Porcupines. Those are the first things Chef Carl Heinrich made for his family when he was growing up. The little rice-covered meatballs have since inspired him to cook simple and honest foods that bring smiles to the dinner table.
“It’s not about putting this, that and the other on a plate,” he says. “It’s about, ‘How is the customer going to feel when they eat this?’”
It is this level of consideration for the eater, as well as the guidance of his mother (whom he calls his toughest critic), that have shaped Heinrich into the chef he is today.
The 27-year-old B.C. native was the executive chef at Toronto’s Marben before winning the second season of Food Network Canada’s Top Chef Canada. This September, he is set to open Richmond Station, his new, 100-seat restaurant in downtown Toronto, with business partner Ryan Donovan.
Up! chatted with Heinrich over appies, pizza and wine at Calgary’s Cibo restaurant.
In light of the recent ban in California, what’s your take on foie gras?
If I’m going to put a protein on the menu, I won’t buy it until I see the farm. If I want to put bacon on the menu, I buy a pig. I go to the farm and say, “Show me where they live, what they eat, how you feed them and how fast they grow.” I don’t have a problem with foie gras because I’ve been to the farm and seen the process. These are happy ducks. I’ve certainly been to farms where the animals are treated poorly. If you look at the chicken farms where chicken sold at Costco came from, these are not happy chickens.
Is it hard to find time to dine out, given your crazy hours?
You find time. As a chef, you have to eat at other restaurants. You have to read magazines; you have to read cookbooks; you have to see what other people are doing.
You may go to a friend’s restaurant, taste something and think that it’s a great combination of flavours. You’re not going to steal the dish, but you say, “I like the flavour of this and the texture of that and how they work together.”
What are your favourite cities to dine in?
I’ve been all over Canada and have seen a lot of food. I was born in Calgary. I lived in Montreal, Vancouver, Northwest Territories, and I now live in Toronto. Toronto, by far, has the best food in the country.
Whether it’s a 30-seat or a 100-seat restaurant, the quality of food in Toronto is just better than anywhere else in Canada.
If you want French food, Montreal is unbeatable. I had really nice meals at La Salle à Manger and Au Pied de Cochon.
Vancouver is really hyping it up these days—Ensemble, Ensemble Tap and Fable, they’re all doing a great job.
I’m really impressed with Calgary, just going down 17th Avenue and Kensington. There are a lot of good and busy restaurants. That says that people are going out and eating good food.
Gramercy Tavern [in New York City]. Michael Anthony is one of my favourite chefs in the world. His choice of ingredients and cuisine, and the way he combines flavours, is just fantastic. Danny Meyer’s approach to taking care of staff and customers, and Michael Anthony’s palate and creativity make it a home run every time I go.
Any tips for someone who is looking to submit a video for Top Chef Canada?
If you think that you’ve got what it takes to win a few challenges and get to the finale, then do it. It’s easy to take the time and put a video together. It’s worth it for the challenge and the friends you make, even if you leave the competition sooner than you’d like. Everyone comes out of the competition with a better idea of what their type of food and style is.
What style of food can customers expect at Richmond Station?
The food is going to be the same kind I cooked on Top Chef, the same kind I cook at Marben and the same kind I’m known for. You buy your ingredients first, and then decide how they’re going to make their way into the menu. That approach is really dear to my heart.
Follow him on Twitter: @ChefHeinrich.