quito toronto

Chef who worked at world's best restaurant opens his own Toronto pop-up

A Toronto chef who has worked at one of the world's best restaurants has come out with his own dazzling Ecuadorian pop-up. 

Quito is the brainchild of Diego Reyes, named for the capital of Ecuador where he was born. He's previously worked at Auberge du Pommier in Toronto, a French restaurant known for their intricate plating of luxurious dishes, and currently works at Italian restaurant Viaggio, where there's a similar elevated style and eye for presentation.

Seeking a next step and a new experience, Reyes applied for an internship at Noma and finally secured a spot after weeks and weeks of sweating it out and wondering.

Denmark's Noma is currently listed at number two in the list of the world's best restaurants, and chef René Redzepi is known for pioneering the cuisine of new Nordic cookery there, earning World's Best Restaurant in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014. Twenty-course menus and unusual ingredients are the norm.

During his internship, Reyes worked the production line, dessert station and entremet station (where three people were required to assemble the restaurant's precious "leaf plate").

Responsibilities included tasks like foraging, collecting ants (a frequent menu item), cleaning moss, compressing radish, making kelp tarts, and cleaning wild duck and king crab. Reyes ended up working for three months in Denmark, and then did a two-month internship at Noma Mexico.

"Noma was a huge part of why I am still cooking and why I would like to have something of my own," Reyes tells blogTO, saying it was working in Mexico that started the wheels turning when it came to what his own country has to offer.

Fast-forward to present day and Reyes has now been the chef de cuisine at Viaggio for two years, and credits his boss Jon Vettraino with giving him the opportunity to branch out enough to create Quito.

"He gave me the freedom to create dishes and try out new things, stuff that we put on the menu and even allowing me to do tasting menus for special occasions," says Reyes.

"When I told him about my plans he offered his restaurant as a spot for me to start my project. What was originally supposed to be a sit-down dinner had to be changed to street-style Ecuadorian food because of the pandemic."

He's been making simple, classic dishes you'd find in Ecuador like a fish stew called ecembollado, fried yucca, charred plantain and scallions with cheese, hornado (braised pork leg) and empanadas. The pandemic has kept the pop-up on its toes.

His second-ever pop-up was pulled off in March 2021, a pickup-only affair of five courses. It came almost a year after the first on June 28, 2020.

"The support I got was enormous and very ecouraging," he says. "I spent the two weeks before that planning and trying out recipes, and prepping, taking orders and advertising it on my @quito.to account while still working full time at Viaggio."

"Having people reach out, people who had never heard of Ecuador, or what its food is, [then] the same people responding well to the food was definitely encouraging."

The $100 five-course pickup menu for two included some usual items like fried yucca and empanadas as well as a traditional beef stew and a braised beef short rib dish.

The next Quito pop-up will be on May 24 in celebration of the Battle of Pichincha, which took place in 1822 on the slopes of a volcano right next to Quito and was instrumental in the liberation of Ecuador. Preorder via Instagram DM.

Lead photo by

Diego Reyes

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