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Chris McDonald on leaving Cava: “I feel like my job is done with Spanish”

(Image: Dave Gillespie)

McDonald’s squid with romesco sauce. (Image: Dave Gillespie)

Before there was Patria, Carmen or Bar Isabel, there was Cava, the Yonge Street restaurant responsible for acquainting Torontonians with boquerones, papas fritas and the simple joys of grilled seafood with citrus. Now, longtime owner and chef Chris McDonald is moving on. “When I opened Cava, I knew the city didn’t need another Italian restaurant,” he says. “So I thought Spanish. I never expected it would turn into this big trend.” Eight and a half years later, with tapas joints edging out taco shops in some Toronto neighbourhoods, McDonald realized it was time to switch things up. “I feel like my job is done with Spanish,” he says.

McDonald is leaving Cava in the hands of his former partner, Doug Penfold, who helped launch the restaurant back in 2006. (Before he signs off for good, he’ll be hosting a huge—and 100 per cent sold-out—send-off dinner to celebrate his nearly decade-long run.) After that, he’ll enjoy some well-deserved downtime, and maybe travel a bit. But after that, it’s entirely likely that Toronto will find itself with a new Chris McDonald joint on the map.

The details are still a little hazy, but McDonald will say this: “I like restaurants that change the landscape. And I like transporting people…that’s the theatre of running a restaurant.” In terms of cuisine, he’s pretty sure his next place won’t be Spanish or Italian. “I’m hoping to do something based on a European cuisine, but somewhere with a climate that’s similar to ours.” (When pressed, he offers up Eastern Europe as a possibility.) Despite the lack of concrete whens and wheres, we’re fairly confident Toronto won’t have too long to wait. “I can’t imagine spending all my time doing anything else,” says McDonald. “Restaurants are my blood.”

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Restaurants

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10 Best Dishes at Toronto Restaurants in 2014

10 Best Dishes at Toronto Restaurants in 2014

How to narrow down thousands of gratifying forkfuls into one definitive list? Easy. These are the dishes I’d order again and again, in descending order of deliciousness.

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Food News

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Public shaming on Twitter: the answer to restaurant no-shows?

(Image: Twitter)

(Image: Twitter)

For a restauranteur, it must be frustrating when reservations don’t show. For places that aren’t blessed with lineups out the door every night, it can mean a boatload of lost cash. In the fight to get customers to commit, Montreal has been testing out a new solution to the phantom-diner problem: social-media shaming. An active Twitter account, @NoShowsMontreal, was recently created after a popular downtown restaurant, Tapeo, had 28 no-shows in a single night. The account calls out parties who fail to show up by listing their name and partial phone number.

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Must-Try

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Must-Try: a beautiful baked Alaska that packs a savoury surprise

Must-Try: Cava, Dessert

Cava’s baked Alaska looks old school, with its beautifully torched meringue dome, but things get interesting once you crack the golden crust: one half is filled with airy lemon semifreddo, the other with a pistachio ice cream so nutty it’s more savoury than sweet. $11. 1560 Yonge St., 416-979-9918.

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Recipes

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Recipe: Cava’s killer octopus, chicken and clam paella

Toronto Life Cookbook 2012 Recipe: Paella
Toronto Life Recipes | Entrees
PAELLA
By Chris McDonald
Cava

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People

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The 15 Toronto restaurants recommended in Where Chefs Eat, a new culinary guidebook

Where Chefs Eat is a new 633-page collection of answers to a very simple question: where to go for a good meal? Those answers are from some 400 of the world’s top chefs, including Ferran Adria, Daniel Boulud, David Chang, Fergus Henderson and Rene Redzepi, as well as Toronto chefs Michael Steh, formerly of Reds, and Claudio Aprile, chef and owner of Colborne Lane and Origin. The guidebook is edited by Guardian critic Joe Warwick, who also co-founded the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. It’s not only an inventory of the flashy big-name places in a city, but also of regular neighbourhood and cheap eats spots. There’s even a category for places the chefs wish they opened. We flipped through the tome to pull out the 15 restaurants in and around Toronto recommended by the world’s top chefs.

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Trend Watch

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Trend We Love: Huitlacoche (a.k.a. corn smut), spotted on Mexican and non-Mexican menus alike

Tacquitos de huitlacoche at Pachuco. The huitlacoche is on the right (Image: Signe Langford)

Huitlacoche (pronounced weet-la-KOH-chay), a corn fungus that’s popular in Mexican food, has two commonly used English names: the gross-sounding “corn smut” and “Mexican truffle,” which over-promises a little on its earthy if not quite transcendent taste. It’s been showing up with increasing frequency on Mexican menus for the last few years; more recently, we’ve noted an uptick in the use of huitlacoche at other types of restaurants too. Here’s where we’ve spotted it:

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Food Events

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GALLERY: The Stop’s annual What’s on the Table fundraiser brought out Toronto’s top chefs—and their biggest fans

What’s on the Table 2012

(Image: Jenna Marie Wakani)

For philanthropists with a gourmet bent, What’s on the Table, the big annual fundraiser for The Stop, is kind of a big deal. Every year, a slew of the city’s top chefs come out to support the community food centre and hobnob with some of their biggest fans. The 2012 edition, which took place on Wednesday at the Artscape Wychwood Bars, featured chefs from Beast, Cava, George, GwaiLo, Hooked, Nadège, Noce, Parts and Labour, Paulette’s, Pizzeria Libretto and The Harbord Room, among many others. We spied former mayor David Miller enthusing with Cava’s Chris McDonald over their shared love of Spanish cuisine, and GwaiLo’s Nick Liu politely fending off nosy questions about where his still-not-yet-open restaurant will be located. In the end, after two auctions (one live and one silent), The Stop came away with $270,000 to support their mission of increasing everyone’s access to good, healthy food. The 500-odd donors, meanwhile, left with full bellies and rosy cheeks, having kibitzed with their chef-idols for a few hours.

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Restaurants

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Friday Night Bites: tables for two at Cava, Volos and Frank’s Kitchen

FRIDAY NIGHT BITESIt’s 4 p.m. on Friday, and you don’t have a dinner reservation. Still, there’s no need to fret (or waste your night waiting for a table). We just called some of the city’s hottest restaurants and found three that can squeeze in two for dinner tonight. Now it’s up to you to get dialing and snag a table before they’re all gone. Today: Cava, Volos and Frank’s Kitchen.

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Restaurants

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Friday Night Bites: Table 17, Fabbrica and Cava

FRIDAY NIGHT BITESIt’s 4 p.m. on Friday, and you don’t have a dinner reservation. Still, there’s no need to fret (or waste your night waiting for a table). We just called some of the city’s hottest restaurants and found three that can squeeze in two for dinner tonight. Now it’s up to you to get dialing and snag a table before they’re all gone. Today: Table 17, Fabbrica and Cava.

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Restaurants

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Delica’s Devin Connell on the city’s freshest, liveliest flavours

Devin Connell

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Restaurants

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Friday Night Bites: tables for two at Splendido, One and Cava

FRIDAY NIGHT BITESIt’s 4 p.m. on Friday, and you don’t have a dinner reservation. Still, there’s no need to fret (or waste your night waiting for a table). We just called some of the city’s hottest restaurants and found three that can squeeze in two for dinner tonight. Now it’s up to you to get dialing and snag a table before they’re all gone. Today: Splendido, One and Cava.

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Food Events

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Top Toronto restaurants to go head to head in Dish Duel, a new foodie tournament

The latest addition to the spate of Internet-based foodie happenings in Toronto is Dish Duel (not to be confused with Dishcrawl), a bracket-style tournament pitting signature dishes from Toronto restaurants against each other. The project is the invention of Restos in TO blogger Jacob Younan, who has managed to convince the likes of Acadia, Cava, George and Cowbell (among 12 others) to gird their (tender)loins and head into battle beginning February 18.

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Food Porn

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12 delicious days of Christmas, from candy cane ice pops to yule logs filled with mousse cake

Bannock’s holiday tourtière

This time of year, it takes a strong will not to indulge, whether it be in the beautiful pastries and cakes spilling out of patisserie windows or the drinks at a holiday party. We say, why even try? We’ve rounded up some of our favourites, along with a few other gifts that your food-obsessed friends are sure to love (including one salve for those who’ve indulged just a little too much).

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Food Events

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Today’s mini Food Truck Eats: Cava’s Chris McDonald and Doug Penfold join El Gastrónomo Vagabundo

UPDATE: Organizer Suresh Doss has just tweeted that today’s event was just shut down part way through service. El Gastrónomo Vagabundo confirms it was due to a bylaw violation.

Ryerson students heading back to class today can look forward to an extra culinary boost to get them through the day: a mini Food Truck Eats pop-up truck just around the corner from campus. The truck will be in the parking lot northwest of Dundas and Church today from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m..

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