Chef Olivier Le Calvez relocated from Mexico City to Toronto to helm the kitchen at what is now one of the most renowned Mexican restaurants in the city, El Catrin. What makes the restaurant so special besides the mouth-watering authentic cuisine? We caught up with Le Calvez to find out…
Tell us a bit about yourself. What should people know?
I’ve worked in a kitchen since I was 16 years-old. I started as a pastry chef, and, in 1994, I started studying in Club de Industriales in Mexico, which gave me a new turn as a chef de cuisine – the best decision for my upcoming career. I’ve worked in French, Italian, Asian, Mexican, and international cuisine. I was also Chef Instructor at Le Cordon Bleu Mexico. My family is the most important thing to me; my son, who is almost 2 years-old, and my wife are my pulse. Music is my other passion. I always wanted to be a DJ.
What was the food like in your house growing up and what were some of the foods that made you want to become a chef?
Food has always been very important in my family – we went to very good restaurants in France and Mexico. I’ll never forget my grandfather’s pizza, raspberries that we picked ourselves at his garden, my mother’s ratatouille, all types of French cheese, wine, etc. And on the Mexican side, my grandmother’s pozole, guacamole, red rice, mole, and refried beans… I remember I was always helping in the kitchen because I was very curious about the whole process. What can I say? I love to eat.
What made you interested in coming to Toronto and what were some of the dishes you wanted to bring to the city and why?
I wanted to come to Toronto to bring Mexico’s real food and culture, to show Canadians and the whole world what we have to offer as one of the most diverse gastronomy in the world. I wanted to bring dishes like moles, tacos, tortilla soup, sopes, and lots of traditional desserts.
What makes the tapas menu at El Catrin so special, and do you have any tips or must-have items to recommend to guests of the restaurant when it comes to ordering?
It makes a whole new experience in Mexican food tasting: everything is shareable so you can try different dishes. I recommend the tuna ceviche, the mole almendrado, tortilla soup, churros, and tacos gobernador (my favourite).
El Catrin has the largest mezcal and tequila bar in the city with over 120 different labels. What’s your favourite drink and why?
Mezcal because it’s magical, and its flavour takes me home.
When you go back to Mexico to visit, what are some of the foods you are desperate to eat almost immediately?
Pastor tacos, street food like quesadillas and tortas, and chicharron en salsa verde.
Can you give any tips to young chefs who aspire to be as successful as yourself?
To have a lot of patience, be very passionate about what you do, be humble, and never stop learning from everybody.
What are currently some of your favourite restaurants to visit in the world and why?
New York: Gotham Grill, Bernardin, Balthazar.
Toronto: Susur, Gusto, Luma.
France: Paul Bocusse, La Pyramide, Pierre Orsi.
Mexico: Nikos, El Bajio, Pujol, Quintonil, Biko, Tizoncito. All of these bring me back to my childhood and stand in their good service and taste.
What are the biggest challenges and best rewards about what you do?
Every day has a new challenge as everything needs to be on point, and the best reward is to see costumers happy and coming back again and again, no matter their nationality.
Finish this sentence. I love Toronto because…
…it welcomed me and my family with open arms and has let me do my passion with love and show what Mexico has to offer.