Our next Chef of the Week is at the helm of a steakhouse that’s made a name for itself globally.
Allow us to introduce you to Tommy McHugh.
As the Executive Chef at STK, all eyes were on McHugh as he and the team opened the first Canadian location in Toronto’s most affluent neighbourhood at the end of 2016. But for McHugh, the pressure to perform was welcomed – he’s had experience working in some of the world’s most recognized establishments.
After graduating from high school, McHugh studied at George Brown College. His passion for cooking eventually led him to London, England, where he apprenticed at Le Soufflé at the Intercontinental Hotel Park Lane under legendary Chef Peter Kromberg. Afterward, he worked at The Ivy (#8 on the San Pelligrino World’s 50 list), J.Sheekey (#1 fish restaurant in the U.K.), Anton Mosimann’s Belfy Club (HRH Prince Charles royal caterer) and for Joel Robuchon (voted best chef of the 20th century, has most Michelin stars in the world) and Eric Chavot (two star Michelin, regarded as one of the best chefs in the U.K.). But his resume doesn’t stop there, he’s also held senior positions at Toronto restaurants Nota Bene and Splendido.
We had the opportunity to chat with Tommy McHugh about where to find the best Indian food in Toronto, the two brands you need in your kitchen, and his simple go-to at-home meal.
How did you get your start in the industry?
I’m third generation industry, so it was a very natural choice. I was never pressured to be a chef, but I wanted to be one since I was a child. Working in my dad’s cafes gave me an early love of the hospitality industry. The noise, the smells, the bustle, I loved it. After high school, I went to George Brown College, did the one-year program and then flew to London and knocked on the best hotel doors. My first job was at a 5-star hotel on Park Lane, with Chef Peter Kromberg – the man was a legend.
How would you describe your culinary style?
I’m a classically trained chef, with a very strong base in European flavours and execution, but with a contemporary twist. The best of both worlds, if you will.
What’s your favourite dish on your current menu and why?
That’s a hard question to answer; I honestly love everything we’re serving. I may lean towards the Sticky Toffee pudding – it’s the best pudding you will ever have. That’s right, I said it.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about the restaurant industry?
That it is for everyone. This is an extremely serious career and should take years and years of repetition and dedication. The dropout rate for chefs is in the mid 90 percent range. There are way too many people who took shortcuts in their training, hence why there’s a lot of mediocrity out there. The expression “If the job’s too hard, move onto something else’” comes from our industry. “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!”
What’s your go-to meal to cook at home?
A sandwich. I’m not home a lot, and I’ve got a 14-month-old son, so time is important to me. A brilliant sandwich is where it’s at and most chefs will tell you the same. It’s all about a good sandwich.
What are three restaurants our readers need to try before they die?
Moti Mahal on Gerrard Street, right in the heart of little India. My family’s been going there for over 30 years. My last meal would be their butter chicken and naan bread. Anywhere Eric Chavot is cooking, he’s my old mentor in London. He’s opening a new restaurant in Hampton, England this spring; get on a plane and go, you’ll thank me. Finally, any Joel Robuchon restaurant, he really is the king of chefs and the chef of kings. Period.
What’s one tip our readers should know to up their own game in their kitchens?
Food knows if you’re scared, it can smell your fear. You need to go into the kitchen with the same attitude we have here in the kitchen at STK, “Failure is not an option.”
Invest in some good German knives, none of those ridiculously priced knives that cost as much as a mortgage. Wustof knives are my favourite and get a Staub – they are the most versatile cooking pot/pan you will ever get.
How do you think Toronto (and/or Canada’s) culinary scene will evolve in the future?
People who are young and are loving the super laid back vibe will get older, have more money and their tastes will mature. They will want food and service with more depth, which will ebb and flow the tide back to fine dining. It won’t be a full swing back, but it will justify more and more places of weight and class. The issue will be, will there be enough chefs with the classic training to be able to deliver?
Are there any other chefs you’d like to see profiled? Let us know in the comment section or tweet us at @ViewtheVibe.