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Seen through the eyes of someone with a great appreciation for clean aesthetic lines, Victor Restaurant and Bar could pose as a stand-in for a movie set evoking a timeless and classic look, featuring the best of functional style, while retaining an open and intimate atmosphere. Opened in September 2006 to much acclaim under the auspices of the Hôtel Le Germain (one of Toronto’s best known boutique establishments), Victor offers diners a canvas of truly Canadian-inspired dishes that highlight the very best that Toronto has to offer.
Under the creative direction of Chef David Chrystian, a well-known and respected force in the Toronto culinary tradition, Victor has earned a reputation for the care and approach taken to serving the freshest Ontario produce in high season, while retaining an appreciation for local stewardship and sustainability. DSM sat down with Chef Chrystian to inquire about his approach and gather some input about what Toronto diners can expect as we kick off the New Year 2010.
With more than ten years of experience steering some of Toronto’s best-known restaurants to success, Chef Chrystian was forthright and frank in describing the vision behind Victor. “We are already well-known because of our location and being at the Germain has given us a lot of visibility to do what we do. We did change the menu recently, and the approach we took in redesigning it was to truly think of the diner and potential first time visitor to Toronto. From this perspective, we thought, if a visitor only had a short time in Canada, they would be expected to visit certain cities and landmarks and using this approach helped me map out what a gastronomic tour of Canada should include, and I really feel this is now reflected in the menu.” He doesn’t mince words. From east coast shellfish to Ontario fruits and vegetables and prime prairie meat – Victor’s menu encompasses a broad ethnic mosaic with a road-show of Canada’s very best.
With a reputation built around a strong sense of moral obligation to stewardship and steering the dining experience towards a greater understanding and awareness of the journey from garden to table, Chef Chrystian has played a valuable role in shaping Victor’s philosophy. “I grew up on a fruit farm in the Niagara area and developed a real appreciation and respect for where food came from by watching and learning what my grandparents (and their ancestors before them) had done in terms of harvesting food, especially with respect to raising fruits and vegetables in season. So this really had me question why as chefs and buyers we were seeing things such as asparagus being readily available 365 days a year.
This was just not something I had seen practiced so I’d begin to question these habits. At the same time, I came to Toronto with an idea about how to preserve some of the traditions I had grown up with and I can tell you that at Victor I do preserve produce in much the same way as my grandparents did. We pickle 600 litres of dill pickles on the premises as well as peas, peaches, beans and asparagus. This is fresh, Ontario produce at its very best and pickling allows us to seal the taste while it is still in season and I infuse these vegetables into most of the dishes on the menu. I use the same approach with meats and poultry and I’m a firm believer in establishing relationships with the people who grow my food. We recently started a chicken tasting event for diners and I worked closely on this concept with Mark Trealout (whose 100-acre property near Lake Simcoe’s eastern shore produces meats that have become some of the city’s most sought-after ingredients, with local chefs clamoring for as much as they can get) who is a tremendous force and a proponent of much of what I believe in as well.”
Inspired by luminaries such as Jamie Kennedy, Michael Stadtlander and Brad Long, Chef Chrystian explained that many of his beliefs follow in the footsteps and best practices laid out by his peers. “It’s the idea of cooking for our country and being part of the momentum right here in Toronto that is really fantastic. When I watch others, especially someone like Brad Long who is a true spokesperson and advocate for this move back to the basics and simplicity, I really feel this sense that we have come full circle in terms of where we came from and where we are now, “ explained Chef Chrystian.
In terms of sustainability, Chef Chrystian pointed out that he would like to see a return to a more grass-roots approach in terms of ‘garden-to-table practices’ in 2010. This would ideally place greater social responsibility on the middle tier in ensuring that Canadian produce is given first priority in terms of the pecking order that drives decision-making in the food industry. “What it boils down to is that the supply chain should really try to stick to the idea that chefs remain in the kitchen to cook and prepare the food and farmers grow the food and remain stewards of the earth. To get produce to the market is the domain of the middleman, and I’m a huge believer in the power of the middleman in shaping this process and ensuring quality produce. Of course, I will serve pears from Chile if it’s absolutely determined that we are out of Niagara and Ontario pear, but my preference is to offer diners fresh produce that doesn’t take a long time to reach the table and that I can vouch for in terms of an established relationship with the farmer. This to me shows a respect for stewardship and accountability to our diners.”
I sat down to sample two dishes from the recently revamped menu that featured the preserved vegetables Chef Chrystian had pickled and stored and was delighted to taste produce garnered from the labour of our local farmers. The first dish on the table was Rhode Island Red Chicken (or Heritage Chicken as it is better known), which is extremely popular with Victor’s diners. Once considered a bird that took too long to rear, Chef Chrystian once again impressed with his desire to resurrect a timeless Ontario classic by purchasing this heirloom non-organic bird from Elora, Ontario-based Mennonite farmers and offering it on
the menu. Served with black trumpet mushrooms, sautéed chickpeas and compressed apple and feta cheese, the small breast was tender, succulent and perfectly garnished, making it perfect for cold wintry days when the palette requires more stimulation.
This was followed by another timeless classic - Bison Tartare with a 'sexy', breaded poached egg served on top. The egg was poached only to a point, to ensure a soft yolk inside and was served with crème fraîche and house-pickled vegetables and French fries. A violet mustard (mustard seed marinated in grape must and residual grapes) gave steam and provided a distinct wine flavor. The trick to infusing the flavour lay in slicing the egg with precision during the first cut, so as to allow the yolk to seep out gently into the bison tartare. The egg was soft and rich and the bison meat blended perfectly resulting in a raw, refined paste reminiscent of the finest kibbeh. In line with other practices, Victor prides itself on relying on naturally-raised chicken, bison, beef and pork and Chef Chrystian commented that these proteins cook much quicker and do not require a lot of preparation to seal in the natural flavours as do the hormone raised variety.
With 2010 under way, Victor will continue with an initiative started last year - Social Dining 52. This four-course meal served in large casserole platters re-creates the tradition of Sunday supper and provides a more relaxed dining experience. Victor will also push through its new menu featuring a daily ‘theme’ centered around dishes to showcase Toronto’s ethnic mosaic by district (eg: think Roncesvalles = Polish; Bloor West Village = Eastern European; Ossington = Portugal, etc.).
On a personal level, Chef Chrystian would like to leverage his experiences by educating others about the gastronomic belief system he grew up with and ensuring Victor remains true to its core values. Other ideas include a cookbook that focuses on what it takes to be successful in the restaurant business and there is also a possibility of starting a Hot Sauce company in the Kawarthas with Mark Trealout’s assistance.
With bookings for Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year celebrations just around the corner (both fall on the same day and the prediction for the year of the Tiger is one of growth), Chef Chrystian reminds DSM readers to book their reservations well in advance. The gloom and doom of 2009 is over and things are expected to pick up full-steam in 2010. “Just looking at how busy we are in preparing our special event schedule for this year, I can tell you that 2010 is going to be a banner year for the Toronto restaurant scene,” said Chef Chrystian. DSM is in full agreement and wishes all its readers a very Happy New Year and a gluttonous 2010!
Victor Restaurant & Bar is located on the first floor of the Hôtel Le Germain.
30 Mercer Street
Bison Tartare topped with Sexy Poached Egg