It’s no easy feat to grow a fast-casual restaurant empire in a short number of years, but our next Chef of the Week has helped achieve it.
Allow us to introduce you to Shahir Massoud.
As the Executive Chef and Partner at Levetto, there’s no doubt, Massoud is a busy man. Add in a hosting gig at CBC’s The Goods and an ambassador title at Butterball Canada, and you’ve got yourself a pretty tight schedule, one that may seem daunting, but Massoud’s drive and ambition make his dream work.
Professionally trained at the International Culinary Centre in New York, his appetite for Italian has lead him to head the kitchens of Teatro and Cinq 01, prior to joining Levetto group. Today, Levetto is rapidly expanding, with 7 locations across Ontario.
We had the opportunity to speak with Shahir Massoud about what it takes to run a successful restaurant, why simplicity is king, and the three restaurants everyone has to try before they die.
How did you get your start in the industry?
I walked into L’Unita and asked to work a few shifts to see if I liked it. I fell in love with the kitchen, and subsequently enrolled in culinary school, then began my studies in New York.
How would you describe your culinary style?
Sounds simple, but I try to make food that the average person would crave. It’s easy to get caught up on trends, how the plate looks, originality, etc. but unless the food you create is delicious than ultimately it hasn’t met the most important standard in my opinion. I make simple food that always has balance, contrast, and flavour.
What’s your favourite dish on your current menu and why?
Spaghetti Pomodoro. It’s such a ubiquitous dish, but when done right it shows how a few ingredients can marry together into something so utterly amazing. Fresh pasta, sauced correctly, covered in fresh cheese and basil at the end. Is there anything better? It doesn’t hurt that our version is super affordable as well.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about the restaurant industry?
That it is glamourous. To succeed in the restaurant business you have to work every day and do anything and everything that the business calls for. Sometimes great home cooks or passionate diners think that they should get into the restaurant business, and often times they really shouldn’t!
What’s your go-to meal to cook at home?
My wife’s favourite: Bucatini all’amatriciana
What are three restaurants our readers need to try before they die?
El Nacional, Barcelona
Les Papilles, Paris
What’s one tip our readers should know to up their own game in their kitchens?
Keep it simple, season liberally, and don’t live and die by a particular recipe, per se.
If there was one thing in the restaurant industry you could change, what would it be?
I wish it was easier for back of house staff to make a more decent wage. Some restaurants are trying to abolish tipping in an effort to spread the tips more evenly. I hope we can, as an industry, find a way to remunerate such hard working people in a business with such tight margins.
How do you think Toronto (and/or Canada’s) culinary scene will evolve in the future?
I think we’ll see a return to a high standard of service. I would like to think that industry-wide, we survived the hipster, too-cool-for-school era. There’s nothing wrong with expecting and delivering upon a very high standard of service, from fast-casual businesses to fine dining.
Are there any other chefs that you’d like to see profiled? Let us know in the comment section or tweet us at @ViewtheVibe.