Our next chef of the week is a master of sweets and treats.
Allow us to introduce you to Mark Anthony Cheese.
As the Head Pastry Chef of Ricarda’s, Chef Mark is responsible for all things dessert and delicious. While he’s fairly new to Ricarda’s, he’s been at the helm of the kitchen since December 2016, he’s no stranger to the industry. Chef Mark did most of his training in London, England, where he went to college in Kent, UK and completed an advanced one-year course for pastry at Westminster College.
After working under a variety renowned chefs in France and England, he moved to Canada in the early 90s, which led him to kitchens in Windsor Arms Hotel, Whole Foods, and the Fifth, before landing at Ricarda’s and leading a team of 8 chefs and bakers.
We had the opportunity to talk to Chef Mark Anthony Cheese about what he’d like to see happen in the restaurant industry, the must-try dessert at Ricarda’s, and the one tool every at-home chef should have in their kitchen.
How did you get your start in the industry?
I started my career in the kitchen in London, England in 1984 at one of the first Michelin star restaurants in London, called The Capital (in Knightsbridge). I was lucky to train under two famous chefs, Gary Rhodes and Ryan Turner, who took me on when there wasn’t even any room at the restaurant. They put me in the bistro next door, and I had to prove myself. I was there for one year, and we won best wine bar of the year. In 1986, I left and worked a season in Cannes, France. I was assigned to the culinary kitchen in France, but this is where I really fell in love with the art of making pastry, so I came back to London and worked at a five-star hotel in the pastry department, and then went back to The Capital and became their pastry chef.
I came to Canada in the early 90s, where I worked for a season in Manitou under Chef Jean-Pierre Challet. In 2000, I was part of the re-opening team at Windsor Arms Hotel after it was rebuilt. I moved on to help set up Whole Foods in Yorkville, which was a change of bakery scenery here. After two years, I went to The Fifth, and now I’m at Ricarda’s, where I’m happy to have all the liberties to lead and create wonderful products.
How would you describe your culinary style?
I would describe my style as ‘Contemporary English pastry with a twist’. I like to make desserts that people are somewhat familiar with. I like to play around with classics – like a cheesecake – but present them in a novel way, and do something that our guests can’t do at home. My pastries are never too outlandish, but I still strive to create something that stands out.
What’s your favourite dish on your current menu and why?
Our Milk Chocolate Pavlova is one of my favourite desserts on the menu – I love it, and so do our guests and my team. It’s easy to plate, however complicated to make. The end result is definitely worth the effort. Many restaurants refer to meringues as pavlovas, but that’s incorrect – those are vacherins. A pavlova is a meringue that’s crispy with structure on the outside, and soft and tender on the inside. Our pavlova is made with a warm hazelnut butter cake that is gluten-free, and has hazelnut semi-freddo, passion fruit cream, and lavender financier. It’s visually stunning and delicious on the palate.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about the restaurant industry?
The biggest misconception about the restaurant industry is that people think it’s easy to break into the trade and fast-track to success. It’s not that simple – you can’t simply watch a TV show and become a great chef, there’s a lot of hard work and learning along the way. There’s more to it than just looking the part – it takes time, patience and hard work.
What’s your go-to meal to cook at home?
I have two lovely daughters, and in terms of baking desserts at home, I love making their birthday cakes. Kids are always so appreciative. When it comes to meals, I like making a good bean stew, with either chicken or lamb, but it’s fine without the meat, too. It’s healthy, hearty and comforting – one of my favourite things to make and eat.
What are three restaurants our readers need to try before they die?
1. La Gavroche in London, England. This restaurant has 2 Michelin stars, and some of the best service in the world.
2. Belmond Manoir aux Quat’saisons in Oxfordshire, England. Great service and a beautiful place.
3. Georges Blanc in Vonnas, France. A beautiful place named after the chef, Georges Blanc – he actually opened several houses around his restaurant to create a sort of village.
What’s one tip our readers should know to up their own game in their kitchens?
I bought an All-Clad Stainless Steel Essential Pan from Williams-Sonoma recently, and it is the only pan a cook or chef will ever need. It’s big, it’s thick and it would be next to impossible to burn or mess up any dish you make in it. It’s also very easy to clean.
If there was one thing in the restaurant industry you could change, what would it be?
I’d love to see restaurants last longer and truly make their mark on the city. I find that Toronto’s restaurant industry is too much like a revolving door. It feels like Torontonians get bored too easily, and aren’t willing to give restaurants a chance to develop and really make it. For Toronto to foster an outstanding restaurant community, it needs to have restaurants last a little longer than they currently do. Restaurant owners need to invest more time and have a longer timeframe for their business than just a honeymoon period, before moving on to something different.
How do you think Toronto (and/or Canada’s) culinary scene will evolve in the future?
People from all around the world are bringing new cooking styles and flavours into Canada – and every culture has lots to offer. When I travel, the one thing I do is taste other countries’ cuisines for inspiration and of course, the experience. I think that in Canada, and specifically in Toronto, we’ll start to see shifts in popular international cuisines and new restaurants pop up. The multitude of cultural food options is one of the things I love most about Canada – the chance to experience it all.
I think we’ll also see a shift to healthier desserts, and more of an emphasis on local ingredients. For example: people won’t demand strawberries in the middle of winter. Guests are becoming more educated on the variety of foods, and so they are becoming more wary of what they’re putting in their baskets – and rightfully so.
Are there any other chefs you’d like to see profiled? Let us know in the comment section or tweet us at @ViewtheVibe.