Get to Know a Chef: Cory Vitiello, The Harbord Room
From a home kitchen to a professional one, chef Cory Vitiello continues to impress a variety of diners with his culinary talent. After developing his craft in one of Toronto's finest, Vitiello now shares his dishes in the Annex's Harbord Room. As the restaurant scene expands, patrons are still eager to see what's next for this chef, though he remains tight-lipped on his upcoming project.
Did you always want to be a chef?
I did. I never really had any other jobs. I started cooking when I was fifteen in Branford, Ontario. I started a little catering company out of my parents' kitchen, and that kind of was the catalyst of my professional cooking career. Through that, I went to the Stratford Chefs School when I was seventeen and eighteen, and moved to Toronto when I was nineteen to apprentice at Scaramouche--and so on and so forth.
Where did you learn to cook?
I would definitely credit most of it to Scaramouche restaurant and Keith Froggett. I think that was probably one of the most professional and respectful kitchens that I've worked in to date. It's just a really solid foundation and backbone of fine cooking.
What's the worst experience you've had working in the restaurant industry?
I worked in a really high-end, busy restaurant in Australia and it was absolutely grueling. It was a full year of working 9 a.m. until 1 a.m. the next morning and living 45 minutes away from the restaurant. It almost broke me after a year of it. It's good to do those things, but looking back, I don't know who in their right mind would ever consider that a good job or a proper experience.
What is your favourite dish to prepare and why?
I like anything with a lot of vegetable components. I don't have one thing in particular, but I prefer to put the emphasis on vegetables as opposed to meats, because there are so many other options and exciting things to do, and more vibrant flavours.
With so many restaurants opening up these days, how do you stay relevant and busy?
You just find something you do well and really stick to it--try and carve out a pocket. Treat your patrons like you would your family and treat your staff in a respectful manner, and just try and create a really positive environment. I think that carries over to the style of service, and your customers pick on that which creates a creates a really good place to hang out. And now, it's not about who's cooking the best food anymore.
Most people go out to restaurants because of the atmosphere. I go back to a restaurant that has great atmosphere, and where I can have a great time and great service, as opposed to going to a restaurant to have amazing food but poor service.
What happened with the Double Deuce Saloon?
We opened it and then sold it about a month after that. We started off wanting to do a food place on Queen and we just found that the bar crowd kind of took over. What we were trying to do with the food wasn't really feasible, and didn't make sense to do in that environment. We made the decision that the space wasn't right for us--we didn't want just a bar.
In line with the recent event you co-hosted, who do you think is Toronto's hottest chef (and why?)
I knew it was going to come back to haunt me at one point. (He had no comment.)
What's next for you and the restaurant?
We've got a second space in the works for mid-October. But that's about all I can say about that.
What do you do for fun?
I enjoy my personal time a lot when I'm off. Being in this environment, going out is just part of your job. Five nights a week you're hosting the parties as opposed to looking for the action, so on my nights off, I'll have an easy night at home by myself, catch up on some reading, some TV shows and just relax. I have family in Brantford and I tend go back there as often as I can and hang out with some of my old friends.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS
Most underrated ingredient? Artichokes
Best culinary tool? Fish slice
Chef that inspires you? Keith Froggett (of Scaramouche)
What's one dish you can't live without? Pasta
Favourite Toronto restaurant? Splendido
What would people be surprised to find in your fridge? There's absolutely nothing in my fridge
One food trend that needs to end? Bacon on everything
For more chef profiles, visit our Toronto Chefs Pinterest board.
Photos by Jesse Milns