Chef Eric Wood back when he was setting up Hawthorne Food and Drink
In the past week, Eric Wood has been making the rounds cooking up sample dishes for media outlets to promote the newly opened Beverley Hotel (335 Queen St. W., at Beverley), the 18-room boutique lodging where he’s currently executive chef. We met with him to talk about cooking in the Magic Kingdom, the excitement of opening restaurants, and improving working conditions.
Beef cheek with chanterelles, fries, and house-made ketchup
You describe your cooking as global flavours with local ingredients. How did that come about?
I actually did my internship at Disney World. They have this “prep chef” exam and it qualifies you so you can cook at any of the restaurants there. So on one day I’d work in a North African restaurant at Animal Kingdom, the next I’d be cooking at a luau. The people running the more fine-dining restaurants were actually from the countries the restaurants were themed after, so it was relatively authentic. Every day was like a brand-new concept so you’d have to be on your feet.
Right, but first things first: your craziest Disney World story.
One time during service, it came out that one of the line cooks was sleeping with another cook’s wife. They got in a fight and were arguing and my station was right between them. One guy picked up a log from a wood-burning grill and started beating the other guy with it. Keep in mind this was all in an open kitchen in front of 300 guests. Also, there’s a full room where they store all the [mascot] heads.
You helped open Fabarnak, Hawthorne, and now this place. You really like opening restaurants, huh?
This is my seventh opening. I’ve helped open an Asian-fusion concept in Alberta and their second location, a Canadiana fine-dining resort in the Rockies, and a pizzeria and brew pub in St. John’s. My old boss compared [restaurant openings] to having a baby. You’re all excited about it in the beginning and then you have this thing and you’re stuck with it. Ten months later you think you could do it again. I love the excitement of opening and I’ve always been transparent about not being the guy who’s going to be there for five years. So I’ll set you up and then walk away or we work on something else. I left Fabarnak and my sous chef is still running the joint. The guy at Hawthorne decided to leave.
Top: The “Beverly Burger” with guernsey cheese, Bordelaise sauce, watermelon, pickle.
Bottom: Pork belly, chicken, and lamb skewers from the grill.
So how long will you be at The Beverley before you leave?
This is still way too new. I’m here for a while—there’s still a lot to do.
The two previous restaurants you cooked at, Fabarnak and Hawthorne, had a social component to them. Is that important to you as a chef?
Everyone talks about a labour crisis and record unemployment among youth and newcomers, and the restaurant industry is completely populated by these two groups. If we want a professional industry, we have to treat people professionally. We treat our people here well and I see every kitchen as a teaching kitchen, because it’s what I do. [The industry is] very unregulated and it can be very predatory. There are companies that take advantage of young people or people who don’t speak English well, so there’s a responsibility for all of us to treat them better. I sit on the board of the Ontario Restaurant Association for that reason.—Karon Liu