No one can resist a good platter of barbecue. The tastebud-awakening cuisine is on the top of almost everyone’s list of favourites and while it’s delicious at home, it’s even better when served up by a pro like our next chef of the week.
Allow us to introduce you to Hidde Zomer of the Carbon Bar.
Born and raised in the Netherlands, Chef Hidde started his culinary journey at Nova College Culinary Institue in Haarlem, earning a degree in culinary arts. Afterward, he apprenticed at various Dutch restaurants in and around Amsterdam, including one-Michelin Star restaurant Cristophe and Restaurant de Kas where he worked as a Sous Chef. Later Chef Hidde had the opportunity to work under a chef who had earned a Michel Star in Dutch haute cuisine, Chef Gert Jan Hageman. One of his more notable experiences, Chef Gert Jan Hageman’s restaurant was based in a converted 1920s greenhouse and grew most of its organic produce in the gardens and nearby farms, resulting in a weekly-changing menu. There Chef Hidde was able to learn from great professionals, including an in-house botanist, farmer, sommelier, and Executive Chefs.
Also during that time, stars aligned and Chef Hidde met the love of his life who just so happened to be Canadian. They decided to pack their bags and move to the Great White North in 2006. Although Chef Hidde knew little about the restaurant scene in Toronto, his knowledge grew quickly, earning him spots in kitchens like Niagara Street Cafe (now Edulis), Globe Bistro, Nota Bene, and now the Carbon Bar.
We had the opportunity to speak with Chef Hidde about how he got his start in the industry, why you should always take risks in the kitchen, and why good food is rarely cheap.
How did you get your start in the industry?
My first gig was as a dishwasher at a high‐end Chinese restaurant in my hometown. They did not speak Dutch, and I mostly remember fish and lobsters constantly flying around in the kitchen and getting yelled at by the cooks in Mandarin. It was a fascinating place to start – it was then I became hooked on becoming a Chef and realized cooking food is pretty awesome.
How would you describe your culinary style?
My ability to adapt is part of my specialty. I have worked in various cuisines and traveled to try different cooking styles – from classic French and farm-to-table cooking to Asian and Italian. Over the past several years, I’ve been focusing more on flavours and food cultures of the Americas. I like to look to the true source of a dish and ingredients, and then run with it. I get inspiration from one place and then try to re-create it with my own perspective. Right now, I love a more rustic way of cooking and have a great passion for woodfire cooking – the wood, the ambers, and the smoke. It is unpredictable, yes. You need a good amount of practice and patience to cook on an open fire, but it brings a lot of amazing flavour into the food and on to the table.
What’s your favourite dish on your current menu and why?
Definitely, brisket burnt ends! It has been one of those signature appetizers that explains The Carbon Bar’s DNA and what we do in a nutshell. In Texas barbecue, it’s considered the pearl of the brisket as it’s located on the point of the brisket (thicker part of the muscle) which has a lot of good marbling. And when smoked for 10-12 hours, this part of brisket becomes wonderfully tender and has an explosion of smoky beef flavour.
Our twist on this great dish is that we serve the burnt ends with some refreshing Boston lettuce cups, espresso BBQ sauce, ginger & chili pickled cucumbers, creamy coleslaw, sliced green onions and Anaheim chilies. It’s interactive and allows you or the table to build your own burnt-end lettuce wrap.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about the restaurant industry?
That great talent only comes from certain schools. I’m a strong believer and have found talent in all backgrounds and training methods. Don’t get me wrong, some schools are good at training chefs but in this industry, it takes talent and drive – and that can emerge from anywhere.
What’s your go-to meal to cook at home?
A Sunday Roast seems to be the go-to these days. I have a two-year-old son and I always look forward to Sundays; it’s the day we cook together. I have a lot of fun with the little guy getting involved prepping the vegetables and setting the table.
What are three restaurants our readers need to try before they die?
I would recommend:
- Sushi Kaji (Toronto, Canada)
- Asador Etxebarri (San Sebastián, Spain)
- Any teahouse in the Mustang Valley in Nepal
What’s one tip our readers should know to up their own game in their kitchens?
There is no gain if you never try something new and are not willing to take some risks from time to time. In other words: good food and great dishes often don’t just happen overnight, there is a lot of trial and error. If something goes wrong, then there is something positive that comes from the process. I have referenced my trusty Harold McGee book on food and cooking. It helped me understand why some things go wrong.
If there was one thing in the restaurant industry you could change, what would it be?
In this highly competitive industry, I feel that Chefs are being pressured to drive food cost down and this often results in purchasing a less quality product. Consumers typically want their dinner prices to stay the same or cost less, while still having an exceptional meal. The truth is, good products are more expensive. This is beyond restaurant purchasing; although, it certainly contributes to it. This is an environmental issue and it affects everyone, even the supermarkets. We need to get over the idea that good food is cheap.
How do you think Toronto (and/or Canada’s) culinary scene will evolve in the future?
It has been a very positive experience for me to be part of this city and country for the last decade. I have seen a big culinary boom in the city and other parts of Canada. It’s exciting to be part of that, and it seems hard to keep up with all the new things happening these days. I always wanted to have a time machine to go into the future and see what people would be eating 100 years from now. I can only believe that we will continue to evolve in very positive ways. Toronto has set a lot of great food trends and has put itself on the map as a food destination. It has been nice to see some fine dining coming back to the city, and I believe that a Michelin star rating system will eventually come to Toronto and other Canadian regions in the future.
Are there any other chefs you’d like to see profiled? Let us know in the comment section or tweet us at @ViewtheVibe.