With the city of Toronto and most of the nation abuzz with excitement as celebrities flock to the city by the plane full to showcase their newest blockbuster flick at the Toronto International Film Festival I thought it would be appropriate to share a few stories of cooking for celebrities.
In the past decade we have had countless people of influence grace us with their presence in our restaurants. Our private rooms have been filled with Indy car driving legends, pop superstars and movie moguls. With Edmonton Oiler Ryan Smyth as a partner at our steakhouse we have hosted more than our fair share of NHL hockey teams.
We were blessed with the privilege of hosting hockey legend, Mark Messier's retirement party where the Tragically Hip turned our dining room into their very own stage and played the most intimate and incredible show I have had the pleasure of enjoying.
We played host to the official EMI after party while the Junos were in town and had our city's most influential movers and shakers rubbing elbows with talent like Nelly Furtado, Alanis Morisette and Alice Cooper. We even had the legend himself, Gene Simmons drop into one of our summer parties.
Former U.S. president, Bill Clinton, joined us for a quick meal prior to a speaking engagement he was in town for. It was quite interesting to have the secret service in the room while he enjoyed a meal. A few months back we even had a former daytime talk show star who had their stomach stapled only to come into the restaurant and order three boxes worth or takeout for back at the hotel room. I guess when you're loaded you don't always have to watch what you eat!
One thing that all celebrities share when they arrive at one of my restaurants is that they all want to eat. After spending years feeding these characters I have come to break them down into a few categories. Here is how I see the different types of celebrity eater.
1) The "I am vegetarian, but I eat fish on Tuesdays and beef and every other Sunday, but it has to be natural beef, oh and I am lactose intolerant, well sometimes milk gives me gas" kind of celebrity -- these ones are a lot of fun. They typically are the type that has five or more modifications to whatever they order, or worse still, decide to make up a dish for the chef to create during a busy dinner service because they can get away with it.
2) The "I am on whatever diet is all the rage in Hollywood" eater -- also a real chef favourite, whether it's Atkins, South Beach, the Zone, or whatever other crazy diet everyone is talking about, we have to figure out how to come up with a dish that is delicious and meets all of their criteria
3) The "Wannabe Celebrities" -- These are the types that call ahead, reserve the private room because they need absolute privacy to dine with us, but then park their oversized limo in front of the restaurant for 30 minutes to build hype, only to parade in the front door with their entourage, expecting the whole room to stop and take notice. Most of the time no one actually even cares they are there.
4) The "A-list Celebrities" -- Unlike the last group, these people actually are a big deal, and usually have the hotel concierge arrange something discreetly, allowing us to arrange for a table where they actually enjoy a meal in peace, without being harassed.
5) The "truly down-to-earth" stars -- These really are my favourite type of celebrities, they tend to be athletes, or come from a much more humble background. They don't want anything special, they aren't worried about their diet, they just want to enjoy a good meal, with good service and be allowed the peace that most everyone has when they go out to eat.
I guess the greatest lesson that I have learned in my years of cooking for celebrities, is that, with few exceptions, they just want to be treated like normal people. As much as they want a great meal, they want to have the opportunity to be left to enjoy it with the company they are with, and not be harassed.
I distinctly remember having everyone's favourite contractor, Mike Holmes, in for dinner a few years back. He had been in town for some home renovation show, doing a speaking engagement and wanted to come in after dinner. Shortly after his meal arrived I set about heading to his table to check on the quality of his food and say "hi."
As I stood at the top of the stairs preparing to make my over to his table I witnessed two tables of guests get up and ask Mr. Holmes if he would join them in a photo op. Being the gracious Canadian he was he politely obliged their request. Our general manager leaned over to me and mentioned that it was the fifth table already to ask to get a picture with him.
It was at that moment that I realized Mr. Holmes didn't need a chef to come down and check on his steak, he just needed a chance to enjoy it. For all of the times in life that we daydream of being a pro-athlete or a movie star, we seldom take the time to appreciate the invasion of privacy that comes with it.
No, I don't envy them, and the life that comes with their chosen career paths. I'll stick to spending my time in the kitchen, on the line, without cameras in my face, catching my every misstep.