Just as cinema makes use of light and landscape to tell stories, Toronto’s best chefs make magic on the plate by coaxing flavours and spices into a narrative. These chefs share what’s on the menu during this year’s festival, what they love about our city and the food-in-film moments that inspire them.

by Anna Cipollone

Chef Craig Wong

@ Patois

Patois’ take on soul food is fusion cooking at its nest, with chef Craig Wong drawing on his Jamaican-Chinese heritage to craft dishes that combine Cantonese, Caribbean and Portuguese flavours, melded together for an experience that’s truly Toronto. “TIFF is one of the occasions when the city really comes alive,” says Wong, “and you feel a surge of energy and excitement.” The chef ’s breakout star is the award-winning Juicy Jerk Chicken: “It has just the right amount of smoke and spice,” he says. “It’s the ultimate comfort food, and it pairs perfectly with a Red Stripe beer.” Along with a deep respect for his ingredients, Wong incorporates the techniques he picked up during his tenure in Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris and the U.K. Except here there’s a playfulness that’s too rare in fine dining. With coconut- and pineapple-laden cocktails, and classic Jamaican pop like Ting and Kola Champagne, dining and drinking at Patois is like a quick trip to a tropical paradise.

patoistoronto.com

Chef Paula Navarrete

@ Momofuku Kojin

At Kojin, the newest addition to the Momofuku family, chef Paula Navarrete prepares Latin American dishes that pay homage to her Colombian upbringing. This is her spin on a steakhouse—one that honours Ontario meat and local produce, and encourages guests to be jovial amid shareable plates. “Toronto is amazing during the fall,” says Navarrete. “The city is buzzing, the weather is great, and everyone is putting on their best game.” Cooking on the wood fire grill is at Kojin’s core—in fact, its very name is a reference to the Japanese god of the hearth, and many of its popular dishes have touched fire. “I recommend the corn flatbreads,” says Navarrete. “I love our meats and steaks, but the corn flatbreads are a must during TIFF.” A light and fluffy rendition of corn bread, they’re served with different dips and sides, like marinated sardines or butter: “They’re a great start to your meal, or a snack to pair with a nice glass of wine.”

kojin.momofuku.com

Chef Nuit Regular

@ Kiin

The reigning chef of authentic Thai food, Chef Nuit Regular turns her attention to the nearly forgotten royal fare of her home country at her latest restaurant. “Kiin’s food is light and refreshing,” she says, “We put a lot of time and effort into every dish, so it’s an experience like no other.” Inspired by the delicate and intricate nature of traditional Royal Thai cuisine, vibrant shades of canary yellow, periwinkle and crimson create a gourmet’s masterpiece. The Royal Thai platter features four beautiful hand-crafted bites with a rainbow of flavours. “We look forward to TIFF every year,” says Regular, noting that Kiin is close to all the action. “We love the fun energy that’s brought into the restaurant with so many people coming to Toronto from all over the world.” Chef recommends the soft shell crab curry or the short rib beef curry with crispy homemade Thai roti for diehard festival-goers: “The flavours are so intense,” she says. “A perfect way to wake up your senses after being out all day watching films and star gazing.”

kiintoronto.com

Chef Ivana Raca

@ Ufficio

For Italian cuisine that is both light and satisfying, Ufficio’s pescatarian menu diverges from what one might expect in the traditional protein department. With primarily vegetarian dishes, it’s part of a larger trend for Torontonians looking to expand their diets with nourishing, healthful food. “We do a lot of vegan dishes here and we like to accommodate,” says chef Ivana Raca. “We’re huge on that.” The Umbrian Lentil Risotto is served vegetarian or vegan, with vegan butter and cheese that’s prepared in- house, while the Corn Agnolotti with chanterelles, stracciatella cheese and spicy breadcrumbs is the chef ’s go-to when dining in: “It’s my ultimate favourite pasta—I can have it over and over again.” The signature salad remains a permanent fixture on Ufficio’s menu: “The Insalata D’Ivana is our representation of a good salad in Toronto,” says Raca, “People rave about it.” And it’s not surprising why—raw king oyster mushrooms, pickled honey mushrooms thinly shaven, fresh green asparagus with ricotta salata and toasted hazelnuts in a white truffle vinaigrette. Raca is a leading culinary force in the city, having competed on Top Chef Canada, Beat Bobby Flay and Chopped Canada, she now leads a mostly female staff at Ufficio. “I love the fact that the whole city is involved in TIFF,” says Raca, “I’m proud that Toronto has become a place to be. We’ve come a long way.”

ufficiorestaurant.com

Chef Julie Marteleira

@ Leña

One might presume they’ve landed inside an art deco exhibit or palatial train station when they first encounter this lofty dining room housed within the former Simpson’s building (now Saks Fifth Avenue). South American cuisine has its moment here, with both Spanish roots and Italian influences amid interiors draped in geometrical designs, Mexican tiled flooring and plush velvet banquettes that salute the not-so-distant past. An octagonal bar plays focal point in the main dining room—an emblem of a different time. Moviegoers will find the elegant ambience here fitting for dining in advance of a screening, or settling in for conversation surrounding featured films. “Timing is great for the festival as everyone is coming back into the city post-Labour Day,” says chef Julie Marteleira. “It’s the best kick-off to the return of our vibrant city life,” adds the Toronto native, who was raised in Lisbon and spent her childhood in her family’s restaurant kitchen. “Quick bites and a tasty cocktail are the best option before or after a movie,” she says. Shared plates are pleasing to the eye and satisfying to the tastebuds; a hit with small groups or couples looking for a variety of flavours and textures: “I always recommend the Beef Empanadas, the Tuna Crudo and the Charred Calamari.”

lenarestaurante.com

Chef Rob Rossi

@ Giuletta

Drawing on his Italian heritage, chef Rob Rossi cooks classic Italian cuisine in a space that reflects the light yet rich flavours achieved in his dishes. Simplicity is key here, meaning select ingredients and just a few of them at a time are prepared mindfully. Transforming what was once his acclaimed restaurant Bestellen into this adored authentic Italian eatery, Rossi suggests finding a seat at the bar to be entertained by the mystique of the kitchen. “My favourite part of TIFF is that people are out, the city is alive and everyone is dressed with a purpose,” says Rossi. A favourite dish at the moment is the heritage pork chop—the Braciola di Maiale: “It’s a 16 oz Ontario pork chop dusted in toasted fennel and black pepper.” It’s grilled over an open flame, carved to order and served with extra virgin olive oil and cherry mostarda. “It’s a perfect dish because it shares well and tastes incredible,” he says, “and it pairs well with both red and white wines.”

giu.ca

Chef Francis Bermejo

@ Mother Tongue

Find this speakeasy-esque restaurant nestled beneath the Templar Hotel, tucked away like the blind tigers of the prohibition days and coveted just as highly. At Mother Tongue, modern Asian cuisine shines in a dim dining room, with neon signage offering a glowing reminder that we’re situated within a boutique hotel: “get a room.” Chef Francis Bermejo is at the helm of the kitchen, crafting a menu with Filipino, Chinese, Japanese and North American influences that is focused on shareable plates. “During TIFF, we’re able to showcase our diversity, culture and hospitality to people that wouldn’t normally look into Toronto,” says Bermejo. “The best dish to try during TIFF is our duck dumplings.” The perfect dish for those long days and late nights, it’s packed with flavour. “It might be a small dish but it’s rich and delicious,” he says. “We recommend eating the whole dumpling with the sauce in one bite to experience an absolute flavour explosion.”

mothertongue.ca

Chef Donna Dooher

@ Mildred’s Temple Kitchen

Famed for its brunch—the most heavily attended Sunday service in the city—Mildred’s Temple Kitchen invites diners to partake in the spectacle of the open kitchen amid a spacious yet intimate space. Named for the 1945 Joan Crawford film Mildred Pierce, the restaurant echoes the ethos of the title character with bold flavours and a surprising twist or two. It’s quite clear that chef Donna Dooher is a die-hard film buff . “Growing up, I spent many hours watching films by directors who brought wonderful stories to life like Fellini, Bertolucci, and Wertmüller,” she says. “It’s this same energy that I love during TIFF—storytellers descending on Toronto and igniting the imagination of film lovers across the city.” The greatest fuel for full-on festival mode, says the chef, is the duck and waffles. Since moviegoers and festival hoppers require a clockless menu, this dish salutes the classic all-hours diner. “It’s our spin on chicken and waffles: duck confit served on rye flour waffles with blueberry peppercorn chutney and rhubarb gastrique, and topped with a fried duck egg.”

mildreds.ca