TORONTO - Ivan Reitman's newest project is a departure from his comedic fare — the Canadian filmmaker is branching out into the restaurant business.
He has teamed up with chef Jonathan Waxman of New York's Barbuto to open Montecito, an establishment named for Reitman's production company.
The two are putting the finishing touches on the 280-seat restaurant, steps from TIFF Bell Lightbox and the square that bears Reitman's name in the city's Entertainment District. It's expected to open next month.
"It's like any kind of show. It's like a Broadway show opening," said Reitman in the midst of workers doing construction. "You really wonder, are we really going to get all the sets done by the time we're supposed to open?"
The partners hope the two-storey space, with a 60-seat patio and open kitchen, will be a hub of activity during the Toronto International Film Festival, running Sept. 4-14.
"Even though we're right next door to the festival it's very important for me, though, that this place works not just for two weeks a year but really is focused on the city of Toronto and the thousands of potential patrons in the immediate area who have really no great place to eat on a regular basis," said the director of such films as "Ghostbusters," "Meatballs" and "Six Days Seven Nights."
Reitman and Waxman have known each other for more than 30 years since the director started eating at Michael's restaurant in Santa Monica, Calif., where Waxman was executive chef.
"It was my favourite restaurant when Jonathan was the chef and I said, 'Wow, I've never eaten food like this,'" said Reitman. "What really characterized it was great ingredients done beautifully and simply and he sort of revolutionized what restaurant food could be first in that city and it spread to really a lot of the world."
Added Waxman: "I was really lucky I worked at Chez Panisse and I got that sensibility from (founder) Alice (Waters), respecting the seasons, respecting the farmers, respecting who you work with and being collaborative. ...
"Working with Ivan has been spectacular. His insight is just so great. ... He talks about the lighting, which to me is so critical in a restaurant, or the way the chairs are or how the bars are set up."
Reitman ensured a role for film in the venture — two large screens will show videos of the scene from his Montecito home.
"Yeah, I got to direct," Reitman said with a laugh. "So I created two four-hour programs where there's literally hundreds of images that are active. The water is moving, birds are flying, the flowers are moving. It's like two big windows. The camera doesn't move because when you look out a window the camera's not moving. It's an image and you see the detail."
Waxman and executive chef Matt Robinson plan to feature ingredients from across Canada in an evolving seasonal menu.
"It really is finding the best ingredients and sourcing them," said the New York-based Waxman. "That's part of the fun and people actually come to you, which is amazing. They hear about you and say, 'That person, they used my friend's food' and they bring you something. ... And that's what will probably happen here. Same thing.
"You've got the greatest pigs in the world 45 minutes from here," he added. "And I'm sure the farmers will be so appreciative that we utilize their stuff and be respectful of what they do. Because really they're the key to this picture.
"I was very lucky. I grew up on a farm in Sonoma (California). My grandparents had a farm. I realized it was such a difficult life and you realize the love they put into it and the dedication. I'm just happy to be on the receiving end getting all these wonderful things."
Reitman, who grew up in Toronto after his family came from the former Czechoslovakia when he was four, said he was approached by local restaurateurs Jordan and Tom Bitove from Innov8 Hospitality around the 2010 opening of TIFF Bell Lightbox about the possibility of opening a restaurant, but it took a few years to get off the ground.
Some of Waxman's Toronto-based chef friends, including Susur Lee, Anthony Rose and Lynn Crawford, have offered guidance.
Even though Reitman has lavished attention on the venture, "it's not my full-time job," he said with a laugh. "My company Montecito Picture Company has about 15 projects. There's a few that are very close to now becoming real."
And "Ghostbusters 3"?
"As usual my fingers are crossed. I have an optimistic view that it will happen but probably the beginning of next year," said Reitman.
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