Meet Sam Gelman, the 32-year-old American executive chef of Momofuku Toronto. Compared to his boss, New York star David Chang, Gelman seems to fly under the radar of most Canadian foodies — despite being responsible for one of the most celebrated and buzzed-about restaurant launches in recent memory.
Gelman oversees all the kitchens of the Momofuku Toronto complex, which houses three sleek restaurants and a bar next to the Shangri-La hotel, and rumours have it that the drool-worthy Momofuku Milk Bar is also coming soon.
He's been in the restaurant business since he was in high school, and worked with Chang at Momofuku Ssäm Bar and Momofuku Ko in New York, but is clearly more media-shy than some celebrity-chef types. So we wanted to get to know the Iowa City native a bit better, particularly after some controversial remarks during a panel at the recent Terroir food symposium implied that it's sort of sad that Momofuku, a non-Canadian restaurant empire, should get credit for the best eatery in the town.
Gelman said he was flattered by some gushing praise about Momofuku's Toronto outpost (particularly the fanciest 22-seat Shoto) from some of the country's top food critics, and shot back that the restaurant group proudly employs more than 140 Canadians.
In an interview with The Huffington Post Canada, he also talked about the best food thrills and his favourite Toronto restaurants.
What does 'Canadian' food mean to you?
'Canadian' food means many things and my personal association with it is always developing as I try new restaurants in Toronto. One of my favourite aspects of the Canadian food culture is Canadian whisky. We serve an extensive collection at Momofuku Toronto, and this is something I am continuing to explore.
What is one of the first things you crave to eat when you return to your hometown?
I always crave bratwurst from Iowa City, especially in the summer. They are simple and delicious.
What’s your favourite food to make for yourself at home after a boozy night out?
Carbonara with peas.
What's your favourite poison?
If you could prepare only one last meal, what would it be?
My last meal would be a beef ribeye with pommes puree, peas, brussels sprouts, and corn.
What would be in your emergency "survival pantry"?
Italian and Spanish dry goods staples like anchovies, canned tomatoes and dried pasta would be in my survival pantry.
What is the best restaurant that no one’s ever heard of?
One of my favourite restaurants is Hotel 105 Bar and Grill in Ear Falls, Ont. I wouldn’t say that no one has heard of it, but it is definitely one of my favourites.
What would you be doing if you couldn’t be a chef?
I'd probably be fishing.
What is your favourite cheap food thrill?
My favourite cheap food thrills are street tacos in New York City and fish tacos in National City, Calif.
What is the most memorable food city in the world?
New York City.
Which Canadian restaurants would you recommend?
What is the most unusual and delicious food that you would suggest people try?
'Grilled' is a new chef interview that runs every other week. Who would you like to hear from next? Leave your comments below.
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