The entertainment district is home to many restaurants but nothing comes close to the area's latest addition, Montecito. Having conquered Hollywood, producer/director extraordinaire Ivan Reitman heads home to add restaurateur to his lengthy list of credits. Teaming up with famed New York City chef Jonathan Waxman, the eatery is described as " combined casual elegance" and will serve up a California inspired menu using fresh Canadian produce.
With the restaurant still in its infancy stage, Ivan shares the concept, his kitchen skills and where all the action will be during TIFF.
What spurred your interest in the hospitality industry?
It came accidentally; I've always been a big 'eater'! The Bitove brothers came to me right after the opening of the Bell Lightbox and wanted to partner up on a project in that area. I didn't pay much attention at the time but when I moved into Festival Tower I realized that there weren't any restaurants catering to my and what I felt were other residents dining needs. We really wanted a place that we could go to on a regular basis, eat, hang out and count on. I later suggested a place like this, we found this location and that's how it got going.
The restaurant is located in Reitman Square, was that choice a no-brainer?
It was a great location and it became available. I knew a lot about the property and it's a bit of a home made tribute to my parents.
How did Chef Waxman get involved?
I first became a fan of Jonathan when he had a restaurant in Santa Monica called Michael's, about 25 years ago. He did something there that I felt was what we needed in Toronto. I know farm-to-table is pretty cliché now but it's really about fresh ingredients. Jonathan helped develop that whole California style where food retains its light taste. One day I called him up and asked him if he would want to open up a place in Toronto. He was thinking of closing up Barbuto in NYC at the time and knew a lot about Toronto and became very interested.
How involved were you in the design and menu building process?
In terms of the design, I recommended the location. I'm very familiar with the area and really pushed for it. I thought it was a great place for us to do what we wanted. It gave us the most flexibility to design and build the vision. The menu was all Jonathan. Most of the dishes are signature dishes that have made him famous. I didn't want the restaurant to be too expensive, I wanted it to be a place that would attract patrons to come back time and time again.
What is your favorite dish on the menu?
I have a lot of them! Jonathan did something great with my mother's 'chicken paprikash' recipe. It's a dish that you don't find often. Our bacon cheeseburger is also the best burger I've ever tasted! I can't get enough of it. There are a lot of regular simple foods on the menu that are really delicious.
Do you do much cooking at home yourself?
I am the chef master of breakfast for my wife and I. I've become very good at eggs, and most importantly I've learned to coordinate. I can get the coffee, toast and eggs all going at once. By the way, the brunch at Montecito is without exaggeration the best brunch you will ever have!
What influences did you draw from your home and the restaurants namesake city?
Montecito is one of the finest climates in the country. It's a vacation town that's only 80 miles from Los Angeles. The idea of simple California cuisine is entirely drawn from there. The light is very special because of where it's located between the water and mountains. I tried to get the best of that in Toronto. When you sit in the main dining room and upstairs bar, there are screens with real video I shot of scenery from Montecito, California.
What new elements do you hope to bring to the Toronto dining scene?
I think that in all the great cities that we hear about or go to, there are restaurants that become famous for real comfort. It's a vibe that gets created between the food, atmosphere and the people that come there. The area that Montecito is located in has become a new dynamic part of Toronto and I hope that we achieve a restaurant the residents deserve to have.
Are there any lessons from the film industry that you applied to this new endeavor?
Movies and restaurants both rely on their patrons/audiences. You have to deliver something good if you expect people to keep coming back. They are both very people based industries – you have to keep you customers happy!
Lastly, the Toronto International Film Festival is around the corner, can we expect anything special at Montecito?
I'm aware of at least three opening movie premiere parties. If we're honest, it's well located; naturally it is going to be a hot bed of action. However, I didn't build it for the two-weeks of action in September, I did it for the people of Toronto year round. It's inevitable because of the area that good things will come out of the festival – and I will definitely be there to usher in the official opening.
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