’s among the loveliest in the city. Luckily, the food is a match for the setting, with tasty salads and robust pasta dishes dominating the menu. Be sure to try the Polipo ($21.99), which is grilled octopus served with chimichurri and olive tapenade.
Bar Buca: Just down the road on Portland Street from Gusto 101 is chef Rob Gentile’s casual enterprise for breakfast and brunch lovers. The strapazzate ($12) at Bar Buca is a dish of farm eggs served with burrata. It is an elegant way to start the day.
Gentile was among the 20 chefs featured in the Vacay.ca-produced cookbook, Inspired Cooking, whose proceeds support cancer-care programs across Canada.