(What I can tell you is that he's a 6'8", Swedish-Italian lug who calls a Pepto Bismal-pink restaurant home: 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. And there's just something about him that makes me write like a TMZ reporter. These things can't be helped.)
Most recently he (finally!) made his way onto television with fellow "bad boy princes" of the culinary world, Anton Potvin and Bradley Denton in a pilot they filmed for the Cooking Channel. It's called Pop Up Gourmet and it might become a series. He was also named one of Toronto's Most Stylish, though I have to wonder who they're talking about. The Cory I know is always in a T-shirt/apron combo, sweating at the pass over a pot of something. (I'm not complaining.)
He says he finds it "fun" to be included on lists and to be able to step out of the kitchen "for playtime", but ultimately he's more comfortable cooking.
I visited Cory at The Harbord Room, critical darling and Restaurant Row go-to since 2008; he co-owns it. He whipped up a new dish, which will appear on the menu starting now, and we chatted for a while about egos and brands, his approach to food, the fall of good customer service, and dating in the spotlight. Read below, if you can get past this:
But he says the Top Chef-ization of the restaurant industry has, in some ways, created a monster. "There's a level of entitlement among new cooks these days, having not gone through the rigour, or put the work in. This idea that 'I've been cooking for two years, I should be a chef, I should be doing TV shows and magazines and newspapers.' And that stuff needs to be earned. This entire restaurant was built on failure. Any really good idea comes out of flaws, hard work. And most come out of accidents." And to this day, even with all his success, Cory says he's no "clipboard chef." He works a different station every day, and likes it that way.
When I ask how much the success of the restaurant relies on his pubic persona, he only squirms a little, "Everything's part of the brand. We're a personality, character-driven place. We're still very much a neighbourhood restaurant so people expect to see us when they get here. I mean, you don't go to Terroni because Johnny's behind the bar or so-and-so's in the kitchen. I go once a week, every week, and order the garganelli because it's exactly the same every single time. It's an institution."
Not so, at home. Cory tends to blow his load in the restaurant and relies on a more utilitarian approach when he's on his own, "If it can't be done in 15 minutes in one pan, I won't do it." At Harbord he says their menu is a little mismatched and self-serving. At first-blush it might even seem out of focus, with Mexican, Italian, and even Japanese influences, "We do dishes we love at this exact moment and when we fall out of love with them, they go." A small restaurant allows them the luxury of changing everything over night, if they want. Which begs the question: Does he daydream of taking down walls and expanding? "No, I wouldn't want to expand this. I mean, if you start fucking with it..." the notion visibly worries him, "You know, it is what it is because of what it is: 32 seats."
Life has been good to Cory. Reviews have been solid and the restaurant is bananas-busy every day. But like many chefs, Cory gets painted with the "bad boy" brush all too often. "I'm a fucking saint!" he says, "But whenever chefs step out of the kitchen, there's a light that's shone on us. It's no surprise. When we finish work at 1:00am on a Tuesday, we wanna go out. And nothing good ever happens at 1:00am on a Tuesday."
CORY, ON THE DISH ABOVE:
Summer harvest menus are coming to an end soon, so we need some warm, rib-sticking staples on the menu and this is one of the ideas we're throwing around. A quintessential fall dish; the base is a chestnut and andouille sauce, with braised kale, cranberry beans, some crispy braised pork cheek, seared scallops, and, to cut through the richness, some pickled okra and onions on top as well as some crispy kale. It adds some textural and acidic contrast to the dish. (Editor's Note: Yum.)
THE OUT OF CONTEXT FOOTNOTE: