Choosing between restaurants in Canada can be tricky. There are so many great spots in every city, serving every variety of cuisine, that narrowing down your “to eat” list is going to be a challenge.
One way to make that choice a little easier is by looking at the people behind the food. There are amazing chefs across the country bringing their passion and creativity into the kitchen every single day.
Here are five Canadian chefs making waves in the culinary scene.
Justin Leboe is the chef and owner of both Pigeonhole—the best new restaurant in Canada in 2015 according to EnRoute—and Model Milk—a “best restaurants” list mainstay since it opened in 2012. If that isn’t enough proof of Leboe’s serious skills, he also won the 2013 Pinnacle Award for Canadian Chef of the Year, and was named Canada’s Most Innovative Chef in 2016 by Canada’s 100 Best.
Enough about the awards. You should know about Leboe because he opened up a stylish restaurant in an old 1930s dairy, with all the industrial features intact; you should know him because he creates dishes like nori (seaweed) crumpets, ricotta dumplings, Nashville hot chicken and waffles, and “fat kid cake 5.0”; and you should know him because his modern, innovative cooking showcases the incredible ingredients found in Alberta and the entire country. Leboe has really helped reinvent Calgary’s culinary scene.
Chef Jeremy Charles has put Atlantic Canada, and specifically Newfoundland, on the culinary map. His restaurant, Raymonds Restaurant, was named the best restaurant in Canada by a Vacay.ca panel of fine dining connoisseurs, industry experts, and food critics two years in a row, in both 2014 and 2015.
Charles’ cuisine focuses on the fresh produce, game, and fish found in abundance in Newfoundland—much of which he sources himself. His checked plaid shirt and big beard have far more to do with his work and the environment of Newfoundland than any sort of hipster style. The result of his efforts is a sustainable, fresh, and local approach to fine dining. A seven-course tasting menu at Raymonds might look something like “snacks, sweetbread and lobster, salmon, rabbit, pork, lamb, dessert.” Short on details? Maybe. Short on taste? Never. A meal cooked by Charles isn’t one you’ll ever forget.
Grant van Gameren
Grant van Gameren might just be the biggest chef in Toronto. He earned his reputation at the Black Hoof (#2 on enRoute’s Best New Restaurant list in 2009) and tapas-focused Bar Isabel (#1 on that same enRoute list in 2013) before opening another Spanish tapas restaurant, Bar Raval (which, along with its predecessor, was named one of the 10 best restaurants in Canada in 2016). Now, Van Gameren has two new projects in the works: a mescal bar called El Rey and a cocktail bar called Pretty Ugly.
So what can you expect from this dynamic chef? He’s been called a “charcuterie wizard,” so you know the meat is going to be spot on. Simple tapas dishes, like octopus and grilled radicchio, will never disappoint. But with Van Gameren, the feel of the restaurant is nearly as important as the food, and you might find yourself chatting with strangers over a beer barrel or listening to Spanish hip hop over a classic cocktail during your meal.
Emma Cardarelli has spent her entire culinary career in Montreal, and the city’s foodies are better for it. Mentored by Chef Frédéric Morin of famed Montreal restaurants Liverpool House and Joe Beef (a favorite of TV star and author Anthony Bourdain), Cardarelli now helms her own restaurant, the homey Italian spot Nora Gray (another top 10 finisher on enRoute’s trusted Best New Restaurants list in 2012).
Everything on the menu at Nora Gray appears in three languages: Italian, French, and English. This comes in handy, since you might otherwise have trouble deciphering Porchetta di Maiale, Purea di Cipolle Carbonizzato e Capo di Violoni (porchetta, charred onion purée and fiddleheads) or Piccata di Vitello con Zuccaarrostita e Salvia (veal piccata with roasted squash and sage). Hard to read, but very, very easy to eat.
Michael Robbins cemented his place in the Vancouver food scene as the executive chef of local Kitsilano favorite Oakwood Canadian Bistro (makers of arguably the best burger in Vancouver). After competing on Top Chef Canada, the young star opened a restaurant of his own. AnnaLena serves up modern Canadian food as pleasing to the eyes as the taste buds. Guess what? The restaurant earned a place among enRoute’s Best New Restaurants in 2015.
Robbins refers to his own cooking style as “Modern Canadian,” and he serves up dishes like side stripe prawns, grilled lamb neck, and chocolate covered fried chicken skin. That’s right, chocolate covered fried chicken skin. Modern is a good way to describe everything Robbins does. AnnaLena is as cool a restaurant as you’ll find, with re-cast Gameboys, figurines and Lego art making up much of the decor. Plus, he might just be Canada’s best chef on Instagram, sharing beautiful overhead shots of incredible looking food on a weekly basis.