Friday, October 5, 2012

THE ONLY THING MORE WELL-KNOWN THAN CHEF CORY VITIELLO'S FAMED BURGER IS, WELL, HIM.  His handsome mug has become a social-scene mainstay and his love life is nearly as juicy as his work in the kitchen. Typing his name into Google elicits the results of your average Hollywood dreamboat, auto-completing "Cory Vitiello gay", "Cory Vitiello girlfriend", "Cory Vitiello age" - He's not, there isn't one, and he'll never tell.

(What I can tell you is that he's a 6'8", Swedish-Italian lug who calls a Pepto Bismal-pink restaurant home: 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. And there's just something about him that makes me write like a TMZ reporter. These things can't be helped.)

Most recently he (finally!) made his way onto television with fellow "bad boy princes" of the culinary world, Anton Potvin and Bradley Denton in a pilot they filmed for the Cooking Channel. It's called Pop Up Gourmet and it might become a series. He was also named one of Toronto's Most Stylish, though I have to wonder who they're talking about. The Cory I know is always in a T-shirt/apron combo, sweating at the pass over a pot of something. (I'm not complaining.)

He says he finds it "fun" to be included on lists and to be able to step out of the kitchen "for playtime", but ultimately he's more comfortable cooking.

I visited Cory at The Harbord Room, critical darling and Restaurant Row go-to since 2008; he co-owns it. He whipped up a new dish, which will appear on the menu starting now, and we chatted for a while about egos and brands, his approach to food, the fall of good customer service, and dating in the spotlight. Read below, if you can get past this:

When Cory started cooking 12 years ago, it was a different industry. "There wasn't this spotlight on it. The Food Network wasn't the same, there were no food blogs, the media covered a fraction of it. When you add all that, it makes cooking look really glamorous, and it's the furthest thing from it. It's hard work, it's scrubbing grease and peeling potatoes. And those things will never change."

But he says the Top Chef-ization of the restaurant industry has, in some ways, created a monster. "There's a level of entitlement among new cooks these days, having not gone through the rigour, or put the work in. This idea that 'I've been cooking for two years, I should be a chef, I should be doing TV shows and magazines and newspapers.' And that stuff needs to be earned. This entire restaurant was built on failure. Any really good idea comes out of flaws, hard work. And most come out of accidents." And to this day, even with all his success, Cory says he's no "clipboard chef." He works a different station every day, and likes it that way.

When I ask how much the success of the restaurant relies on his pubic persona, he only squirms a little, "Everything's part of the brand. We're a personality, character-driven place. We're still very much a neighbourhood restaurant so people expect to see us when they get here. I mean, you don't go to Terroni because Johnny's behind the bar or so-and-so's in the kitchen. I go once a week, every week, and order the garganelli because it's exactly the same every single time. It's an institution.

If probed about the level of competition in the city he mumbles something about "eye gouging", but notes that the market seems to bear a glut of new restaurants every month, "There's no chef out there who's content being a linecook for the rest of their lives. But you can get a piece of this city. You don't need millions of dollars. You need a little bit of money and a lot of hard work." He says there's a positive side to new competition cropping-up, seemingly, every week, "It pushes every other restaurant to step up their game. No more complacency. Diners are savvy, they know what's good. And they'll gravitate towards the ones who offer good value. There's a lot of ego in Toronto restaurants right now, in general. 'This is how we do things, either you like it or fuck off', and that's not sustainable. The take it or leave it attitude isn't gonna work. Dinner is the experience now. It's not grabbing dinner and then going out. It is the event."

Not so, at home. Cory tends to blow his load in the restaurant and relies on a more utilitarian approach when he's on his own, "If it can't be done in 15 minutes in one pan, I won't do it." At Harbord he says their menu is a little mismatched and self-serving. At first-blush it might even seem out of focus, with Mexican, Italian, and even Japanese influences, "We do dishes we love at this exact moment and when we fall out of love with them, they go." A small restaurant allows them the luxury of changing everything over night, if they want. Which begs the question: Does he daydream of taking down walls and expanding? "No, I wouldn't want to expand this. I mean, if you start fucking with it..." the notion visibly worries him, "You know, it is what it is because of what it is: 32 seats."

Life has been good to Cory. Reviews have been solid and the restaurant is bananas-busy every day. But like many chefs, Cory gets painted with the "bad boy" brush all too often. "I'm a fucking saint!" he says, "But whenever chefs step out of the kitchen, there's a light that's shone on us. It's no surprise. When we finish work at 1:00am on a Tuesday, we wanna go out. And nothing good ever happens at 1:00am on a Tuesday."

Summer harvest menus are coming to an end soon, so we need some warm, rib-sticking staples on the menu and this is one of the ideas we're throwing around. A quintessential fall dish; the base is a chestnut and andouille sauce, with braised kale, cranberry beans, some crispy braised pork cheek, seared scallops, and, to cut through the richness, some pickled okra and onions on top as well as some crispy kale. It adds some textural and acidic contrast to the dish. (Editor's Note: Yum.)


(Photographed on October 4, 2012 on location at The Harbord Room. Façade illustration by Paul Dotey.)


  1. I'm just having a lot of feelings about this whole post.

    And that bit about bacon can get an "AMEN."

  2. Oh Jason, I love this blog. It's like a sweet, voluptuous pastry--for your eyes. (I almost feel guilty reading it.) Such a delight!


    Your newest fan.

  3. Good read! I need to go eat food here.

  4. Holy shit. Had no idea. He was so hot.

    Oh, um, great post. As ever.

  5. Cory is a a hot-tub in Monterrey. He's a BadasS...& so are Brad & Anton. I'm a vegan & when I met Cory, I thought to myself...'Hell, I could suck down a quail egg or two'...

  6. I know Corey and he's no saint!!! Just ask him about Fat-Meghan!!!