In an age when chefs have become entrepreneurs, Chef Romain Avril’s culinary alacrity has been particularly impressive. With his zeal to explore new culinary challenges, and a repertoire cultivated from Loire to London, he has flourished in Toronto’s Colborne Lane, Origin North, La Societe and Lavelle—all completely different kitchens–to become one of the most versatile and exciting chefs to watch in Toronto. We have spotted him at events as Executive Chef of Monogram Canada as well as Nespresso Brand Ambassador. Now he is at the helm of recently launched Neruda Restaurant.
DINE: How did you parlay your experience in France and England to cooking at restaurants in Toronto?
RA: It was difficult, because you have expectations, and high stress environments and demands, and then you come here and the demographics, demands and expectations are different, so you have to adapt and cater to the demands of your audience.
DINE: Your background is in fine dining. How does Toronto compare internationally with other fine dining cities in which you’ve worked?
RA: I think there needs to be more chefs and more restaurants who stick with fine dining, and teach people that it’s ok and they don’t have to feel challenged. I think people are seeing the evolution of fine dining from a celebration, or one time event, to more people wanting it-–because you know Michelin star restaurants are packed all the time.
DINE: Your plating is so artful. What inspires your compositions?
RA: It’s about tastes and about how I feel. It’s based on feelings and emotions. It’s very natural. But, you have to stick with the rules of the moment. I love the spring season because the green colour is beautiful. It’s like the rebirth of nature. But every season is amazing. A lot of chefs don’t like winter because they think they’re going to have to make squash and potatoes for the rest of the season, but there is actually so much in the winter: you use grains and what you preserve from the spring; you just have to look at the whole year as the bigger picture, and so in spring you can pickle and use that in the winter. You have to think about it. In April you have to work for December or January, rather than just using an ingredient as soon as it comes up out of the ground. Each season requires something different. It’s like a completely different job.
DINE: At Lavelle, your style was called “modern French with Asian influences.”
RA: I want to use Canadian produce. Canada has so much to offer. There is so much wild produce. I like Asian or African or South American spice to give more flavour. I steer away from crèmes and butter – I think about how food can be healing. What can ginger or garlic do for you? Or parsley? I use food as medicine—this is how it used to be—but with modern techniques. So I use the classic French base, but I have an open mind to different flavours worldwide.
DINE: What is it about cooking that inspires you?
RA: The novelty and the challenge. I’m excited to paint something new. I imagine where it’s going to take me; and I always think, “let’s do something else.” You have to stay on your toes. There is always something new to create. I’m always researching. I don’t cook just to feed you. I want to share a journey of the food. Something different, where there is a progression. When guests leave, I want them to be able to enjoy talking about their experience.
At Neruda, Chef Avril has, again reinvented himself and enthusiastically delved into local cuisine with the largest open fire grill in the world! His Argentinian inspired-grill, measuring over 7.6 metres long, incorporates three main sections, one for meat, one for seafood and one for vegetables. This style of cooking over hot coals is the most natural way of cooking, and results in the most succulent lamb chops and steaks I’ve tasted in recent memory.
Neruda Restaurant, 1681 Lake Shore Blvd. E., 416-690-7800
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Publisher of DINE and Destinations magazine.