Founding Fathers…Of Toronto Dining

Jamie Kennedy
Jamie Kennedy

Jamie Kennedy has been instrumental in shaping Canada’s culinary landscape. His innovative approach to gastronomy, commitment to sustainable agriculture and advocacy of local food have been unwavering. His first restaurant, the unpretentious Palmerston Bistro, drew instant acclaim. He went on to JK at the ROM, JK at the Gardner, Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar, Gilead Café & Wine Bar and Jamie Kennedy at Windows in Niagara Falls. This profoundly talented chef made humble French fries a beautiful thing. Jamie has helped pioneer ‘farm-to-table’ practices nationwide, and continues to inspire progress in agriculture and gastronomy across Canada. A resident of Prince Edward County, he hosts dinners at his farm in his own style. He is a recipient of the Governor General’s Award in Celebration of the Nation’s Table, and a Member of the Order of Canada.

Michael Stadtlander grew up on the family farm in West Germany. He fell in love with Canada after watching NFB films and the CBC series, Adventures in Rainbow Country, shot in Manitoulin Island (and directed by Al Waxman.) After his mandatory military service as chef and baker in the German Navy, he came to Canada in 1979 to co-chef the opening of Scaramouche with Jamie Kennedy. His own style prevailed wherever he hung his apron, and his regard for the fruits of the land and sea were akin to religion. He became a pioneer and leader of Canada’s farm-to- table movement and opened Eigensinn Farm in Singhampton, Ont., where he continues to share the bounty of his farm at his table with a fanatical following. He is a chef, restaurateur, environmental activist, artist, CM, Member of the Order of Canada and winner of the Governor General’s Award for Leadership.

Franco Prevedello
Franco Prevedello
Franco Prevedello came to Montreal from Italy to work at the Ontario Pavilion in Expo 67. In Toronto, he went on to open Quo Vadis, Biffy, Pronto and Bindi, and introduced us to the joys of pasta. The Ontario Pavilion at Expo 86 in Vancouver invited him to build and manage its restaurant. He returned with renewed sophistication and zeal to build Centro, Splendido, Terra and become part of many joint ventures. Centro ruled, and his cuisine embraced us and kissed us on both cheeks. The Toronto press has dubbed him the Godfather of Italian Cuisine.

Michael Carlevale burst upon the scene in the late ’80s at a time when we were hungry for excitement and glamour. Bostonian, erudite, charming and sophisticated, his career soared from the tiny Carlevales on Avenue Road, to Bersani & Carlevale with partner Joey Bersani, and ultimately to Prego de la Piazza where he introduced Nuovo Cucina. Tucked into the elbow of the Church of the Redeemer, this flower filled terrace was celeb central and for the “see and be scene.” Hollywood doted on Prego. There were legendary parties in Black and Blue, his adjacent steakhouse. Consummate host and impresario, he enriched our lives.

Susur Lee
Susur Lee
In 1978, at 20 years old, Susur Lee left Hong Kong and landed in Toronto. Did he have any inkling that 40 years later he would be one of the most acclaimed chefs in the world? His first restaurant, Lotus, a homespun affair, was followed by the sophisticated Susur. He caught the attention of critics and foodies everywhere with a new Asian cuisine. His enigmatic style of cooking local ingredients, filtered through Asian techniques he learned at the Hong Kong Peninsula Hotel, caused quite a stir and has had major influence across the industry. He has travelled the world as a consultant, appeared on the most respected International Top 50 lists; tied for first place on Iron Chef America and tied for second place on Top Chef: Masters. Today, this internationally renowned chef has five outstanding restaurants: Lee, Luckee, Frings and Lee Kitchen in Toronto, and Tung Lok Heen in Singapore.

Peter Oliver, a Capetown émigré, came to the restaurant business in 1978, opening a small bakery and fish and chip shop. While his culinary focus was varied, he remained consistently style and service centered. Today, his flagships are Auberge du Pommier and Canoe. Since 1993 he’s partnered with classically trained Michael Bonacini to form Oliver & Bonacini—a heavenly match that has propelled the company to more than 15 different restaurants.

John Arena
John Arena
John Arena created Winston’s in the 1960s. It attracted the patronage of the most influential people in the country and, for visiting captains of industry, presidents and royalty it was a mandatory stop. Winston’s was white glove service, red velvet and Chateaubriand. It was referred to in the media as “the daycare centre for the corporate elite.” Out of 23 tables, governments and major corporations permanently booked 14—a coup unequalled in Canada. Arena curated an enviable wine cellar of 30,000 bottles from the world’s most renowned vineyards. Winston’s glory days ended when it was sold in 1992. Arena is the proud founder of the Distinguished Restaurants of North America (DiRoNA) organization.

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