Summerlicious is an annual summer tradition in Toronto that we look forward to every year since its inception in 2003. This year we were pleased to see Fabbrica picked by BlogTO‘s as one of 20 restaurants to eat at.
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.
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?
At some point we vow to eat a little bit better. Some may try to sneak in an extra veggie at dinner, others may swap their French bread for whole grain, but for the great majority, cooking and eating at home is one of the most challenging tasks to tackle.
I’ve discovered as much as I love to be waited on in a pretty dining room, I also love to experiment with good quality ingredients in the comfort of my own home. And guess what? I’m apparently not alone! Despite countless hours spent in a professional kitchen, even the top chefs from the McEwan Group told me they crave a healthy homemade meal that’s easy to pull together and tastes great. So I sat down with the group of them to get their best tips on preparing healthy home cooked meals.
“A nutritional diet can be achieved by sourcing out the best fresher’s seasonal products, Buy only enough for a day or two, use appropriate cooking methods, (steaming, oven roasting are good options.) Add at least one high fiber component to your meals.” – Chef Shen Ousmand of McEwan
“Take an hour or so out of your week to pre-blanche your favorite vegetables, and portion them in baggies and refrigerate. Then minutes before your next dinner, just poke a few holes in a baggie and plop it into boiling water. No oil, or butter, just flavour!” - Chef Sash Simpson of North 44
“Simplify. Instead of being overly concerned with counting calories or measuring portion sizes, think of your diet in terms of color, variety, and freshness.” - Chef Rob Leclair of Fabbrica
“Let the market dictate your menus. Don’t complicate meal time. Keep it simple and achievable using the freshest and healthiest whole foods that are in season.” - Chef Drew Ellerby of One, McEwan and Fabbrica (Executive Chef)
“Use good quality, unprocessed foods as the basis of your dishes. Fresh, wholesome ingredients have a greater effect on the outcome of your dish and will lead you to create the healthiest options.” - Chef Mark McEwan of The McEwan Group and Head Judge Top Chef Canada
See, there you go! Even the city’s top chefs who are praised for their culinary precision and perfection agree that eating well doesn’t have to be hard work. When you have a premium grocer like McEwan on your side, the challenge merely disappears! Celebrate the way the pros do- by cooking at home using wholesome ingredients that deliver on flavour and nutrition to your family’s table.
ABBEY SHARP, RD
OWNER, ABBEY’S KITCHEN
How long does it take to go from line cook to Top Chef at ONE? We sat down with Matt Beasley to get answers.
What advice would you give to young chefs?
Work in the best kitchen you can as early as you can. It is extremely important to learn how to do things the right way at the beginning of your career.
Where did you grow up?
What are some of the notable lessons you’ve learned working with Mark McEwan?
The importance of making the guest happy is a big one. If we can do it for the guest, we will. I think it is one of the reasons why Chef Mark has such a huge following. I’ve also learned that food doesn’t have to be over complicated in order to be successful. A simple dish with all its components prepared properly can go a long way.
When did you know you wanted to work in the food industry?
I was in University studying criminology. I found that I was spending more time in the kitchen than I was in class or studying. Once the school year was finished I decided I wanted to cook professionally.
What kind of personality does it take to work at One?
I don’t think that there is one particular personality needed to work here. The cooks that have the most success here are the ones that have a good attitude simply want to do what is necessary to succeed in this industry. They come in every day and grind it out on the line, and no matter what is thrown at them, they show up the next day ready to do it all over again.
What was your first meeting with Mark like?
It’s all kind of a blur. To say that I was nervous would be a huge understatement. I remember not wanting to say anything stupid, but I’m pretty sure I just stood there and said “yes chef”.
What is the best part about being a dad?
No matter what happens in my day, at work or otherwise, it all melts away the second I see my daughters face.
What is the most important bit of advice you have ever been given?
My parents always taught me the importance of working hard. Having that drilled into me growing up has helped me so much throughout my career.
If you pinch-hit at any other McEwan restaurant, which one would you choose and why?
It would have to be Bymark. We are really busy at ONE in the summer, but the lunch service at Bymark is legendary. They do huge numbers in a very short period of time, and I often wonder what running that service would be like.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you want to do be doing?
Before I started cooking, all I wanted to do was be a police officer like my dad. I love what I do, and couldn’t imagine doing anything else, but my dad has saved lives. No matter how good my food is, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to top what my dad did during his time on the force.
Are you a fan of the hit Food Network TV show, Top Chef Canada? Do you list Bymark, Fabbrica, North 44, and One among some of your favourite restaurants in town? Do you consult Great Food at Home and Rustic Italian cookbooks to determine your week’s meals? Well, if you’re interested in digging deep into the mind behind all of these tasty endeavours, then we’ve got some exciting news for you.
On May 6th Food and Nutrition expert, Abbey Sharp of Abbey’s Kitchen will be hosting an exclusive evening with Chef Mark McEwan. Only 30 of the most dedicated foodies will be invited to join Mark as he takes guests on intimate tasting tours of his McEwan store at the Shops at Don Mills.
Much like last year’s #McEwanAllAccess 1.0 and 2.0, the party will be simultaneously happening on site and online. Abbey Sharp will be curating some intriguing conversations before, during and after the event so keep your eyes on Social Media for full access to the festivities.
So what can you expect as a guest of #McEwanAllAccess? Arrive in style with the help of a $15 Hailo credit. Go ahead and pose for a few Instagram shots with Mark or take photos of your favourite food finds. The rest of the evening will involve tasting your way through Mark’s gourmet store all the while chatting up a storm in one-on-ones with the man himself. All guests leave with a swag bag of goodies valued at over $45!
As described by Mark himself, “We have come a long way from our opening five years ago. Everyday I get to see how the store continually transforms and it’s a great time to give our guests a glimpse into what our team does everyday. Executive Chef Shen will be on hand creating one of our favourite recipes, and we will walk through the different departments sampling the best that we have to offer, from PEI beef, to east coast oysters, to McEwan’s Own Ice Pressed Olive Oil and such. I look forward to welcoming everyone.”
Start off with fresh bread & McEwan Extra Virgin Olive Oil from the Bakery, moving naturally onto Itaca Prosciutto and Parmigiano Reggiano in the Deli and Cheese departments. Next, you can learn to shuck oysters and taste Mark’s favourite PEI Grass-Fed beef before wandering over to the catering department for more. Here you’ll find cute canapés like Lobster Tacos, Mini Grilled Cheese, and Curry Chicken Salad, as well as Executive Chef Shen whipping up Fabbrica’s famed Gnocchi. Finish off a fabulous night with VON Doughnuts and French Macarons, all the while sipping on Vineland Estates wine and Beau’s All Natural Beer.
Will you be one of our 30 invited guests? Just copy, paste and tweet the following, and then keep an eye out for a potential invite and instructions:
I want to get social with @Chef_MarkMcEwan at @McEwanFoods for #McEwanAllAccess
Space is very limited, so of those who tweet, only a handful will be notified each week with more details and instructions. Our previous #McEwanAllAccess events sold out instantly upon invites being distributed so be sure to let @AbbeysKitchen know how much you really want to come! Looking forward to chatting, sipping, eating and tweeting on May 6th with Mark and 30 of you!
- May 6, 2014 :: 7 pm – 9 pm
- McEwan at 38 Karl Fraser Rd
- $60 per person inclusive of all drinks, food, swag bag, taxes and gratuities (LIMITED SPACE)
- There will be only one ticket available for those selected with no plus 1 option
- Event format will be food stations with beer and wine
- Tweets, pictures and great conversation are encouraged
Claire Hall, a name you will be hearing a lot more of in the future if you haven’t already!
The 31 year old is a Burlington, Ontario native and is on the forefront of the custom art scene in Toronto. She is young, talented, outgoing and does not stick to one genre of art, which made her an easy pick for Mark McEwan when he wanted to commission someone to make his vision a reality while undertaking renovations at Bymark.
When Mark McEwan approached Claire about having some solid wooden blocks painted in a pop art format, Claire came to the restaurant armed with her mock ups and to everyone’s surprise, Mark replied- “that is better than I could’ve imagined”. We all know Mark as a tough judge, so with this exclamation, everyone in the room was blown away. Within mere minutes he also hired her to paint the slatted wall in the east side of the lounge.
The wooden cubes, in their original form have been a fixture at the Bymark bar since it’s opening 11 years ago. Yabu Pushelberg’s design choice of using the architectural pieces was to soften the space and bring in natural elements to the downtown core’s concrete jungle. But as we know, Mark tends to push the envelope when it comes to his artistic vision. With the rest of the restaurant getting a face-lift, a custom paint job on the cubes, which many may have walked past without noticing before, gave him the opportunity to bring a brightness to the space.
“Some people will love them and some will think I am crazy, but it is art and it is meant to provoke a conversation,” says Mark.
You can spend years searching for a piece that you have envisioned or you can have it created to your specifications and that is exactly what he did.
For more information about Claire Hall, please visit her website and make your décor decisions easy ones!
Winterlicious is an annual gastro tradition that we look forward to every year since its inception in 2003. This year we were pleased to see Bymark ranked among blogTO’s top Winterlicious restaurants and still remains a crowd favourite.
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.
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!
Jordie McTavish, Executive Chef to Mark McEwan
In today’s world of celebrity chefs and food porn, restaurant GMs are often overlooked. But here’s how a restaurant operates when it’s being poorly managed:
“In March of 2002, Bymark had only been open about 6 months and there had already been a complete change in the staff and management team. Very few of the initial staff hired remained on. The joke was that if you were called into private room 3, it meant you were being fired. Even those of us with a lot of experience were nervous on a daily basis coming into work. No one was comfortable. No one was relaxed. Everyone was scared.”
A lot’s changed since then, and much of Bymark’s transformation has to with Darlien Scott, who started as a server and is now the GM of the Financial District’s most respected spots.
What makes Darlien such a rock-star GM is that she’s never forgotten where she came from. She’s worked in chain restaurants and supper-clubs. She’s worked in Toronto, Vancouver and Whistler. And what she’s learned through it all is to lead by example and treat people fairly.
“It’s important to acknowledge a job well done, but it’s equally important to let someone know when they’re falling short. You have to be assertive but not aggressive; and you should never let anything go to your head no matter how much power you think you have.”
A Dee in the Life of Bymark
Darlien gets to work around 11 am and does a quick walk-around to see what the day has in store (reservations, orders, etc). Then the lunch rush starts, and like a good leader, she’s out on the floor with her staff, assisting where she can. “I’m a very hands-on manager,” she says. “I think that’s how I alleviate tension and avoid the kind of work environment that was present back when I started. I show my support and my people know I have their backs.”
She also makes a point to chat up the regulars when they’re there. “Entertaining, hilarious characters” she says of them. “They come here to celebrate, and they come here when times are tough, to feel better when the markets are rough.”
After lunch, Darlien uses the ‘down time’ to deal with staffing, inventory, event planning, maintenance and whatever else is going on. Then the dinner rush begins and she’s back on the floor helping out, chatting up guests and making sure everything’s running smoothly. Most of her days are 10 hours long; some are 16, but they’re all fantastic.
The GM/Chef Dynamic
“Chef Brooke is a pro at engineering the menu, but I’ll always let him know if an item is well received or not. There was a veal schnitzel on the menu a while back that I noticed was being consistently modified by guests into a veal parm. I told Brooke and the menu was changed.” This kind of fluid relationship is a big reason why the food at Bymark is always on trend and why the operation runs like a well-oiled machine.
At the same time, Darlien’s there for Brooke when he needs help. She stays close to him when he’s getting slammed, acting as the buffer between the kitchen and servers so Brooke only has to go to her with issues or problems. “The atmosphere can get pretty heated and intense at times, but we make it work. And we’ll always debrief over a beer and glass of wine when it’s done.”
The pulse of the place
For a GM, there’s no front of the house or back of the house. Darlien’s responsible for the entire house and everyone that comes in and out, whether they’re guests, staff, delivery guys, reps or anyone else.
“The best part of being a GM is the variety of roles” she says. “I love working with people, managing them, mentoring our staff. Restaurant employees are for the most part entertaining, humorous and varied.” There are several sales reps, event planners and customers that have become friends outside of the restaurant over the years.
“I also really enjoy the planning and executing of events and making guests more than happy with the end result. It’s really nice to know you’ve made someone’s event a stress free planning process.”
No matter who you are or why you’re there, the great leadership from Brooke and Darlien (and of course, Mark) mean that the entire experience at Bymark is extraordinary, and it shows. Book your table here.