Toronto’s Top Chefs: Farm to Table

As a teen, Marben Executive Chef Carl Heinrich caught the cooking bug in the kitchens of Sooke, a small town on Vancouver Island. But, as he tells Sara Waxman, his love affair with beef—and his desire to get back to the land—was steeped in the big city.
DEFINING MOMENT: I started as a dishwasher. When you’re 15 and you’ve got $200 bucks in your jeans, it’s pretty good. I was still in high school and I entered a competition. I worked at the Sooke Harbour House and they helped me train. It was all the high schools on the island, about 12 of us, and I won—it was at that point when I thought, I might as well make a go at this. In 2003, I decided to go to Stratford Chefs School, the best school in Canada. That school was geared toward professionals and students coming in who had already been in the field for a number of years.
BIG APPLE BITES WITH A LITTLE FRENCH EDUCATION ON THE SIDE: After graduating, I went to New York City when I was 19, and I worked at Daniel Boulud’s DB Bistro Moderne from 2005 until 2008. It’s a busy restaurant in the theatre district. It’s fantastic, really spectacular. I left New York to go help Daniel open Lumière in Vancouver. I said to him: okay, I’ll do that for you, then you send me to France. I worked at little bistros in Paris for a time. I moved to Toronto in 2010 and worked at Cowbell, and that really opened my eyes to a brand new style of cooking. We found the products and then made the menu instead of the other way around. We were bringing in whole animals. We reopened Marben in June 2010.
THE BUTCHER, THE BAKER…THE PASTA MAKER: I learned butchery at Cowbell from Ryan Donovan, and also at the Healthy Butcher, just working as an apprentice. It’s a fantastic skill, something that every chef should have. There are lots of menus around the city that will highlight the farm… but Ryan and I decided to make it a little bit more personal. It is really fun. In some cases such as Rob Sarrelly’s gnocchi here, it’s not the farmer who grew the potatoes; it’s the cook who makes it every day. You know Rob spends two hours a day making the dough, baking the Russet potatoes we use, and rolling the gnocchi.
CHEF’S SPECIALS: In all of my salads, I like a little bit of creaminess in there somewhere, and to add a little bit of texture, too. The texture could be walnuts on top and crispy lettuces, thyme and arugula, with a creamy Caesar dressing on the bottom. The beef is marinated with some shallots and some nuts and cherry vinegar. When we bring in that side of beef, we use that whole side. Our famous, if not soon-to-be famous, burger really relies on the quality of beef. Our sirloin is a great representation of what we try to do here with our beef when we get it, so the entire cow is represented in two plates. We take the bones and the trim and use that to make the sauce that’s on the plate. The rest we use for the burger, in the braised meat inside the burger. Vegetables include shallots, rutabaga, parsnips, celery root, I think there’s a little bit of turnip in there. Really full, rustic style. That style is really what we try to highlight on our whole menu. Lamb that tastes like lamb, beef that tastes like beef, parsnips that taste like parsnips, and we spend a lot more time finding the products and a lot less time really trying to fuss it up, to make it taste like something that it’s not. So all that’s on your beef is salt and pepper, and all that’s on those vegetables is a little bit of butter.
COUNTRY BOY AT HEART: I think I have a pretty solid cuisine here with a little more finesse added. And I work with a bigger repertoire of farmers. I really enjoy spending time with the farmers and talking to them about what’s exciting, what’s coming up right now.
THE CONCEPT OF FINE DINING AS EATING FINE FOOD: I think we put a lot of fine dining effort into our food. On every plate, there is a large amount of technique required to make the plates what they are. We get the beef in on Friday and then we spend two days butchering it. That takes a good amount of technique. The charcuterie platter is a good example of what’s trendy in Toronto right now. We don’t have it on our menu because it’s trendy—we have it on our menu because anytime you get in a pig that’s 200 lbs, you’re left with 20 lbs of trim meat to do something with. And with that you make sausage, salami… So we do what we do because the customers appreciate all of that. And there aren’t many dishes on the menu that are more than $20.
CARL’S KITCHEN— You can’t cook well [if you’re unhappy] and you can’t cook well unless you have a good team. Our team is very professional and our kitchen speaks for itself. I don’t cook as much as I used to and I’m focusing on other things. But the team in the kitchen that created the menu, we make all the food together and it’s a farmers’ menu, a team effort. Our owner [Simon Benstead] doesn’t interfere. He definitely tells us what he enjoys and what he doesn’t. Simon is definitely involved in the business, he’s here about 4 or 5 times a week to eat the food and check out the vibe. I couldn’t be happier.
Marben, 488 Wellington Street West, Toronto, (416) 979-1990

Adam Waxman
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Associate Publisher and Executive Editor of DINE and Destinations magazine, and Chief Content Officer of DINE Media Inc.