Matt Bryan: Stirrin’ & Shakin’ at Bymark

There’s a lot more going on than just making fabulous cocktails and savvy bartender moves.  We sat down with Matt Bryan, head mixologist from Bymark to find out more about the industry, celebs and what it’s like working with Mark.

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When did you know you wanted to work in the restaurant industry?

Since I was a child I was always interested in food and cooking. Originally, I wanted to be a chef. I learned how to cook and bake with my mom and step mom and loved the idea of making something with my hands that would make people happy. I am not sure where the transition into the front of house mentality came into play, but being the centre of attention was right up my alley, being a bartender you get to have that everyday.

What goes into setting the cocktail menus? How often does it change and where do you get your inspirations from?

Seasons are the biggest thing for me.  We usually do big menu changes in spring and fall and make minor adjustments in the summer and winter. So looking at a particular menu change I look at what flavors and ingredients are seasonal and fresh. I pay attention to whats trending in the cocktail scene via liquor, flavors, glassware, techniques etc. I come up with tons of different flavor combinations and cocktail ideas on paper first then test them at the bar. Also, you can’t forget about clientele from place to place. A cocktail that sells out the door at one may be the least favorite at Bymark. I am inspired by all sorts of things. When I travel I find out new flavors and ingredients. Chef Brooke McDougall always has some cool new things to try coming through the kitchen. Sometimes its a new toy like when we got our sous vide set up at Bymark. Lets try sous vide infused cocktails or vacuum sealing orange slices with a Negroni cocktail.

If you could pinch-hit at any other McEwan restaurant, which would you choose and why?

I love going into all the other restaurants and meeting all the people that work for the company. A lot of people that I used to work with at Bymark years back and lots of new faces. But to be honest Bymark is my home, they are all like my family there. I guess if I really had to choose it would be the grocery store just for something different.

Who’s the coolest celeb to belly up to the bar at Bymark?

That’s a tough one. A-Rod and Kate Hudson were in one time they were super chill and very nice. Khal Drogo from Game of Thrones was scary big, but cool dude. Loved his tequila.

What was your first meeting with Mark McEwan like?

Meeting?  Like sit down and talk? Matt Montis and myself had a pretty fun night with Mark at Bar Chef to chat about cocktails and the direction of the cocktail program for the company. It was pretty rad, I was a bit nervous but we ended up just chatting about cocktails and drinking a lot of bourbon which are two things I really enjoy doing so it was great.

If you were at home or at the cottage, what is your “go-to” drink?

If I am at home an old fashioned with American rye preferably Bulleit. If I am at the cottage then beers. I am lazy at the cottage.

If you weren’t a bartender, what would you see yourself doing?

Probably be a ski bum out west somewhere.

What kind of personality does it take to work at Bymark?

Fun, be able to roll with the punches, be able to laugh at yourself, energetic, adaptable.

What is something that not many people know about you

I am addicted to ice cream

~ R A P I D   F I R E   R O U N D ~

Dogs or Cats – cats way easier

Wakeboarding or Snowboarding – snowboarding

Beer or Cocktail – both depends on the time, or back to back or whatever

Summer or Winter – both have there perks

Tacos or Ybor Meat- tacos

Burgers or Sandwiches – isnt a burger just a glorified sandwich?

iPhone or Android – Android

Skateboarding or Rollerblading (lol) – really?

Lights! Camera! Action! Barbados Food, Wine & Rum Festival

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For the past three years we’ve been lucky enough to participate in the Barbados Food, Wine and Rum Festival. It is something we wait for all year.  From stepping off the plane into the warm Bajan sunshine, to unpacking our bags in the beautiful rooms at The Tamarind Hotel and to spending our days working side-by-side in the kitchen at the Pom Marine these are experiences that stay with us throughout the whole year.

We spend our days working with local ingredients, pumping music from our iHome players and drinking Banks Beer.

Each year we tackle something new with our dishes, last year it was making fresh ricotta, this year it was making over 1,000 tortillas from scratch. We are known for the long hours we put in, but also for the way we are able to make friends and tackle obstacles….if there were an award for Team Congeniality, we would win hands down!

Above all else it is a great bonding experience. We meet local Bajan chefs and our favourite ones from the States, and we get to spend time away from the office together. Bymark‘s Executive Chef, Brooke McDougall, Executive Chef Andrew Ellerby from One, McEwan and Fabbrica as well as Mark McEwan and myself spent time conceiving new plans for the year ahead on the beach instead of in the office. We have lunches and dinners together rather than heading our separate ways at the end of the work day, reminiscing and laughing at stories from the night or years past while waiting for swordfish sandwiches from roadside grill.

Chef Mark McEwan, Anne Burrell, Chef Garces, Marcus-Samuelsson, Aaron McCargo, Jr. and others at Barbados Food And Wine & Rum Festival in 2012. File Photo: Barbados Tourism

Chefs Mark McEwan, Anne Burrell, Garces, Marcus-Samuelsson, Aaron McCargo, Jr. and others at Barbados Food And Wine & Rum Festival in 2012. File Photo: Barbados Tourism

Below is a home movie of our trip, it follows our antics inside the kitchen and outside, prepping for Ambrosia, the party at the polo club with 1300 guests as well as what we did on our days off.

We hope to be invited back next year…and we hope you will join us!

Written by,

Jordie McTavish, Executive Chef to Mark McEwan

McEwan Touches Down at Pearson Airport

In 1927, the first in-flight meal was served on Imperial Airways (now British Airways) – a luxury sandwich served between Croyden Airfield in London and Le Bourget in Paris.

Since then, the food/flying relationship has been one of opulence like the 5-star in-flight dining experience of the Mad Men era;  and also one of mediocrity like what most passengers have come to expect from airlines today.

The responsibility to live up to travellers’ tastes has now fallen to the terminals, and Toronto Pearson took a huge step in that direction when they hired us to raise the bar. Reaching back into history, we started with the luxury sandwich. And like the relatively inexpensive 1 shilling/3 p Imperial Air was charging, our sandwiches are affordable for most people. 

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Packing the night before

Every piece of food is hand-made at the McEwan flagship store in the Shops at Don Mills under the careful eye of Executive Chefs Andrew Ellerby, Shen Ousmand and Brooke McDougall. And with 71 items on the menu, it’s quite the operation.

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The assembly line forms around 5 PM with some people on sandwiches, others on salads and others still on fruit cups. The key to keeping it moving, says Ellerby, is preparation. The ‘YYZ Run’ has its own cold storage area (designed by Mark specifically for this partnership) where all the freshly made ingredients, mixes and sauces wait for the airport shift to begin.

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There’s also an elaborate schedule on the wall that looks like hieroglyphics to most people, but seems perfectly clear to everyone on the floor.

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By 1 AM, 700 individual items are prepared, packed and ready to ship. At around 3 AM, they hit the road and they’re on the shelves at YYZ by the time the first bleary-eyed travellers show up.

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“We’re there to up the game of airport food,” says Ellerby. “And we started with upping our game”.  75% of the recipes are brand new, and there’s no shortage of options. The tandoori chicken breast is an early favourite, as is the cous cous salad. (ed. note: We were there during the making of the tuna sandwiches which looks positively scrumptious).

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Got time for a meal?

Traditionally, sit-down airport food has been disappointing at best. Not so anymore at Pearson. A concerted effort has been made to improve the options and we’re proud to be a part of the transformation there as well. We’ve recently done the menus at Fetta panini shop in T1 and soon-to-open Nobel Burger in T3; and that’s just the beginning.

“We’ve been so happy to be able to offer McEwan tastes to a larger audience,” says Jordie McTavish, Executive Assistant to Mark McEwan. “And to be able to finally deliver tasty, fresh food options to travelers from all over the world; that’s pretty special”.

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As the Pearson/McEwan relationship continues to grow, we expect to be sending over 3,000 items across the 401 every morning. And whether you’re heading out of town or arriving after a long flight, the hope is that you leave the airport with a satiated appetite.

Brooke McDougall: The Taste of Bay Street

How long does it take to go from line cook to Top Chef?

Just ask Brooke McDougall.

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It only took McDougall, Executive Chef at Bymark, a handful of years on the line at North 44 to prove his worth as one of the most capable chefs in the city.

He credits his success in part to a background in farm life. Harvesting fresh ingredients from the field had him exploring his passion for cooking by the time he was 20.

As for working with Mark, McDougall echoes a lot of other top chefs in Toronto: “Be efficient.” Preparation for anything and everything is the hallmark of all McEwan kitchens, and McDougall’s approach is no exception.

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Bymark has become a Bay St institution; a delectable go-to for the bustling financial district serving everything from quick lunch breaks to private functions and full-scale corporate events. Its rich brooding ambience perfectly complements McDougall’s luxurious signature dishes like Lamb & Goat Cheese Ravioli, and an exceptional line-up of dry-aged steaks and chops.

Designing his menu requires two distinct approaches:

“The lunch menu is designed for speed. Fresh salad, protein, great sandwiches.”  Since a lot of Bymark customers have to get back to the office in an hour, McDougall takes a “pan to plate” approach to midday fare. Think “Lobster Grilled Cheese”.

The dinner menu is where McDougall and his team have room to exercise more refined tastes. The inspiration itself is a group effort, and sous Chef Andrew Halitski is often present for what McDougall says is, “a lot of trial and error, and a constant review of what’s new and happening out there.” A good introduction to McDougall’s world would be the signature Bymark P.E.I. Burger with brie de meaux and porcini mushrooms.

Brooke McDougall studied culinary arts at George Brown College before being discovered by Mark in 1996. See why he stood out from the crowd, and book a table at Bymark today.