Star chef David Adjey joins the high-quality fast-food revolution by going behind the counter for his latest venture.
Chef David Adjey, best known for his Food Network Canada shows Restaurant Makeover and The Opener, is not shy about the fact that he wants to launch a fast-food franchise and see his new chicken joint spread across the city.
“We already have a Tim Hortons of chicken,” he says, referring to Swiss Chalet. “I just think there’s room for us to be the Starbucks of chicken,” Adjey says during some downtime at his two-week-old fast-food chicken joint, The Chickery (130 Spadina Ave., #102B).
The chef and business partner Danny Farbman—who owns the What A Bagel franchises, including the one adjacent to The Chickery that opened around the same time—started talking a year ago about venturing into the world of QSRs: quick-service restaurants, or fast food to put it simply. To Adjey and Farbman, fast food isn’t an inherently dirty term; rather, it’s a concept that got sidetracked into a big pile of pink chicken McGoo along the way.
“We wanted to create the devolution of fast food back when everything was actually made in-house,” Adjey says. “Now, fast food is all premade. We thought, ‘Let’s see if we can do this with chicken from Beretta Farms and create an organic, free-range, yummy bird with no antibiotics or steroids.”
He settled on chicken after talking to Michael Symon (the chef with whom he tied on Iron Chef America) about the holy trinity of foods people often crave: burgers, pizza, and chicken. Seeing how the former two options have already permeated the city, he and Farbman opted for rotisserie chicken.
They’re not the only ones getting into the quick-service business for the masses. It was also recently announced that chefs like Mark McEwan, Origin’s Claudio Aprile, and Pizzeria Libretto’s Rocco Agostino would be opening casual restaurants at Toronto Pearson airport.
“There’s a new sector,” says Adjey. “When we say QSR or quick-serve restaurants, you think of Subway or Quizno’s. But The Chickery is [part of] a new generation of premium QSRs that are chef-driven and opened by people with restaurant experience but can still have 10, 15, 20 locations. Why not provide people with the opportunity where everything is made from scratch and people can take it home?”
On offer are basically two things: roast chicken ($11 for a quarter with a side) and chicken fingers (four pieces and a side for $12). The former is brined, given a rub containing 15 spices (among them smoked paprika, brown sugar, and dried mustard), and then spit-roasted; the latter are soaked in a buttermilk batter for 24 hours, seasoned, dredged, and fried. Sides include mac and cheese, collard greens, squash, and an Asian slaw of nappa cabbage, bok choy, cilantro, and purple cabbage.
While Adjey isn’t exactly wearing a paper hat and taking drive-thru orders, The Chickery marks a big change from his days cooking at fancy places like Sassafraz, Far Niente, and the Rihga Royal Hotel in New York. (It’s now Gordon Ramsay at The London.)
“I’ve never done this before,” Adjey says. “We’re learning every day and trying to keep the food fresh, get the food out the door as fast as possible, and keep people happy and fuss with the food as little as we can. I worked at snooty, fine-dining restaurants with 20 cooks and three sous chefs. That’s what executive chefs do. But here, every morning I’m accepting orders, prepping orders, and cooking. We probably do 20 batches of mac and cheese today.”
But, of course, Adjey and Farbman have bigger plans. For the next three months they’ll be here making sure the kitchen staff can function without Adjey. “Every day, maybe I can step away from one item on the menu and eventually focus on another location,” says Adjey, who sees neighbourhoods like Yonge and Eglinton and Leslieville as potential places for a Chickery outpost. “But for now, this chicken is my life every day.”