[Photo: Meghan Richardson]
With the (slow) start of spring comes a fresh batch of restaurant openings so Eater checked in with chef Matt Blondin to take a trip down memory lane and find out more about the launch of JUNK, the cities' newest snack bar. In the process, Blondin reveals why he loves an open kitchen, the food he refuses to cook, where he likes to eat out, the worst kind of diner, and how he got involved in the Buy Art Not Kids fundraiser being held on April 4th.
First meal you remember cooking?
In grade 6, I remember cooking "Scallops À La Madame" from Jehane Benoit's Encyclopedia of French Canadian Cooking for my classmates. My mother helped me set it up, and I did the whole thing on one of those portable hot plates. Of course, back then I used frozen bay scallops, but the craftsmanship was still there: Each scallop was wrapped with bacon, skewered, seared, and eaten with crispy bread. This was done in class, in front of everyone. I think that's what started my love of open kitchens.
What was your first restaurant job?
First restaurant job was at a Pat & Mario's in Sudbury, Ont. I actually worked as a food runner. My first kitchen job however was at a Red Lobster. Those were the days. I loved that job.
What does it take to work in your kitchen?
Just a good attitude overall, I guess. Obviously a good set of basic skills, a sense of right and wrong, a dedication to always be better, a respect for the products, a vivid imagination, and a willingness to always be pushing the envelope. Granted nothing will ever be perfect, but we should always aim to be better each day.
What do you never leave the grocery store without?
Groceries haha. I don't know. Aloe juice probably.
What is your favorite condiment?
Probably white trash mayonnaise, Hellmann's. On fries, burgers, hotdogs, etc. Filthy!
Wine or beer?
Beer, usually. I enjoy wines, but if I'm reaching for something first, it's definitely a cold one.
Anything you won't cook?
Blue Shark, Mako Shark, Porbeagle Shark, White Shark: Any shark. Bottom line.
Favourite spots to dine in the city?
I don't really go out that much. I like to cook at home. I've spent many years working over dinner services and missed out on dinners at home with loved ones, so I'm trying to make up for that before the madness starts back up. However, when I do go out I usually have some favorite local spots: Foxley, Khao San Road, The Grove, Buca, Origin, Brock Sandwich, Woodlot, Yours Truly, The Whippoorwill, amongst others.
Biggest pet peeve when you are eating out?
Loud-mouth, shit-talking people who think they know it all, and find it okay to degrade service staff, and re-arrange menu items to their liking. Marco Pierre White said it best, "90-95% of people are appreciative, but you have that other 5% who are incredibly rude, obnoxious, click their fingers, arrive late… and I don't want those people in my house. If I came to your house, to a dinner party, and I was rude, I was obnoxious, I was late, would you tolerate me? You would ask me to leave."
Anything new you can reveal about the upcoming JUNK snack bar to our readers?
I will announce the location shortly. I am currently managing the kitchen operations of a new restaurant opening April 1st, and then I will shift my focus towards JUNK once this first project has lifted off. Expect some big news by June. One thing I can definitely tell you is that it will NOT serve junk food. The name "JUNK" is a reference to the restaurant's physical space. I will let you ponder on that one…
Are you heavily involved in everything from menu to décor?
Of course, as a creative and artistic person I like to be involved on all fronts. I expect the same from my partners. We all feed off each other's drive and creativity. That's what makes a great team after all.
Describe your cooking style in 3 words.
My Own Style.
Can you tell us a little bit about Buy Art Not Kids and how you got involved?
It's a charity that raises awareness about child sex trafficking. I got involved through a business partner of mine who is a main member of the auction. She asked me to collaborate and my idea was to auction off a dinner at the artist's (Cesan d'Ornellas Levine) house. I don't have a menu set yet; Cesan and I will have to discuss before I decide what to cook, but I will be cooking for 6-8 people. — Hana Hussein