Nyood didn’t exactly win over the neighbourhood during its tenure on Queen West, so chef Vittorio Colacitti—who made it to fourth place in the last (and final) season of Top Chef Canada—is trying hard to shed the space’s clubby reputation with his new restaurant, The Good Son (1096 Queen St. W., at Dovercourt). At last night’s media preview (the restaurant opens today to the public), we spoke with Colacitti about his food (menu here), the resurgence of big restaurants, and why he’s not too upset about there never being another season of Top Chef Canada.—Karon Liu
How did this opportunity come up?
A good friend of mine, who is now my business partner, spoke with me about this space—
Oh yeah, you used to cook at Nyood.
I did cook for them temporarily, doing consulting work while I was in-between jobs. I was always in love with the space and the neighbourhood. I love high ceilings and brick walls; it had everything I needed, plus a bar on the upper floor. The upstairs is going to be a speakeasy called Wayward. Not a club, just a cocktail lounge.
Seems like you’re trying to do a 180 from Nyood.
100 per cent. It’s not that I hated Nyood—it was beautiful, and what they did was interesting, but I think this neighbourhood needs a comfortable restaurant. I don’t like pretentious food. I’m capable of high-end fine-dining, but I’m over fancy plating and tablecloths.
Aside from “not fancy,” how else would you describe your cooking here?
I love Thai ingredients, Italian flavours, Spanish, Mexican—there’s pretty much nothing I don’t like, but I try to keep my use [of ingredients] in check. I get inspired at the markets and in Chinatown. Maybe I’ll throw in a fish taco as a special, but ultimately, I try to use things according to their authentic [cultural] roots. Mango salad with shrimp is how they’d do it in Thailand. If I make pasta, it’ll be how it’s done in Italy. A poblano soup will be made as it is in Northern Mexico. I try to focus on the origins of the ingredients and go from there. We’re also installing a Cattabriga gelato machine—it’s a 500-pound monster—in addition to other staples like pizza, burgers, things people relate to.
A tasting-sized serving of jerk shrimp wrapped in potato with mango salad, inspired by Colacitti’s travels to Thailand.
A lot of thought went into the look of the space. How would you describe it?
The look we were going for is a home with comfortable seating everywhere. Lots of wood and exposed brick. We put in some detail, but we didn’t want to make it too modern. I want families in here, and not just from a business standpoint; I just like seeing people from all walks of life enjoy the food.
I noticed that larger restaurants are opening lately, as opposed to the usual hole-in-the-wall 30-seaters. Are investors more confident that the food scene can support these spaces now, unlike, say, five years ago?
For sure. I think the trend is shifting a little bit, but when you have a larger restaurant, you have to be in the right neighbourhood (and have an approachable concept) or else you’ll be empty. Richmond Station, for example, is a big place, but they’re in the Financial District, so they can access everybody. I think people are over the Earl’s and Joey’s—they still have a place in the market, but people who appreciate good drinks, beer, and cuisine want something different.
A sampling of hamachi crudo. The plates for this dish are from the revered but now-shuttered French restaurant Didier, which Colacitti previously cooked at.
Speaking of Richmond Station, what was it like being on the last season of Top Chef Canada?
Being on Top Chef solidified what I wanted to do food-wise, because I got to cook for chefs like Morimoto and David Chang. They loved my food and, in both cases, the [dishes were] more explorative, Asian-style, so it gave me more confidence to transition [that way]. It was a great experience; you learn a lot about yourself when you’re isolated and people want to take you down.
Did you take anything away from the other contestants?
Yeah, I picked up the the soy-maple chicken from [runner-up] Terry Salmond on the show, and we’ll be doing it here. [Winner] Rene (Rodriguez) is also doing a dinner with me in August.
Pictured: Wood-fired, thin-crust pizzas with chili oil made by Andrew Leblanc, who previously cooked at Pizzeria Via Mercanti.
What are your thoughts on the show’s recent cancellation?
I think people were getting tired of the show, to be honest. It’s tough to watch because viewers have so many opinions about who should have been eliminated—in fairness to the judges, they can’t please everybody. It’s not like American Idol where the viewers get to vote. From a culinary standpoint, it’s a great opportunity for exposure, and it showed me what I was made of. Beyond that, I maybe enjoyed the first season.
So why go on the show then?
Just the exposure to be honest. That, and I believed I was going to win.
The entrance of the restaurant will be a retail space, selling pantry items like its house olive oil.
Colacitti cutting up juicy and saucy sarsaparilla side ribs, which come in half and whole racks.