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Get to Know a Chef: Johnny Prassoulis, Holy Chuck

Posted by Natalie Chu / December 3, 2012

Johnny PrassoulisNot just another addition to the city's never-ending burger war, midtown favourite Holy Chuck burgers established itself as a serious contender. Only a year-and-a-half in, chef Johnny Prassoulis says he has regulars all over the GTA come in for "quality that's worth the trip." During our recent chat at the restaurant, Prassoulis addresses the whole "half-breed" fiasco and teases about his future plans.

Did you always want to be a chef?

Yes, I've always had it in me since I was a little kid. I've always loved to cook; my mom was a great cook, my grandmother was a fantastic cook, and I'm Greek, so we love to feed people.

What was your most memorable restaurant job?

It was probably when I started off with Michael Bonacini. I did a very brief stint at Auberge du Pommier and then helped work at Steak Frites on Mount Pleasant and Eglinton. There was a lot to be learned there and you really had to produce quality.

Why did you decide to open a burger joint?

I've been in the business, just around the city, as a chef. I've worked at different places and I've always had a love for burgers. It's something that's been around for a long time and I believe will always be around. I saw this craze in burgers and no one was doing it right, except some chefs at home. And then I went around one day and tasted many burgers in the city and I was like, I can do this better.

Johnny PrassoulisWhat are some mistakes that you've made along the way? What about the half-breed fiasco?

I wouldn't say the whole "half-breed" thing was a mistake because it pertained to the burger and made sense for the product. I don't have any regrets because I'm not a racist person. I'm a business man, and I wouldn't be openly racist to a certain ethnic group on my menu. I wouldn't do that and why would anyone else?

Do you see the gourmet burger trend slowing down?

You see a lot less burger places popping up, and a year ago there were a lot more. But I think now people are realizing who actually knows what they're doing and who's just opening up a burger place to jump on the bandwagon. People think burgers are easy, but they are a hard thing to master.

What makes a great burger in your opinion?

Definitely the meat. It's all about technique with how the meat is processed and put onto the plate. You could have an amazing piece of meat in any form, but if you don't know how to cook it properly, you're not going to get the right result.

Who makes your favourite burger in the city?

I've been to maybe eight or nine places, and I found The Stockyards makes a really good butter burger. I go there sometimes for their chicken, and a couple of them come here for our burgers. For an actual grilled burger, there's a place just further down from here called The Monk's Table and they actually make a pretty good one too. I've still been meaning to try Marben's and Nota Bene's burgers.

Johnny PrassoulisHow many burgers do you eat in a typical week?

I try not to eat so many now, but before I would be eating four or five a week. But if you start taking into account the changing menu and the specials, I'm constantly cooking burgers and trying new things, so you could add a couple there.

What do you like on your burger?

I created the "Holy Chuck" because I just love the cheese, the caramelized onions, and the bacon. Now, I switch it up from time to time and maybe put a little ketchup and mayo, but I don't go crazy...though, maybe some foie gras. Bacon on everything and foie on everything!

Is there anything that shouldn't be on a burger?

I hate relish and barbeque sauce on a burger. I think they're very dominant flavours that if used too much, can really take away from the flavour of the meat.

Any expansion plans? What can you tell us about what's next for you and the restaurant?

I'm actually looking for a location right now. I've looked at one in the west end and one north of here. I'm hoping we can open our second place in a few months. I want to be everywhere at some point, but I'm not going to franchise--at least I don't think I will.

I'm also working on a new menu and on January 6 next year, I'm opening on Sundays. A lot of our customers are telling us that they want to come in more often but Sundays are the only day they can. And it'll probably be limited hours, but I'm putting out the new menu then as well, and we'll have items like a blue cheese burger.

Johnny PrassoulisRAPID FIRE QUESTIONS

Most underrated ingredient? Salt

Best culinary tool? Hands

A chef that inspires you? Bourdain and Martin Picard

Favourite Toronto restaurant? Auberge du Pommier

One dish you can't live without? Whole lamb on a spit

Something people would be surprised to find in your fridge? Wonder bread

What's one food trend that needs to end?
Shawarma

For more chef profiles, check out our Toronto Chefs Pinterest board

Photos by Natta Summerky

Discussion

15 Comments

wtf / December 3, 2012 at 09:30 am
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Shawarma is a food trend? Am I missing something here?

Obviously taste is subjective, but I'd take Burger's Priest, Big Smoke or 5 guys over Holy Chuck any day of the week.
Amen to Shawarmas / December 3, 2012 at 09:40 am
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Agreed - Shawarmas need to go away. Unless your a broke college kid or filthy hobo nobody likes them.
Simon Tarses / December 3, 2012 at 09:58 am
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I love shawarma, and I love burgers; I don't see what the two can't coexist at the same time (and maybe even in the same restaurant!)
jj / December 3, 2012 at 11:05 am
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Holy Chuck makes a delicious burger and has enough options to suit the pickiest or the most adventurous eaters. I love it! I never thought i would say this, but more than burgers priest...
Sonia / December 3, 2012 at 11:57 am
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I really enjoyed the jr bacon cheeseburger dressed as a holy chuck, but find the meat pretty salty :S especially when you get a double patty. It's funny because Prassoulis says the most underrated ingredient is salt - LOL. Also isnt it kind of contradictory to say you cant live w out a spit of lamb yet you want shwarma to go away? hmm...
KEVIN replying to a comment from wtf / December 3, 2012 at 01:11 pm
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Dude, i think when you make a comment like Big smoke and 5 guys is better than Holy Chuck, you totally and completely have no clue when it comes to burgers! BP still doesnt compare, but there is some rationale there. Seriously????
RS / December 3, 2012 at 01:35 pm
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This guy claims to not be racist, yet still used a racist term to describe a burger with the rationale it's okay because it's relevant to the burger? And gave a non-apology on top of it?

Asshole. And your burgers are overly greasy and salty. Will continue to avoid.

Hobo replying to a comment from Amen to Shawarmas / December 3, 2012 at 02:42 pm
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It's true. Shawarma's are hobo fuel.
wtf replying to a comment from KEVIN / December 3, 2012 at 03:31 pm
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As I said, taste is subjective. You like Holy Chuck, good for you. I don't. Deal with it.
joel / December 3, 2012 at 03:53 pm
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Don't get takeout. My wife ordered their signature burger, The Holy Chuck. When we got home she was disappointed to find a two carmelized onion slices and one piece of bacon. What a ripoff.
Shane / December 3, 2012 at 06:03 pm
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Have tried Holy Chuck twice now. Each time, it was WAY too salty, and I did not like the copious amounts of GREASE that dripped out and ruined the bun before I could eat it. The fries are too thin and the prices are too high. Needless to say, twice was enough to learn. I know a burger, and this place wasn't anything special.
eltyper / December 3, 2012 at 06:28 pm
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This place is hands down the BEST burger joint in the city! If u actually got offended by the "half breed" burger title... Get a life! It's a name of a burger. He's not making any sort of racial slur towards "half breeds" smh... Take ur insecurities and don't come back. More great burgers for those who appreciate good food!

Ps. BP is not good at all! I've been there 3x to give them a fair shot and all 3x I was disappointed. The burgers are bland and overcooked!
poh / December 3, 2012 at 11:22 pm
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Chef whites...really?
Evan / December 4, 2012 at 12:49 am
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"Most underrated ingredient? Salt"

Funny, because when I went there, I believe I had the saltiest meal of my life. Absolutely WAY too much salt in my burger. I'm not a rabbit, I like to taste the meat. Flavour can only be enhanced by salt so much before the salt becomes the dominant flavour. In my meal here, this was the case.
Mp / February 24, 2013 at 03:52 am
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Overatted... Stick to gyros chuckie...

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