The 9th Annual Grand Cru Culinary Wine Festival will take place from October 31 to November 2, with top chefs showcasing special dinner menus in dazzling homes across the city. Eater caught up with one of the chefs: Benny Cohen of Mideastro Yorkville.
Do you remember the first dish you ever cooked?
Yes, I still cook it every Friday for the last 25 years. It's a Moroccan fish stew and the recipe is about 450 years old.
Did you always want to be a chef?
I spent four years in combat unit like most Israelis after high school; you finish when you're 22 and leave confused. The only two things I was certain of were that everyday there would be a sunrise and a sundown. I travelled a lot and one day I realized I had a comfort zone in the kitchen; I would open my mom's cookbooks instead of playing baseball. I have a degree in business management and marketing, but there is no soul in that; you're just making money. I decided to go with cooking. Big mistake. Huge mistake.
What was your first restaurant job?
I worked for a private catering company in Manhattan before I decided to go to school for cooking. I fell in love with the quality of the food, the history of dishes, the wine pairing. Everything that happens before you even eat.
What's your signature dish?
I don't have one. I will always have Middle Eastern elements in my dishes, the 11 countries around the Mediterranean Sea. I always incorporate five or six countries in each of the dish. I'm trying to educate people and change the perception of Middle Eastern cuisine as only being street food.
Anything you won't cook?
Food trends you hate?
What do you look for in a restaurant experience?
I want to wake up the next day with the flavours of the dinner from the night before still in my mouth.
Favorite restaurant in Toronto?
I have full respect for the chef at Scaramouche. The well updated menus and flavors. I also respect that he has been doing it well for 20 years.
Eater Toronto listed Mideastro Yorkville in their Essential 38 restaurants. Thoughts?
Why 38 restaurants? That's an odd number. It's great.
How do you feel about food critics?
I love them and respect them if they know what they are talking about.
How did you get involved with Grand Cru Culinary Wine Festival?
[Grand Cru founder] Todd Halpern came in for dinner and loved it. He then gave my name to the team who puts on the event.
What can guests expect on your menu for the night?
I heard the host is a meat lover, so the dishes will be meat heavy but a good balance of proteins. Four hors d'oeuvres, six courses in five sessions.
What is the most challenging part of cooking outside your own kitchen?
The fact that I am cooking outside my own kitchen! To be a chef you are a bit of a perfectionist. In your own kitchen each time you cook you reduce the chance for error. Cooking with equipment that you are not familiar with, it's never easy.
If you could dine at one of the various dinners hosted by your counter parts whom would you pick?
Definitely, Chef Daniel Boulud.
What does charity mean to you?
Charity is the only thing that maintains humanity. I have an old soul. Acts of charity bring me back to the days when people still cared about one another. Any chance I get to do charity events I'm happy to take part, free of charge.
Finally, any plans to open your own restaurant in the future?
One day. It would only have four tables, like a private dinner every night. I would also love to develop a high-end Middle Eastern fast food franchise concept.
[Photo Courtesy of Mideastro]
· Grand Cru Culinary Wine Festival [Official]
· Anniversary Alert [-ETOR-]
· Eater 38 List of Essential Restaurants [-ETOR-]