On the heels of his new restaurant opening, Vv’s Libby Roach sat down with (Master) Chef Claudio Aprile to get the scoop on his latest project, Copetin, which is set to open in the former Origin space on King East.
You’ve transformed Toronto’s dining scene, since the early Senses days to Colbourne Lane to Origin, especially and notably bringing molecular nods and tapas and pintxos to the forefront and eventually the mainstream of Toronto’s dining scene.
You’re now on season 4 of MasterChef Canada and opening a new restaurant. Can you speak on that journey from Senses to now Copetin?
I think of myself as still a kid- I’m always curious. I think in many ways I still approach my life and food specifically with that curiosity. I’ve told this story a few times that as a kid I would eat the entire apple, the core, the stem, the seeds. That’s stayed with me. I am still very interested in learning new things and taking on new challenges. I’ve been asked many times why I decided to close the original Origin on King. And the answer is really simple. I was bored. I was stuck doing the same thing. I don’t want to look back on my life and have regrets.
There became an intersection of my life as a Chef and a judge on MasterChef Canada. We tell these home cooks to push themselves beyond what they think they’re capable of, and those are really powerful words. And I try to live by that for my entire life. I’ll be really honest with you, I’m really scared. Copetin is a very ambitious project. I’m reunited with Henry Wu, someone I have a lot of respect for, I’ve known him for two decades. There’s a lot riding on this project, but I think I do my best work when I’m under a lot of pressure.
Another MasterChef Canada metaphor there!
Yes, it’s true! I often say MasterChef Canada isn’t a cooking show- it’s a show about life. It’s a metaphor on how to live. To get motivation from people who tell you you’re not good enough, and that’s what sometimes what happens on the show, but also in real life, I think those are actually motivational words. I’m at an interesting place in my life, I’m excited I’m scared and I’m anxious about it, I want to do a good job. I can’t wait to get the kitchen open and start to work with my team.
And do you have a date firmed up for the opening?
We have a window that we think we will be open by, the middle of June. The crew is working around the clock to get it done. I think people will recognize the framework of the space, it’s a 140-year-old building, it survived the great fire of 1902, Andy Warhol used to have parties in the loft up there. So much history! I think it’s going to be the new area, King Street East is going to pop- it’s one of the coolest areas and in the next 5 years it’s going to be totally gentrified.
East side has been having a bit of a moment, gaining momentum as the new ‘it’ part of town, but you opened Colbourne Lane decades ago, seemingly you had a crystal ball!
It all started 41 years ago when I was seven years old. My parents divorced. My mother went out and found me a big brother, from the Big Brothers association. My big brother was Keith, and his neighbour was Biagio, who is the unsung godfather of Toronto restaurants. When I was old enough, I applied to apprentice and went to work at Biagio’s on King by Jarvis and walked by what would be my restaurant (Origin) every single day. I’ve spent a lot of time in that part of the city- there’s something about the King East area that you are surrounded by towers but all this green space too. I can just see my rents going up now as I say this!
The name Copetin was a suggestion from your own mother. How was she an influence on your culinary career?
My mom was a seamstress, she wasn’t in the kitchen often. I remember working at North 44, I was a line cook and I would get home at 1 or 2 am. There would be a plate covered in foil and there would be a protein and some vegetables, but she would make a little face out of the food- the eyeballs were tomatoes, the peppers would be the smile. Whenever I saw that, it made me intensely happy, she made it with a lot of care and love. There’s still so much talk about the lack of gender equality in the kitchen and I believe that mothers, grandmothers- they’ve shaped the culinary world. It’s all women. My grandmother was a chef, my mother was the hardest worker. I have pretty strong feelings about that. I’m quick to correct men who suggest otherwise.
Let’s get the dish on Copetin. More importantly, will there be Spanish Fries?
I’m actually really excited about the Chef’s Counter. A culinary playground. It’s calculated, a blank canvas, it’s going to be very interactive. The diner will be part of the process. It will be tasting menu only at the counter. That area won’t be launched right away, there’s several different tiers that go into this restaurant- the patio, the bar, will have more of a rec room/living room aesthetic, and then the restaurant side. We want to bring back the dining experience, it’s coming back, and people have this appetite for it. It’s going to be unpredictable, a lot of different flavours and cultures.
This is really premature, but any thoughts on expanding Copetin?
My immediate plans are just to be really present and focused in that kitchen and becoming a better chef and exploring the next stage of my culinary path. I have the entrepreneurial spirit but for the moment I’m taking a page out of Eckhart Tolle’s book- to be in the moment and be mindful and not to quantify success by how many locations but by the quality of what you’re doing and the people you’re working with. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a huge achievement to have many locations, and that was my aspiration and it will be again, but the reality is that that was my goal with Origin North, but Origin North was my personal Titanic. I tried, I had great intentions. And it didn’t work out. It had a negative ripple effect. But I learned a lot of lessons. But now my focus is here. I have an uncompromising focus on Copetin.
Look for (Master) Chef Claudio Aprile’s Copetin to open mid-June.
Are you excited for Claudio Aprile’s latest endveaour, Copetin, to open in June? Let us know in the comment section or tweet us at @ViewtheVibe.