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The Distillery District in Toronto, Canada is home to one of the best Mexican joints in town: El Catrin. With Executive Chef Olivier Le Calvez in the driver’s seat, El Catrin is bound to impress and keep guests coming back. Here’s how Chef Olivier got his start, and how he found his way to El Catrin.
How did El Catrin get started?
El Catrin started as a new project to replace the Old Boiler House Restaurant. At the beginning, they wanted an Asian Restaurant, but one of the designers from Munge and Lunge told Matt Rosenblatt and John Berman, owners from The Distillery Group, to go for Mexican.
Did you have a hand in its opening, in its design, or with the menu? When did you become executive chef?
I did create all of the dishes on the menu and got involved in the design a bit as well. I arrived from Mexico to open El Catrin in June 2013.
What were you doing before you were at El Catrin?
Before starting at El Catrin, I was Executive Chef at F&B, the restaurant at Hotel Live Aqua, Mexico. Before that, I was a chef at Le Cordon Bleu México for two years. I also worked for Modern Mexican Restaurants as a corporate chef with Richard Sandoval for about a year and a half. Before all of this, I worked as Executive Chef at China Grill, Mexico, for five years. Currently, I’m also a co-owner of Urakan Mezcal in Mexico.
What’s the most popular dish? Most popular cocktail?
The most popular dish is the Tacos Baja: crispy fried cod with a chipotle coleslaw salad on top. The most popular drink is definitely the Tequila Margarita.
From where do you get your inspiration for your creations?
Everything I cook comes from dreams, remembrances of my childhood, and from my family, and also from my wife and my two kids.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a chef?
To be very patient and respectful with the profession, and most of all to be humble – don’t expect to be a chef from day one; be consistent and passionate about food and all that comes with it.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a chef?
A chef again!
Any future plans or dreams for El Catrin? For yourself and your career?
El Catrin is happening all of the time — the idea is to duplicate this (even triple it) in other cities and countries. My own dream and future plan is to open my own restaurant.
What’s your favorite dish on the menu? Favorite cocktail?
My favorite dish is the short rib in mole negro with plantain puree and chayote squash. I don’t drink cocktails, but Mezcal Urakan, 45 proof, if I did.
If you could cook for anyone, living or dead, who would it be? What would you make them and why?
I would love to cook for Paul Bocuse, and I would cook him my best dish: short rib in mole negro. This dish represents my country, my roots, and my blood, and it takes days to prepare — it has more than 27 ingredients and is full of Umami. It will blow anyone’s mind and palate.
What would you have for your last meal? Who would you eat it with?
Tacos al pastor with my wife Andrea and my kids Andres and Olivia.
What are your favorite spots or hidden gems in Toronto?
Rooster Coffee, Bonjours Brioche, Tabülè, and The Distillery District.
What’s the most memorable moment from your career thus far?
Every day is memorable for me. I thank all of the people who believe in me and give me their support — they are still with me in this long trip and share it with me. I had the opportunity to meet Le Chef des Chefs, Alain Ducasse, and I received a thank you note from him. I also had the experience to serve Massimo Bottura, currently one of the best chefs in the world. And of course, the most overwhelming moments have been with the success of El Catrin and being a part of it.
How would you describe El Catrin to a stranger?
El Catrin is a little piece of my country in Toronto. It’s a place full of energy and a great vibe, and, of course, incredible food.
…and a little bit about you!
Tequila or mezcal?
Mexico or Canada?
Breakfast or lunch?