Scott Vivian may have done more for Toronto's culinary rep than anyone else in recent years. And, it was all thanks to a few beers.
The chef and owner of Beast, an inventive restaurant on a dark side street in the city's trendy King and Bathurst neighbourhood, downed "a couple of Steam Whistles and then got up the courage" to tell Anthony Bourdain he should film an episode of his TV show in Toronto.
Vivian was cooking for Bourdain while the New York-based TV personality known for No Reservations and The Layover was appearing at Massey Hall in 2010. According to Vivian, "He was telling me that whenever he goes to Vancouver or Montreal, people are 'always talking shit about Toronto.' So, I told him he should come see for himself. I suggested he do his show here because there's so much going on in the culinary scene in the city. And it's not BS. I'm from Montreal, I grew up in the States, I've travelled to a lot of places. What we have here is for real and it's exciting. I thought he should see it."
That's exactly what Bourdain did. He and his crew arrived last year to shoot an episode of The Layover, which hit The Travel Channel and YouTube in December. Since then, North American foodies have been buzzing into Toronto to follow in Bourdain's fork-steps.
A beneficiary of the attention has been Vivian, who Bourdain featured prominently in his Toronto episode. In fact, Bourdain credits Vivian on more than one occasion for convincing him to come to Toronto. Although Bourdain didn't dine at Beast, he endorsed both Vivian's cooking and his taste for food as the two got together for bites around town.
"As a business owner, that's the great thing about all this. I can see the results, because we have so many people coming in from the States saying they want to eat at Beast because they saw Bourdain's show," Vivian said. "We've been packed on a lot of nights with reservations since the episode came out."
It's a good thing Bourdain connected with Vivian, because he is one of the city's chefs whose cuisine demonstrates the diversity of Toronto. At Beast, diners will find homemade kimchi (pickled and spicy cabbage from Korea), gulab jamun (an Indian dessert that consists of fried dough in a syrupy sauce), an Italian-style poutine made with gnocchi instead of French fries, and delicious fried pickles, sliced thin like potato chips. The menu changes often. The food I tried this week was outstanding, served tapas style and priced inexpensively, partly because the location isn't on a main strip that would command high rent. On Wednesdays, diners can enjoy half-price bottles of wine, which include some excellent choices like 2008 Tollgate Red from Niagara-on-the-Lake's Stratus Vineyards ($46, full price) and a 2009 Cesca Vicent Grenache-Cabernet Sauvignon blend from Spain ($56). Vivian was a part-owner of the 9 Church Wine Bar, which made the 2012 Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada Guide, so it shouldn't be a surprise that the Beast wine list is outstanding.
While Beast has been acclaimed in Toronto since its opening in 2010, Bourdain is the one who has brought Vivian's restaurant and others in the city to the attention of a large American audience. Famous for his blunt statements and expletive-laden turns of phrase, Bourdain appeared to genuinely like Canada's largest metropolis. He compared it to Brooklyn and even said at the end of the episode he could see himself living in Toronto. Taken by the tremendous harmony between the ethnicities in the city, Bourdain and the people he interviewed expressed praise for the variety of cuisine available in Toronto and for the range of chefs working in its kitchens.
"They edited out a couple of scenes where you could really tell he was having a good time," Vivian told me on Monday as he took part in a promotional event at Biff's Bistro for the upcoming Terroir Symposium in Toronto.
Visit Vacay.ca to read the rest of the article and learn more about the April 8 Terroir event.