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Q&A with Chuck Hughes: the hunky Garde Manger chef on tattoos, Mexico City and poutine appropriation

(Image: Yves Freypons)

Since Chuck Hughes opened Garde Manger in 2006, he’s been steadily rising in the celebrity chef world (he even bested Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America back in March). Five months ago, he opened his second restaurant in Montreal, Le Bremner, and then rushed south to shoot Chuck’s Week Off, in which he ate his way across Mexico. When we caught up with him at the Chef’s Challenge fundraiser this weekend, the Montreal native really seemed like he was warming up to the idea of opening up shop in the soulless Big Smoke.

How often do you make it to Toronto?
Too often. [Laughs] I come all the time, but I never get to experience or enjoy Toronto because I fly in and out; it’s like commuting.

Do you have a favourite Toronto restaurant?
I went to Buca, and it was amazing. The doughnuts were great. I also love getting peameal bacon sandwiches. I had my first one three weeks ago and now I’m hooked! Now, every time I visit I have to get one.

Do you cook any Anglo food?
My grandfather was from New Brunswick, so for me it’s all about the rustic, traditional East Coast fare. Especially the stews. I guess I’m kind of done with Montreal….I love Montreal, it’s where I’m from, I just find that we have such a style that we rarely break out of that mould. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’d also love to change my horizons a bit and explore. I love Toronto because it’s huge and it has so much to offer.

Let’s not kid ourselves, there are two things you guys in Toronto know nothing about: poutine and hockey.

What’s your take on the Toronto poutine craze?
How can you not love poutine? My only concern is that over the past few years poutine has become known as a Canadian dish, and it’s totally NOT a Canadian dish. It’s Québécois! Let’s not kid ourselves, there are two things you guys in Toronto know nothing about: poutine and hockey.

Any new food tattoos?
I got this one in Mexico [he points to a mosaic of food he caught, cooked and ate while filming Chuck’s Week Off]. One of the biggest revelations this year for me is Mexico City: that is the city of all cities. I have never seen so many cool, young, beautiful, fun people in one spot. I want to move there.

If you were to open a restaurant in Toronto, which neighbourhood would you consider?
I’ve seen names being tossed around—Leslieville, Ossington. I don’t know, if we ever do open in Toronto it would take a month of driving around. We’re very space specific. Luckily one of my partners is from Toronto, so we wouldn’t be too lost.

What was it like being booted off The Next Iron Chef?
It was a unique and amazing experience. For me to be mentioned in the same sentence as these guys? It’s a life changer. I’m happy that I lasted that long to be honest. It’s like a mental breakdown every day; they hammer you, they bring you up and they bring you down. It was so tough, but I had a great time.

Do you still work the line at your restaurants?
At Garde Manger, I can’t do it any more—it’s physically impossible because the kitchen is so open that everybody is in there with me asking for pictures and autographs. It’s another world now. It’s hard—the guys on the line don’t want to cook with me because I’m always doing something else, and then the clients suffer. I haven’t been on the line there for a year at least.

  • parkdaleeater

    tattoos? really? this constitutes journalism? is this the new ‘what’s on your ipod’ question?

  • sugarsugar

    all of chuck’s tattoos are food related. more specifically food that he loves.

  • parkdaleeater

    so?

  • Burgerboy

    @parkdaleeater

    SO….it’s essentially asking what his very favourite foods are. How can you not understand why the question is valid in this interview context? My god, you are dim.

  • parkdaleeater

    dim? its not the same thing as asking what his fave food is-just look at his answer….a mosaic of food he caught cooked and ate? its a douchy question-the interviewer wants to appear hip happening and today…but it soooo isn’t

  • Jessica

    Get over it, @parkdaleeater. It’s one of Chuck’s signature quirks, he gets food tattoos. If you’re at all familiar with him (as Canadian food lovers are) you get it. That’s all there is to it. No one is trying to appear “hip happening and today” (by the way, commas exist for a reason – what’s “hip happening”?).

  • parkdaleeater

    ,,,,,,”"”—-!!!!
    all sorts of people get tattoos-but to ask him about it is sycophantic (def. A servile self-seeker who attempts to win favor by flattering influential people)

    it is an annoying, childish question…sort of like my quirk of avoiding capital letters and punctuation…so maybe the author isn’t trying to hip or happening but is most emphatically a sycophant!

    oh and by the way…i am familiar with him (and am a canadian food lover) but i am not enamoured by him nor offended by him….the time of chefs as gods needs to come to an end….as well as foodies and the term foodies and people who call themselves foodies

  • Joe Foodie

    @parkdaleeater

    I agree, stick to world issues and the economy when interviewing Chuck Hughes. No one wants to know about his tattoos, especially if they’re food related.

    My last name is Foodie so kinda hard to change that one!

  • parkdaleeater
  • Ignorance Slayer

    you guys are all stupid. worry about your own lives

  • Vicky McDonald

    Just saw a document last night on television about this chef, I watch cooking shows a lot and was not that familiar with him, I really was drawn into his whole vibe as a chef and as a person! He loves (understatement) what he does and it shows in his whole being! He is open, honest about his past and that he can not drink etc. He is so engaging and real! I would love to try his food at one of his restaurants and meet him if I am ever so fortunate! Keep on cooking and entertaining us, you are awesome to watch!

  • Vicky McDonald

    I also feel that his tattoos are the way he remembers the amazing journey he is on and he stays grounded and humble!

 

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